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Engaging in "Risky" Play is Essential for Child Development

One of our core beliefs is that "risky" play is not just safe but fundamentally important for children's growth. Research shows that risky play helps children develop resilience, executive functioning skills, self-confidence, and risk-assessment abilities. In this blog post, we will delve into the significance of risky play and provide valuable insights for parents on how to encourage it within their families.

Preschoolers exploring the climbing wall tree on the Woodland Trail
Preschoolers exploring the climbing wall tree on the Woodland Trail

What is Risky Play?

Risky play encompasses any play that is thrilling, exciting, and carries some risk of injury. Researchers have identified six key factors of risky play:

  • Height and Elevation: Activities involving climbing, scaling, or being up high.

  • Speed and Momentum: Play with an element of speed, such as running or riding a bike.

  • Use of Risky or Adult Tools: Handling tools or objects that require care and attention.

  • Interaction with Natural Elements: Exploring nature, including water, rocks, and plants.

  • Play with a Chance of "Getting Lost": Hiding or wandering in unfamiliar environments.

  • Rough-and-Tumble Play: Play-fighting and physical interactions with peers.

Kids exploring age appropriate tools in the 'Wood Shop"
Kids exploring age appropriate tools with safety equipment in the 'Wood Shop"

Why is Risky Play Important?

Developing Resilience: Risky play is akin to a science experiment where children push their boundaries without knowing the exact outcome. Each encounter with a challenging situation helps them build resilience. They learn to cope with unexpected outcomes, which is a vital skill in navigating life's ups and downs.

Building Self-Confidence: As children engage in risky play, they experience a range of emotions, from excitement to fear. Overcoming these emotions and challenges boosts their self-confidence. Success in conquering fears encourages them to embrace new challenges and believe in their abilities.

Enhancing Risk-Assessment Abilities: Engaging in risky play allows children to explore their own limits and comfort zones. This awareness helps reduce the risk of injury as children learn when to stop and reassess a situation. They develop the ability to recognize unsafe situations and brainstorm ways to make them safer.

Don't Let Your Own Fears Get in the Way

An adult's concerns about safety often hinder children's opportunities for risky play. However, research shows that the likelihood of injury is incredibly low. A recent study suggests that children would have to spend three hours a day engaging in risky play for ten years before they were likely to sustain an injury requiring medical attention. 

Experts recommend following the "17-second rule." If you start feeling uneasy about your child's play, step back and observe for 17 seconds before intervening. Giving children space can help them learn how to engage in risky play safely and independently.

Fostering Awareness and Problem Solving

Encourage your child's awareness and problem-solving skills by using phrases like:

"Notice how..."

"Do you see..."

"Try moving..."

"Try using..."

"Do you feel..."

"Are you feeling..."

Additionally, replace "Be careful!" with empowering questions such as:

"What's your plan..."

"What can you use..."

"Where will you..."

"How will you..."

"Who will..."

By incorporating these phrases into your conversations, you can help your child build essential skills for risk assessment and problem-solving.

Benefits of Risky Play for Preschoolers

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