Should children be exposed to risky play situations?
Early Years settings have a responsibility to keep children safe and vigorously risk assess equipment, situations and activities; however can this have an impact on the children’s opportunities to problem solve and self-assess risks?
Outdoor play is commonly full of risks, in which the practitioner must eliminate dangers through risk assessments. Foreign and natural objects can cause harm to children unless supervised and dealt with appropriately. However, the outdoor environment also offers children a wide range of opportunities to explore and learn about the world in which they live. Some professionals believe that children should be given the space to explore dangerous situations such as climbing, in order to gain an awareness of danger and manage risks. If children are only offered safe situations they may not learn how to manage risk and promote safety.
Learning about own safety
There are many ways in which risky play can be offered without the risk of immediate danger. These situations or activities should be well supervised and the children should be encouraged to think about their own safety. Large planks of wood can enable children to build structures and take risks. Practitioners should teach children how to assess the structure for safety and talk about the risks involved. Allowing children to build their own climbing equipment gives them the opportunity to think about cause and effect and problem solve in any areas they feel may be dangerous. This activity can be offered both inside and outside, promoting continuous provision. A great book about risk and adventures in early years.
Using tools to learn about risky play
Another way to encourage children to learn about safety through risky play can be through the use of real tools. Small hammers and screwdrivers can be seen as potentially dangerous equipment; yet allowing children to access and use these tools within a safe and supervised environment can teach them to respect danger and manage risks. Practitioners can offer blocks of wood with large headed nails or screws in, enabling the children to refine fine and gross motor skills by using the tools. Practitioners can aid children in thinking about safety by encouraging children to assess the situation for risk.
Offering risky play opportunities allows the children to grow, promoting resilience and confidence in their problem solving skills. It further enables them to learn about the world around them, whilst making informed decisions about their safety. Studies have shown that children are unlikely to be hurt through self-directed play; this is due to children understanding their own capabilities. Risky play supports children in testing their limits and exploring their boundaries. Early Years settings can promote and extend activities to provide children with the opportunity to push boundaries in a safe and managed environment.
Why not reflect on your practice and evaluate whether you offer children the opportunities to learn through risky play. Introducing this into your environment under very close supervision can offer children the opportunity to learn through real-life experiences.