Risky play can be defined as a “thrilling and exciting activity that involves a risk of physical injury, and play that provides opportunities for challenge, testing limits, exploring boundaries and learning about injury risk” (Sandseter (2007; Little & Wyver, 2008).
At Pebbles Childcare, children are given access to risky play to extend their learning and development whilst being supported by capable and confident adults, this is to enable the children to explore and extend their development through taking risks in a controlled environment.
However, ‘Risky Play’ is a controversial topic within the Early Years with so many practitioners and settings as a whole, anxious about factoring in risky play opportunities into their curriculum and provision. But why is that?
Research shows that it is the practitioners own feelings/anxieties and baggage that make them stop children from participating in certain activities, rather than the potential consequence of the activity.
As we all know, bureaucracy and ‘red tape’ are rife within the Early Years sector and for many this contributes significantly to setting’s reluctance to provide ‘risky’ opportunities, through fear of the consequence, parental complaints and serious injury.
We believe that children need real, hands-on experiences in order to be able to confidently assess and manage their own risks within their play. If we don’t expose children to real risks, how do they learn to manage them adequately?
Part of our ethos relates to ‘bringing learning to life’ and so providing children with real hardware tools (screwdrivers, hammers, nuts, bolts, spanners etc), encouraging the children to actively participate in the process of making and using a fire to toast their snacks, challenge themselves physically in unfamiliar environments; climbing trees, rock walls, climbing on and using rope swings and zip wires. In addition to exposure to open water (as well as swimming opportunities) when crabbing, looking for fish in ponds, as well as playing on and with ice and snow. All of these activities pose a potentially high risk to the children involved, however, all of these experiences are under the supervision of confident and well-trained adults, who have assessed the risks involved but also understand the benefits the experiences will provide for the children.
Risky play holds so many benefits for the children; this type of play provides children with the opportunity to assess and explore risk, managing it independently as well as learning and developing vital life skills (making fires, confidence in water), developing fine motor skills as they hold and manipulate tools, challenging and developing their gross motor skills and problem-solving abilities as they find ways to mount and climb objects. In addition to general survival skills as they learn to make fires and develop their confidence and swimming ability in water. For some children, these experiences may only be on offer within their early years provision and so it is vital that they are provided with the opportunity to develop these skills within their earliest years in order for the skills to be cemented for their older years.
For us, no child is ‘too young’ to be exposed to real and risky experiences and as a result even our youngest children, the under twos, all have the opportunity to experience risky play in someway, using tools, being exposed to real fires and learning to climb on difficult terrain as soon as they are physically and cognitively ready to do so.
We couldn’t confidently do what we do without the trust and support of our parents and so all of our parents have read and signed our ‘Risky Play’ policy and understand the risks involved within this, similarly, our parents approach and view the idea of risky play experiences positively. Here’s what some of our parents had to say about the opportunities we provide:
“We are strong advocates of risky play for F as we feel it helps her to develop a better understanding of her environment whilst realising her limits. We also feel it has made a her a more confident and resilient child who is willing to explore and try new things.” – Beth & Graham Luckhurst, parents of F – aged 21 months.
“As an over-cautious parent I always worried about T hurting himself when exposed to risks. But since he started at Pebbles and has been immersed in such an amazing learning environment with opportunities to truly test his abilities (his favourites being climbing great heights and using the tools!) he has grown into such a confident little boy. And as a result I feel much more confident to let him take risks at home.” – Melanie & Phil Retallick, parents of T – aged 3 years.
We have seen first-hand the incredible benefits risky play opportunities have on the children in our care and would urge all practitioners and settings to factor in elements of ‘risk’ into their provision in order to observe learning and development in their children that they would never have the opportunity to witness without these opportunities; the problem-solving, resilience, team-work and critical thinking as a result of risky play opportunities truly are incredible to see in children so young and we firmly believe experiences such as these produce confident and resilient children with a thirst for adventure and exploration, who are equipped to do so in an independent and safe manner.