#5 Reasons Children Need To Experiment With Risk During Play

It is well known in the playwork, education and all child care fields that it is vital for children to take risks.

I would say that the true nature of play is to take risks, it is through taking risks and challenging ourselves and others that we learn, develop and improve our skills and abilities.

The question you might be asking yourself is “where do you draw the line?”

This is a difficult question to answer because each case will be different but I suggest you ask yourself a few questions first:

• What stage of development is the child at?

• Are your personal fears and boundaries the reason you want to intervene?

• Do the dangers of the play outweigh the benefits?

These questions along with good old-fashioned common sense will help you intervene (or not intervene) appropriately.

Don’t wrap them up in cotton wool!

So, how do you know if the benefits outweigh the risk? Let’s talk about some of the benefits…

#1 – Test Themselves

While children are playing they are constantly testing their own capability and testing the environment around them.

This is how they learn!

By testing the way objects move and how they can be manipulated, how their bodies move and how their actions, both physically and verbally can effect the world and people around them, is a very powerful lesson to learn

…and one that children learn early!

The way in which we adults intervene and interact with children while they are on this journey of self discovery as well as discovering what the world is capable of allowing them to do and see is super important!

If a child is climbing a tree I think it’s human nature to say “be careful”. However if you were to say “come down from there it’s too high”, you would be denying the child the opportunity to test their limits and seeing what they are capable of.

You are basically saying “you can’t do that, so don’t even try”.

This attitude is very damaging to a child and could effect them throughout their life with low self esteem and a lack in confidence in their abilities which could prevent them from trying at all in fear of failure.

Which as we know is a toxic mindset to be in.

Empowering children to make their own decisions, test themselves and push their limits as far and they are comfortable to do so will allow them as adults to strive for more and challenge themselves further and further, and ultimately reach their full potential, which is what everyone should thrive for!

#2 – Set Personal Boundaries

By challenging themselves or being challenged by others during play, children will come across thing that they are not comfortable with.

This is a good thing!

 It’s only through personal challenges that we figure out what we can and can’t do… or more accurately, what we do and don’t want to do

(and with practise we can overcome these boundaries)

because we can do anything we put our minds to, right!

#3 – Build Resilience

If a child doesn’t challenge themselves and take risks during their play, both physically and emotionally, they will not build up their resilience to different situations.

This benefit ties in with #1, #2 and #4, as when children test themselves and others in different situations they become more confident in themselves.

Their resilience will grow and their abilities will expand!

#4 – Experiment Emotionally

Risk isn’t only physical. Children also test relationships.

Play is a safety net, everyone understands that play is experimental and ‘pretend’, so children can say things, react and confront people in ways that they usually wouldn’t or that aren’t a social norm, in order to test their reactions.

This will give them an idea of what is acceptable an what isn’t, what gets a big reaction and what doesn’t and what will help them make friends or drive people away.

I worked in a nursery once and little boy pushed a boy over who got up and chased him laughing. The same boy did the same thing to a little girl and she started (fake) crying and went inside. He turned to the other boy and said you didn’t cry, you must be strong. They then continued but they were both superman. No harm was done (apart from to me who would have loved to see the girl stand her ground and join in with them) and the first boy was testing the relationship he could have with both children. He wanted her to join in and used the same method he had used on the other boy but he found that you can’t interact with everybody the same way and expect the same results, everybody is different and I’m sure like everyone else he made the same mistake a few other hundred times before that sunk in properly.

#5 – Learn About Dangers

Danger is everywhere!

Short of literally wrapping children up in cotton wool, it is best that children experience risk in a relatively safe environment with people who can help them when needed.

For children to blossom and truly understand the dangers they are going to face, they need to have the freedom to seek them out.

For example children are going to:

 Cross the street

 Meet people they don’t agree with

 Walk on unstable ground

 Go camping and build a fire

Play allows children to experiment, bring them out of their comfort zone whilst still feeling fundamentally safe.

Through play children learn how to approach these situations, so that when they are faced with them spontaneously they are more prepared.

For example, children can use rough and tumble play to test their strength, which prepares them to fight back if they were to be attacked by another child, or even an adult.

I hope you enjoyed reading this post, please share it with like-minded people and ask any questions you may have in the comments.

Last week I discussed the advantages of competitive play so if you’d like to read that please click here.

This week I have done the first two days of my summer camp whilst recovering from my trip.

I had so much fun and learnt so much, but travelling takes it out of you so a weekend of staying in my pyjamas in my apartment is exactly what I needed!

How did you play today?


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