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Why should you let children have risk in their play?

Risk in play. Sounds like a bad idea? Why would we want the children we care for to be doing risky things when playing? Well it’s not as crazy or controversial as it sounds!

So why risk in play? Well, play that involves risk taking is a beneficial experience for children and should form an essential part of a child’s life. It helps them to make judgements and gives them valuable life skills in the process, as well as developing independence and a sense of freedom. Risk taking allows children to challenge themselves and develop their abilities, making decisions along with improved wellbeing and raising confidence and self esteem. Taking risks in play develops skills for use in the wider world, satisfies a basic human need and gives children a chance to learn about the real consequences of risk taking.

As early years practitioners, we freely acknowledge that all these benefits outweigh the risks but should we also consider the barriers to children engaging in risky play?

Probably the most significant factor that stops us is the fear of litigation from parents and carers following an accident in a setting. Other issues may include differing attitudes between staff on risky play and or a poor understanding and lack of training around the benefits of risk.

Overly cautious risk assessments and strict adherence to, and misunderstanding of, health and safety regulations also pose difficulties.

Insufficient funds to purchase resources can also be a barrier to providing a challenging environment for young children. But this needn’t be an issue as there are inexpensive ways to do this. Why not encourage the families of the children at your setting can bring in everyday household items that you can use outside to create a challenging environment? Or accessing the Toy Library and SP@CE for a variety of open ended resources.

Society has changed the way we view risk and children are possibly less adventurous than in previous generations. Come rain or shine, we probably all remember spending most of our time, outside when we were young. Nowadays though children’s increasing use of game consoles, smart phones and the internet has impacted upon outdoor play opportunities and parent’s fear of child abduction makes us increasingly protective over our youngsters.

All these factors should be at the forefront of practitioners’ minds when considering risky play for children and anything you do needs to take into account parent’s views. But remember – for many parents and carers that may just mean you educate them on the ‘why’ of risk in play.

So, what are your thoughts and views? Do you encourage the children at your setting to take risks when they’re playing? Have you encountered resistance from parents?