Risky Play


If you read the blog post about sitting still in school. you may remember me mentioning risky play – including rough and tumble – and that it is important.  As the weather gets warmer and the kids flock to the parks, I thought that now would be a great time to tackle the subject!

This will be a two part post – the first being about risky play and the second looking more at rough and tumble play specifically, so stay tuned!

What is Risky Play?

Risky play is a form of play that is thrilling, unpredictable, uncertain and has the potential for physical hazards and injury.

Researchers have identified six different types of risky play:

Great heights

Great heights type of play includes:

– climbing

– hanging

– jumping off of things

At the park, it’s all about monkey bars, tall climbing structures, including rope ladders, spider webs, parallel bars and rock climbers.

Climbing and hanging from our arms helps develop shoulder girdle strength, which is vital to fine motor control.  Opportunities to continue to strengthen our shoulder girdle typically decrease as we stop playing and get older (unless we specifically focus on it at the gym).

To be able to swing from the monkey bars or climb up to the top of the equipment, it also takes motor planning to figure out how to move our bodies to get where we want to go.  Hanging and jumping off of a height helps develop body awareness and spatial awareness.  All of these are building blocks in our physical development.

High speeds

High speeds type of play includes:

– sliding

– swinging

– biking and running at the edge of control

These types of activities serve a number of purposes, such as helping us continue to develop our vestibular system, which is responsible for giving us sensory information about motion, spatial orientation and equilibrium.  Additionally, high speeds typically means children are working on their overall fitness or cardiovascular work, leading to better endurance.

Rough and tumble

Check out our next blog post of this part of risky play.  There is just too much important stuff to fit in!

Getting lost

Getting lost sounds a bit scary, however this type of risky play includes playing alone and exploring unfamiliar environments independently.

The benefit of this type of play is much more psychological in nature rather than physical.  It allows our kiddos to develop resiliency and independence as well as a sense of self-security – that “I can do this!” mindset.

Of course, this type of play looks different at different ages.  A toddler may “hide” during hide and seek, however, the parents will know exactly where they are, whereas an older child might explore a forest while parents are nearby.

Dangerous tools

Dangerous tools play includes play with items that may cause harm, such as knives, hammers, screws and saws.

A child may help in the kitchen chopping veggies or build a birdhouse or fort.  Not only does this help reinforce creativity and planning, but it also helps develop hand eye coordination.

Dangerous elements

This type of play is in environments with an element of risk.

This might be near water, a steep drop off or fire.

The benefits of this kind of play are similar to getting lost.  From a physical perspective however, these environments can add an extra challenge.

Sand and rocky ground are unstable surfaces which can challenge balance, increase foot strength and in general take more energy to navigate – all great things from a physio point of view!

Growing and learning through Risky Play

All of these types of risky play allow children to grow and learn.  From a physiotherapy prospective, being physically active is of great importance, but it is also important to have the ability to continue our physical development with new challenges that we often don’t get an opportunity to experience otherwise.

From a global development perspective, children who engage in risky play foster greater self-esteem, build resiliency and learn to manage risks.

It can be hard to step back and let our little people try these things, as worry seems to be a natural part of parenting!

There is a fantastic website https://outsideplay.ca/ which can help parents/caregivers with the worry in order to encourage their child to experience more outdoor risky play.

Stay tuned for the second part on rough and tumble play!

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