10 ideas for Risky Play that can help your child grow
As the world moves inside and online with the COVID-19 crisis, more and more parents are looking for active ways in which they can help their children gain perspective and grounding in the outdoors. This means that the benefits of Risky Play are more important than ever.
So what are some ways we can get our children outdoors and learning to take risks?
Some of the experiences we all loved as children fall into the category of “risky play”. Here are ten starter ideas for Risky Play. Many of them are familiar but each of them holds an important role in helping children learn about risk and challenge themselves physically, developmentally, socially, and emotionally.
- Climbing trees
- Tag or Stuck in the mud
- Sledding (Sledging)
Were these experiences that you enjoyed as a child?
One of the risks a child can take is with heights. Exploring the limitations of their physicality when it comes to jumping to or from objects can help a child gain physical awareness. It can also help develop a child’s spatial abilities and learn about depth, movement, and size.
Even jumping on a trampoline gives a child a sense of exhilaration.
Try: Find objects of different heights for children to climb and jump from. Let them experiment with the texture of their landing surface. What’s the difference between jumping from a small step onto concrete versus a log onto a pile of moss?
- CLIMBING TREES
Similar to jumping, climbing trees gives a child a sense of height risk. It allows them to expand their spatial knowledge.
Climbing trees also challenges a child’s understanding of their own physicality. They’re able to learn what effect their weight has on a tree branch or whether they’ll fit in an opening.
Hiking may not seem like a particularly risky activity (depending on the trail) but it allows children to get familiar with heights and outdoor play. The sense of being on an expedition that hiking provides is a good way of encouraging imagination and a positive relationship with the environment.
Try: Make an adventure out of it. Perhaps a mission where the goal is to reach the top. Collect different coloured leaves or interesting rocks as you trek.
Speed is another key area of risk. Swinging on a swing set or on a rope swing gives the child a rush. Similar to height risks, speed risks allow a child to confront any fear early on. By overcoming it in early years, children will be able to confront and manage fear later in life.
Try: Working together to build a swing in your garden will give your child a sense of ownership. They’ll have pride in their swinging!
- SLEDDING (SLEDGING)
Wintertime gives us another opportunity to experience speed risks. Sledding is an exhilarating and stimulating example of outdoor play. Uncertainties like speed, bumps, or final stops make sledding an opportunity where children learn how to evaluate their surroundings.
Autumn is the perfect time to have a bonfire and exposure to fire is another risky activity you can share with your child. Teaching them safe fire practices gives them a foundation to interact with this risky element. Proximity to fire is a fundamentally human experience. Early exposure to this type of risk gives children an understanding about fire that they can take into other experiences like cooking or science.
Try: Teach them how to build a fire. Experiencing the entire process from the kindling to lighting the match will help children learn how to control this risky element.
Parents also can find themselves anxious about their children being in proximity to water. Sensory play such as swimming allows children to confront their surroundings. Allowing your child exposure to this element through swimming allows them to build confidence around this risky element as they grow older.
As with fire, exposure to water can require more diligence by the parent or supervisor. However, the value of that risk and the thrill that comes from learning about such risky elements is incomparable.
Learning how to use tools such as saws, hammers, and knives is an important example of risky play. They give children fine motor skills and pride in creation.
This is definitely one of the risky activities where a parent or supervisor should be especially diligent and experts suggest a 1:1 approach so that children aren’t exposed to true hazards.
Try: Cook with your child. Let them explore what flavours they like while seeing what it takes to make it happen.
- TAG (STUCK IN THE MUD)
One of the more controversial risky activities is “roughhousing”. Active, physical play teaches children control. It allows them to learn how to manage their impulses and escalation at a young age.
With parental supervision, children learn that play-fighting has limits and if they exceed those limits they aren’t allowed to play anymore.
Children’s outdoor games such as tag can be a good starting point for “rough” play. Being chased and chasing others brings out skills related to teamwork and communication.
- HIDE AND SEEK
Even hide and seek can be an example of Risky Play. There is an inherent danger of not being able to see or be seen by any adults. It’s an unsupervised activity but this kind of play can be very beneficial for children because it can give them a sense of independence and solitude.
Try: Building a fort or hideaway in the woods or in your garden can help to give a child their own space.
These activities all pose some level of risk but are all familiar childhood experiences. One of the key running themes is that most of these experiences and opportunities happen outdoors.
Free play in nature is so important because it allows our children to confront things that are unfamiliar and gives them a connection to their surroundings. By being outdoors, children are able to gain perspective and grounding in the space they inhabit. Their world becomes much larger.
What are some of the ways you incorporate risky play into your child’s development?