Supporting Children During Risky Play

Risky play is an exciting form of play that involves an element of risk, adventure and challenge. It’s both fun and a bit scary. There are broadly 6 categories of risky play and each has many benefits for children. They can choose, control, make decisions and get a sense of achievement. They are also able to assess risks, solve problems and overcome challenges. It’s important to understand why risky play is important. These skills are vital for good mental health and physical well-being. With no exposure to risky play, children may develop either a fearful or reckless nature as they are unable to assess risk.

Role of Adults

  • Adults have an important role to play as it’s on them to identify opportunities for risky play and have a discussion with other adults on what is and is not permitted in the learning environment. It’s important to note that encouraging children to engage in risky play is a gradual process. During risky play, the adult has to keep children safe enough and set consistent boundaries. Adult supervision ensures that children have the freedom and opportunities for risky play within a safe framework.
  • Another role the adult has to play is to ensure the environment provides opportunities for risky play. Access to natural environments and play spaces with different levels of demand in terms of surface, height and steepness. Where there is enough natural space, adults can ensure there are trees, tall grass, ramps, bridges and sturdy rocks along with a variety of materials like tractor tyres, planks of wood and recycled materials. Appropriate clothing and footwear is essential.
  • Adults have to support children in problem-solving and in taking challenges. Kids require time and space to work things out on their own and adults should desist from intervening too quickly to help out or stop them. Being aware of the words you use and body language is important, so let children know that you have confidence in them and intervene only when necessary.
  • Adults need to encourage children who are reluctant to take part in risky play. For this, each child’s age, ability and nature has to be considered. Some children are bolder than others and children who are hesitant can be encouraged and sensitively supported to explore risks in a secure environment. Appreciation of any engagement in risky play is very important for hesitant children. Adults also need to ensure that there are equal opportunities for risky play based on the gender, developmental stage and ability of the child.
  • Adults should support progression in risky play and ensure that tools, environments and experiences are offered for different levels of challenge. Children have to be given sustained periods of play with appropriate time, choice and space to add complexity in their play.
  • Adults should promote inclusion in risky play as it’s beneficial for all children. Children with visible and invisible disabilities often face major barriers that prevent them from utilising the opportunities for risky play and adults need to be aware of those barriers and include all children. At the same time,they shouldn’t underestimate their capabilities or over-protect them.

Risky Games to Play

There are broadly 6 categories of risky play with different activities for easy age.

  • Rough and Tumble
  • For the youngest children, this activity generally consists of playful interactions with an adult such as moving in space, being lifted into the air, or gently bouncing on the adults knee. As they grow older, children enjoy some gentle rough and tumble with an adult on soft surfaces. Then they like to play chase or tag, spinning and dancing. Children between the age of 3 to 6 years tend to enjoy wrestling and mock fighting, imaginary weapon play and chasing and catching games.

  • Disappear or Get Lost
  • Children love to play in places where they think that adults cannot see them as it gives them a feeling of excitement. Between the age of 1 to 1.5 years, ‘Peek-a-boo’ or similar activities are common. After that, hiding under trees or behind bushes are activities enjoyed by this age group. For children between 2 to 3 years, den play and exploring forested areas are suitable activities. Children between 3 to 6 years like to play ‘Hide and Seek’ and ‘Camouflage’.

  • Great Heights
  • This category of risky play gives children the opportunity to climb and jump from still or flexible surfaces, hang or swing from an elevation and balance on objects. Climbable features for every age group should be made available to children. Lifting a very young child to your waist or chest, pretending to throw the child up in the air , helping them to balance on a slightly elevated structure, crawling up and down ramps and learning to climb stairs come under this category. Climbing frames, balance ropes, stepping stones, low walls and climbing trees with supervision can be introduced. Between the age of 3 to 6 years, balancing on a beam, hanging from the branch of a sturdy tree make good risky play.

  • High Speed
  • Play in this category requires flat, smooth and soft surfaces which encourages running as well as the introduction of different types of trollies and cycles. Young children like to be pulled around in trollies or put on a swing with a support frame. Later, they can use playground equipment like see-saws and slides. Metal or plastic slides are a great way for them to encounter great speeds. Between the age of 2 to 3, they should have access to bikes and small cars to sit in and engage in group games like ‘Red Rover’ or ‘Duck-DuckGoose’. Slopes and ramps can be used for rolling or sliding.

  • Real World Tools
  • In this category, children are allowed access to a variety of everyday objects under supervision. Children can access real-world items and replicas of objects that they see adults use in everyday life, like keys, scissors, screwdrivers and wrenches. Of course, the focus must be on safety and correct use and must always be done under adult supervision. It’s important to provide children with access to replicas of everyday items. Between the age of 2 to 3 years, children continue to build on the earlier activities but with the introduction of real tools under strict adult supervision like buttering bread using real butter knives. Between the age of 3 to 6 years, they can be given blunt knives to chop food like cheese or bananas. Later, sharper knives can be used or they could set the table using real crockery and cutlery.

  • Natural Elements
  • This category of risky play involves natural elements like water and fire. Children love playing with water and safe water play should be readily accessible. Between the age of 1 to 1.5 years, they should be introduced to water play of different temperatures, colours and textures and they can observe the lighting of candle flames. By the age of 2 years, they love stamping in puddles and turning taps on and off and blowing out candles. Later, they could be allowed to walk into water during outings with appropriate precautions. In terms of fire, children could learn how to toast marshmallows or bread safely in an outdoor barbecue.

Risky play with the correct safety measures and supervision can do wonders for the physical and mental development of a child. It also adds to their personality and confidence and prepares them for risk assessment. For more information and activities, follow the Kangaroo Kids website.