Learning & Development

Introducing Risky Play Safely In Early Years

child hanging from climbing frame monkey bars

What Is Risky Play?

Risky play provides children with the opportunity to get stuck in with a thrilling and exciting activity that involves a certain level of risk. It offers the chance for a child to challenge themselves in a safe environment but with minimal input from their parents, teacher or other responsible adults. 

Risky play activities should evoke the experience of crucial emotions such as hesitation, excitement, fear and pleasure, helping to stimulate brain activity and encourage emotional development. This type of activity helps to train their brains to regulate fear and anger by evoking a fight or flight response when introduced to new environments. Risky play allows children to learn about risk, defining their own boundaries, and how to assess and manage different scenarios.

Activities Involved In Risky Play

The activities involved in risky play should be age-appropriate and parents and teachers should act in a supervisory fashion, encouraging children to explore and try new things, gaining confidence whilst given the freedom to take risks and manage themselves. 

Activities can include climbing, jumping, sliding, balancing, getting hands-on with potentially dangerous equipment and elements such as deep water and fire.

Risky play can also be broken down into six main categories:

  • Activities that involve speed – swinging, sliding or riding. This allows the child to experience the feel of speed with the threat of falling off or potentially crashing.
  • Heights – climbing trees or buildings, producing a sense of achievement. Jumping or standing from a large height elicits a mixture of excitement and fear and the actual act of jumping is a way to lose control. The threat involved is the potential of falling. 
  • Dangerous elements – water and fire. 
  • Dangerous equipment – knives, hammers, saws, drills. The threat in this situation is the danger of personal injury, so extra concentration is required when doing these tasks. This also allows the child to gain confidence, be in control and be trusted with something dangerous. 
  • Separation or getting lost – playing a game of hide and seek where there is no real danger and the situation is temporary. Children have the opportunity to explore with the threat of getting lost or being forgotten.
  • Rough and tumble play – there is a fine line between playful contact and fighting. This allows the child to be put in a vulnerable situation such as being chased or playing with a partner and knowing when to stop if it gets too rough.
School Playground Equipment

The Role Of An Adult

Many parents let their own fears get in the way of allowing their child to get involved with risky play. Such fears include injury to the child, being labelled as a bad parent or thinking about the worst-case scenario such as abduction. Even though risk enablement can go against parental instincts, it is a crucial part of giving children the opportunity to challenge and push themselves, allowing them to determine what they’re capable of without help. 

The school playground poses the perfect setting to explore risky play in a supervised fashion. For the introduction of risky play to be successful, the staff involved should have the same opinions and learning objectives for the session. The space involved should be risk-checked to ensure its safety and allow the children to gain as much out of the experience as they can. The set up of the area should complement the age of the children and be separate from other age groups. This helps to provide the right balance between allowing children to enjoy the benefits of risky play without experiencing serious injuries. 

It is important for parents to be educated about the benefits of risky play and how it impacts development positively, including the progress their child is making within these sessions. For example, discussing how motor skills have improved over a period of time such as balance or noticeable improvements in strength. This helps to reassure parents that their children are continuing to learn and improve in new and challenging environments.

To improve the effectiveness of risky play, teachers can:

  • Manipulate the environment as much as possible to ensure the needs of each child is met.
  • Be aware that it may take some children longer than others to feel confident in engaging in an activity.
  • Encourage children to pair up with a friend to help each other through an activity. 
  • If an activity is deemed too difficult for a child, simplify it to help gain their confidence for next time.

How Can Red Monkey Play Help You?

At Red Monkey Play, we create specialist bespoke playground equipment that is accessible for all, with a large emphasis on children’s cognitive and physical development. Having installed playgrounds and equipment in schools across the entirety of the UK, we are experts in ensuring that children are provided with play areas that they can feel confident in exploring and are age-appropriate.  

For more information on our products and services please get in touch with a member of our friendly team. You can email us at hello@redmonkeyplay.co.uk or call our London office on 020 38445 525 or our Leicester office on 0116 366 9922 to book a free consultation.

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