What is ‘risky play'?
Risky play involves getting pupils to take part in “thrilling and exciting”1 activities that involve “a risk of physical injury and play that provides opportunities for challenge, testing limits, exploring boundaries and learning about injury risk”2.
Not necessarily. Risky play includes an element of danger, but it also gives children the chance to extend their learning while being supported by capable and confident adults.
What kind of activities can we do?
The possibilities are endless. Start by making the most of your school setting. Have woods nearby? Why not go and collect sticks for firewood and then build a campfire using a fire pit? You can cover general survival skills, take pupils swimming to develop their confidence in water or use tools to construct objects.
What are the benefits?
This type of play provides children with the opportunity to assess and explore risk, learning to manage it independently. It also helps them to gain life skills, develop fine motor skills as they hold and manipulate tools and improve their problem-solving abilities as they find ways to mount and climb objects. Some children might not have access to these opportunities elsewhere, so it is vital that they can practise them in school from an early age and enable the skills to be cemented for their older years.
My class are really young. Can they participate?
Absolutely. Children of all ages will benefit from risky play opportunities – from those under five in preschool settings, to those in primary and secondary schools.
Our timetable is already tight, though. Can I incorporate risky play into our existing school day?
Of course. Risky play doesn’t need its own time slot in your daily routines. It’s about adapting your environment to offer more challenge to the children. For example, add real wood and tools to your construction area. Small changes like this one provide risks that children need to assess before they participate.
Aren’t there legal implications for this kind of thing?
Risky play is a controversial topic, with many practitioners feeling anxious about the legal side of factoring risk into provision.
In order to implement these activities confidently, you will need the trust and support of parents. You must have a risky play policy and ensure that parents or guardians have all read and signed this before their children can take part. It is essential that parents understand the risks involved.
Also, check your school insurance policy. Familiarise yourself with the types of risk it covers – and the ages of the children covered by it.
But what if somebody gets hurt?
As long as you have parental consent, you are covered accordingly by your insurance and you record any accidents as you would in any other scenario, then your back is covered and children are likely to learn from the incident.
Accidents are common in any type of play and we must expect these. But we must not let accidents or the fear of accidents prevent us from offering different and exceedingly beneficial experiences to children as a result of our own fears of the consequences.
Is it really worth it?
In a word: yes. I have seen at firsthand the incredible benefits that risky play opportunities have for children and would urge all practitioners to factor elements of risk into their provision. Seeing young children grappling with the problem-solving, resilience, teamwork and critical thinking involved in risky play is truly incredible. I firmly believe that these experiences produce confident and resilient children with a thirst for adventure and exploration, who are equipped to approach life more independently and safely.
Chloe Webster works at Pebbles Childcare, an Ofsted-registered childminders in Worthing, which was shortlisted for early years setting of the year at the Tes School Awards 2017. You can find them @PebblesWorthing and www.pebbleschildcare.blog
1 Sandseter, EBH (2007) "Categorising risky play – how can we identify risk-taking in children's play?", European Early Childhood Education Research Journal, 2/15: 237-252
2 Little, H and Wyver, S (2008) "Outdoor Play: Does Avoiding the Risks Reduce the Benefits?", Australian Journal of Early Childhood, 2/33: 33-40