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What’s the risk?

‘We need to let children move in ways that make adults gasp’. Angela Hanscom

When I think back to some of my favourite childhood memories, most of them took place outdoors. I remember the big peppercorn tree out the back of our house and the hours my siblings and I would spend climbing, dangling, swinging on the homemade swing Dad rigged up and sitting hidden amongst the beautiful branches, absorbed in our own imaginary world. Even my little sister falling one day and breaking her wrist didn’t stop the fun- she just taught herself to climb up one -handed, much to my Mum’s weary frustration.

It is no surprise that numerous studies have shown a sharp decline in the amount of time children today are spending outdoors, however research is now starting to tell us what the detriments to this are; diminished use of the senses, attention difficulties, higher rates of obesity and emotional and physical disorders, to name a few. One author and researcher, Richard Louv who has written numerous books on the decline of our connection with nature has even coined the phrase Nature -Deficit Disorder.

One of the great benefits of children playing outside is the opportunity to participate in what is deemed the concept of ‘risky play’. Play can be considered risky in for several reasons; play at great heights (think climbing tall trees) play at great speed, play with and around dangerous elements (fire and sticks for example) and rough and tumble play.  Basically, play that makes us adults gasp!  As more and more parents limit or discourage the opportunity for risky play, we as educators also may feel that we need to err on the side of caution in our school yards.

However, Risky play is important for many physical, social and emotional reasons- perhaps most pertinent to our young people today is that it allows them to develop the ability to assess risk for themselves. In risky play, young people are faced with real but manageable risks that allow them to develop their risk appraisal skills when faced with risk and dangers in other contexts. Empowering and supporting our young people to take responsibility for their own safety is crucial as they are presented with more serious risks with greater implications as they get older- think the first time they are offered an alcoholic beverage or invited to go for a ride in a car with an impaired driver….

Introducing risky play back into our schools, when done strategically and communicated effectively to families can have major pay offs, not just for now, but for the teenagers and young adults of the future. Because when we aren’t there the first time a young person is presented with a risky choice, we want to know we have done all we can to equip them to make the right one in the moment.

Check out other articles Kirsty has written here.