Playground areas and risk

When we look at this title, there is a word that is not there. Everyday there are constant discourses on risk during children’s play time. Is it okay for a child to have some risk around the playground instead of a completely insulated environment? Should children even be exposed to risk in the first place? What happens to me if a child gets injured under my watch? These are the questions that parents and decision makers are faced with.

In all these conversations, we should ask ourselves why children need risk during play. We try to protect them but do they suffer when they are overprotected? Children should be given the chance to explore their playgrounds. Play time is a great opportunity to have fun and learn at the same time.

So the word that is missing from the title is ‘benefit’. It would be possible to protect children against exposure to risk, but they would lose out in at least two stark ways: deny exposure to risk and you deny the child a play opportunity; deny exposure to a risk and you deny the child a chance to learn how to manage risk themselves. To deny at least access to acceptable levels of risk is to deny children the opportunity to engage with and learn from risks.

Playground areas and risk

The risks that children encounter in life are the sorts of risks that life tends to throw up on a daily basis, and these risks are not limited to the risk of physical harm. Children will expose themselves to emotional and psychological risks as they engage with their friends and other children.

We all make judgements as we progress through life, and as adults we make such judgements when we consider what sorts of risks are appropriate for children to encounter. To a Large extent, the physical and emotional risks to which children are exposed through their interactions with their environment and peers are obvious or apparent to the child, and become more obvious as they grow older and more accustomed to the world around them. As parents and policy makers, it is incumbent upon us to consider

the risks, but also, importantly, to consider the wider implications of our decision making— upon what basis are we making judgements? If we set reasonable policy objectives in terms of benefits to children, then the judgements that we make can be set against that policy, such that our reputations will be intact and our children will benefit from excellent play opportunities.

By way of example, if I stop my child from climbing a tree on the basis that he might fail and hurt himself, then I can be sure that he will not be harmed by falling from a tree. However, what about the missing bits to which I referred earlier? What benefit is there in climbing trees? What are the consequences of stopping my child from climbing the tree? He will not learn to climb trees so he will be denied the fun that comes from it, he will be denied the freedom of choice and he will be denied the ability to learn how to climb a tree! The next time he climbs a tree with his friends, he has one less learning experience upon which to draw, and there is more likelihood that he will fall! The more experienced he becomes at climbing trees, the higher he will climb, and potentially the more risk he will expose himself to. However, he will have an awareness of the risk that he is letting himself in for and will tend to self-limit. The higher he goes, the more careful he becomes and the more exciting the experience becomes.

So when considering what judgements to make on children’s behalf, we should consider the benefits of allowing exposure to risk and the consequences of our choices.

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