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Benefits of Risky Play: Why Risky Play is Important to Your Child's Development

October 21, 2019

“Children are competent, capable of complex thinking, curious, and rich in potential.”

– Ontario Ministry of Education, How Does Learning Happen? 

It can be difficult for a lot of us to allow risky play to happen. The instinct of most parents is to eliminate risk in order to protect our children. But risk doesn’t have to equal danger. In fact, there are many benefits of risky play!

Risky play—that is, play that incorporates safe risks relative to a child’s age, size, motor skills, and comfort level—is important to a child’s development.

A mom helps her preschool aged son hammer nails into a block of wood. Using tools an example of risky play.

Benefits of Risky Play

Emotional Regulation

Children who take safe risks learn that they can manage their fear, overcome it, and come out the other side.

Emotional self-regulation is an important skill that can help children to think before they act on a feeling. Some ways you may see this is when your child calms themself down, cheers themself up when something doesn’t go their way, or stops a meltdown before it begins.

Risky play provides the foundation needed to regulate emotional responses like fear, nervousness, or anger in adulthood. 

Adaptability

There are times in life when we all need to move out of our comfort zone and try something new. Children who engage in risky play develop skills to handle the feelings of nervousness and fear that can come with trying new things.

This knowledge gives them the skills they need to adapt to new situations and explore new environments—skills that become even more important when they go to school.

Self-Confidence

When a child tries something risky, they gain the confidence to say “I can do this!” and try more things on their own. Children who engage in risky play are more likely to take chances where there is a chance of failure. Even if they fall, they know they can get back up and try again.

Physical Literacy

Physical literacy means having the skills, confidence, and love of movement needed to be active and healthy for their whole lives.

Risky play activities that are part of a child’s active play—running, climbing, or balancing—help to make them more physically literate. Children who engage in active risky play develop their gross motor (big muscle) skills, begin to understand how their bodies move, and learn how fun active play can be!

Types of Risky Play

There are six types of risky play. They include playing:

  1. At great heights (such as on a step stool)
  2. At a high speed (such as running)
  3. With dangerous tools (such as a hammer)
  4. Near dangerous elements (such as water)
  5. With rough-and-tumble interaction (such as play wrestling)
  6. Where children can “disappear” or get lost (such as hide-and-seek in the backyard)

Learn more about these types of risky play from Active For Life or find out how to incorporate safe risks into your child’s play time with climbing!

Is risky play worth the “risk”?

Risky play is not about doing something dangerous, but about moving past uncertainty to try something exciting. Risky play is different for every child, depending on their age and comfort level. For example, risky play for a toddler might mean balancing on one foot on the ground, while risky play for a preschool age child might be climbing up on step stool to reach for a toy.

Children are intelligent enough to know their limits; they will not intentionally put themselves in harm’s way. Try adding safe risks to your child’s play time and watch as they play and learn!


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