It’s natural to feel anxious whilst watching children climb a tree, swing from a bar, play fight or jump from a platform. No one wants to see a child hurt. However, this kind of risky play is a significant part of our childhood development that needs to be nurtured, not discouraged!

In recent years, children have taken more to playing virtually through screens, which reduces physical activity and can have serious detriments to development. So, should you allow kids to play with risk? Simply put, the answer is yes!

What is Risky Play?

Play is often defined as ‘risky’ based on how children play (at heights, with speed, with potentially dangerous tools, rough and tumble play), but it can also be defined to where the play takes place (at a park, in the woods, near water, holes and pits). Risky Play provides children with the opportunities to experience controlled levels of stress, where they can learn to overcome & deal with challenges; this could lead to children becoming more independent and self-confident.

Today, children are surrounded by rules and regulations, such as ‘no ball games, no climbing, no jumping, don’t go too far, that’s too high and not too close to the road’. This has resulted in children being limited to playing in their back gardens and school playgrounds which in turn limits opportunities to learn more about themselves through more risky play.

DBD at Ashton Gate Primary School-23-1

What are the benefits of Risky Play?

Risky play can lead to increased social interactions, creativity and resilience, and decreased aggression. As children experiment with what their bodies can do they gain confidence and intuition about what is and isn't manageable and safe. Even very young children are taking risks, which in turn lead to new learning experiences, such as walking, climbing, balancing, and riding a bike.

Risky Play gives children the opportunity to extend their limits and learn life skills, whether it's climbing up to the top of a tower, balancing along a beam, swinging across some monkey bars, or negotiating space. Risky Play can provide children with the motivation to try again and work out different ways of doing things, improving their ability to assess risks for themselves.DBD at Ashton Gate Primary School-13

The main benefits of risky play during childhood are:

  • Developing self-confidence and taking initiative

By allowing children to undertake risk, you are giving them freedom to explore their own boundaries without being subject to predetermined limitations. 

  • Learning risk assessment skills and self-regulation 

Children will have the opportunity to learn first-hand what’s comfortable to do and what’s too much for them. They can find their own balance and apply it in future activities.

  • Creativity and problem-solving skills

Risk naturally provides children with obstructions, which they will have to find a way around with critical thinking. Risky play is great for developing resilience.

  • Improving physical abilities

Higher-risk activities like climbing and wrestling improve strength, coordination, and more.

  • Mitigating failure and learning from mistakes

Importantly, risky play will present children with situations in which things don’t go as they planned. This is significant in helping children to deal appropriately with failure, regulate emotion, and learn from their past experiences.


How Can Schools and Nurseries Help Encourage Risky Play?

Some teachers worry about children injuring themselves (or others) during risky play, which is preventing some children from having the opportunity to engage in such activities. Schools should provide children an environment where they can access and engage in Risky Play that is as safe as necessary rather than as safe as possible.

Creating a risk assessment and a Risky Play policy is a good way to ensure all staff are comfortable in allowing children to be involved in risky activities. Educating staff and parents on the importance of Risky Play could reduce anxiety.

Managing Risky Play should be based on taking a benefit-risk approach. Instead of quickly deciding something is too dangerous and is therefore removed, teachers should consider the benefits this play will have on the children. Whilst there may be a small chance of injury, the benefit to the child’s learning and development might outweigh the risk, therefore making it worthwhile for the child’s experiences.

Thinking of strategies to reduce major injury rather than getting rid of the entire risk, such as placing down a mat or having safety surfacing under high apparatus, can make the environment challenging rather than hazardous for children. Supervision could also be another way to reduce harm and hazards when children are engaged in high-risk activities.

Risky Play should be available for all children regardless of age, ability, or gender. Teachers and Schools should support and encourage children to take risks and challenge themselves; talking through challenges and encouragement will reduce anxiety in children. The more children are free to engage in Risky Play the better they will be at managing risks, judging what they are capable of, and keeping themselves safe.DBD at Ashton Gate Primary School-19

Play Equipment that Supports Children Risk Taking in Play

Play environments can influence the nature and extent of children’s Risky Play. Environments that promote Risky Play can include both natural and manufactured equipment.

Fixed or moveable playground equipment such as Trim Trials, Play Towers and Jungle Climbers or natural elements in the environment such as trees or rocks, encourage climbing and provide opportunities for jumping down from heights whilst promoting problem solving by negotiating different routes up or down.

Manufactured balance beams, logs, repurposed loose parts such as timber off-cuts encourage balancing and jumping.

Manufactured swings or improvised tyre or rope swings attached to branches encourage swinging with opportunities to play with both height and speed.

Slides at different heights provide variations in the sensation of speed.

Sloping ground surfaces and mounds provide opportunities for sliding, rolling, running and jumping.

Elements that give the sensation of instability such as swaying rope bridges and rope ladders offer unpredictability and promotes problem solving.  

Enclosures/secluded spaces, such as Teepees and Dens, provide children with a sense of being away from the watchful eyes of adults where they can create their own play and encourage social interaction with their peers.

Children need all these types of risk to build confidence, resilience, persistence, thinking and reasoning skills.DBD at Ashton Gate Primary School-64

Let dbdplay Help Your Children 

Here at dbdplay, we specialise in designing and creating unique play areas based on your needs. We can help you develop your own space for children to engage in risky play in a way that is effective and fun, whilst stretching the children.  

Get in touch today for a free quotation to see where your next playground project can take you!

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Lynzi Tiner
dbdplay, Early Years Advisor

Originally published Jan 5, 2022 11:10:45 AM , updated February 28, 2024