It makes every parent and teacher worry, question and doubt as we decide what kinds of limits to set for children. Isn’t risky play a bad thing? On the contrary …. it is an essential type of play for children to engage in for healthy development.
Risk is a situation requiring a choice among courses of action where the outcome is unknown, and yes, could lead to injury. It is through risk and challenge that children learn and grow. This is very different from a hazard, which is something a child does not see and; therefore, does not allow for a choice to be made. When we protect them too much from taking risks in their play we cause harm rather than protect from harm.
Research by Ellen Sandseter, an evolutionary psychologist from Norway, has defined six types of risk taking play that children seek. These are: Great heights (jumping off high places, swinging high, climbing), High speed (swinging, running, twirling, etc), Dangerous tools (ropes, saws, knives, etc), Dangerous elements (fire, cliffs, deep water), Rough-and-tumble play (wrestling, play fighting), and Disappearing/getting lost (exploring alone, playing alone in unfamiliar areas). These types of play benefit a child’s social skills, brain development, learning ability and efficiency, physical development, language development, and emotional development.