School is out for summer! As we applaud young people for their diligent efforts this year, we also applaud caregivers for the time and resource investment that they have made in the lives of children and youth. We can all make a huge sigh of relief that another school year is complete.
But can we?
Now the children and young people are free to explore and play. However within days of school being let out, there are news reports of children injured and hurt outside the walls of the school, i.e. drownings, bike injuries, camping accidents, etc.
Before you raise your eyebrows and groan, it may come to your surprise but I am a big believer in “risky play!” I love summer activities. However, it is widely known that children are now given fewer opportunities to engage in risky play than the children of previous generations. So what exactly are modern children missing out on?
In a recent article in the Ottawa Citizen, June 10, 2015, a quote was attributed to Dr. Mark Tremblay, the director of the Healthy Active Living and Obesity Research Group at the CHEO Research Institute, “What we consider dangerous, that pendulum has swung too far.” Society has been “conditioned to avoid risk” and that is translating into unhealthy kids who spend more time inside — usually in front of screens — instead of getting physical activity outdoors.
The term ‘risky play’ is often used but is still either not fully understood or put into practice. So what does risky play mean? Play Wales (2008) states that "play means providing opportunities for all children to encounter or create uncertainty, unpredictability, and potential hazards as part of their play. We do not mean putting children in danger of serious harm."
Much research has been done in the United Kingdom on this topic of Risky Play (see references below). "Children and young people themselves recognize that ‘you can’t make everything safe’ and that a balance is needed between risks and fun. Children recognize that knowing about risks and how to manage them is an essential part of growing up. Through play, children can learn about risks and use their initiative. If children and young people are not allowed to explore and learn through playing and taking part in positive activities, they will not learn how to judge risks and manage them for themselves. These skills learned through play, and other activities can act as a powerful form of prevention in other situations where children and young people are at risk." (Play England, 2007)
A risky play situation for one child might be different to that of another but once you get to know a child, you can support them to take appropriate risks in their play. We encourage providers of programs and activities to demonstrate a duty of care and due diligence in planning and executing your programs. Ensure your staff and volunteers understand that decisions to engage in ’risky play’ should be made at the leadership level not at the program planning or execution level. Take time to do risk assessments, to ensure that you have the trained staff to supervise the ‘risky play.’ The idea is not to eradicate all risks, but to manage them wisely. Share the risks deemed as 'risky play' with your insurance company (speak to them during the planning stage) and with parents (have them sign Informed Letters of Consent). Communicate with parents what the levels of risk include and the dangers associated with the play.
Have fun this summer, introduce children to some ‘risky play,’ but manage the risk wisely.
For more information on ‘Risky Play’ see: