4 Steps to Embracing Risky Play


I stood underneath the tree, nervous but also captivated by their bravery. As I watched two children navigate their way higher and higher, I'll admit that my stomach had that butterfly feeling. But my brain knew that they were safe. I could hear them assessing risk as they moved between branches. I could see them supporting one another. I knew that this wasn't their first time climbing a tree. I knew that the tree was strong. I knew that I was right there ready to help if needed. 


Embracing risky play can be challenging for many of us. We might logically understand the importance of children having opportunities to engage in risky play, and yet we might still be apprehensive - concerned about safety, worried about incidents. Of course, it is natural to worry about those things, and we should indeed be thinking about them, but our worry shouldn't stand in the way of a child meeting their needs when it comes to risky play. 


How can we embrace risky play? 

1. Understand risky play - take time to learn about what risky play is and why it is so important. Ellen Sandseter's 8 Categories of Risky Play is a great place to start, and informing yourself with research about risky play, injuries and responsibility will help you to feel more confident. 

The 8 Categories of Risky Play are: 

  • Play at Heights
  • Play at Speed
  • Play with Dangerous Tools
  • Play with Dangerous Elements
  • Rough and Tumble Play
  • Getting Lost/Being Away from Adults
  • Impact Play
  • Vicarious Play

If you want to dig deeper into these, we've shared some resources at the bottom of this post. 

2. Observe risky play - take note of the ways in which children in your service are seeking out risky play already. Spend time in another service or environment where children are supported to engage in risky play. What language do you hear being used? What strategies are in place to support children? You could also follow some services or educators on social media who are supporting risky play in their practice - this helps to normalise this type of play, when you are seeing it all the time. 

3. Talk about risky play - talk to families about how they feel about risky play. Did they engage in it as a child? Do they feel comfortable supporting their child to engage in risky play? What worries them? Talk to children about risky play. What would they like to do more of? How do they feel when they do something risky? Talk to your colleagues about risky play. Does everyone have the same level of confidence around risky play? Remember that what feels risky for one person, may not for another - we all have different levels of risk that we are comfortable with. 

4. Plan for risky play - spend time on Benefit Risk Assessments. These are your best friend when it comes to risky play - they allow you to unpack and explore all of the benefits and the challenges that may arise when children are given the opportunity to play in this way. We don't just one day decide that tomorrow we will start allowing children to climb trees. We take time to reflect, discuss, question, and plan, and a Benefit Risk Assessment is a key element of this process. 


We want to give children opportunities to explore and play in ways that delight them and challenge them, while ensuring that they are safe and protected. Working through these four steps will help us as educators to know that we have done what we need to do to protect children from harm and hazard, enabling us to enjoy being right there with them as they try new things, challenge themselves and shriek with joy (and sometimes a little bit of fear!) 


Resources to Support You to Embrace Risky Play




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