Risk is an Essential Ingredient in Children’s Play

Play without risk is like a hotdog without mustard.  It is better than nothing but so much tastier when the two are together.  Play without risk still has some value, but it quickly becomes rather boring.  In play, children continually extend their boundaries and strengthen their abilities.

This means taking risks, which they do, by assessing their own abilities and matching them to the conditions of their environment.  Are the branches strong enough so that I can climb higher?  Can I jump from the swing into the sand pit?  Can I climb the ladder to the tall slide?  Can I jump from the high diving board?  Play is full of such choices, but when it is sanitised and nearly devoid of risk, as happens so often today, children become disinterested.

There is widespread agreement that today’s children are playing less, becoming more sedentary and overweight, and seem less able to work out social difficulties with peers.  Creativity scores among children have been falling since 1990, despite the recognised need for greater creativity in the 21st century.  Education gives less and less opportunity for play and creativity, and home life tends to be dominated by screen time and/or organised adult-led activities.  While some of these activities are fruitful for children, they should not replace time for child-initiated, child-directed play.  In such play children get to know themselves and the world around them.  In such play children take chances and learn to cope with risks.

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