Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Risky Business

We have a new sand pit at my kindergarten. It's funny but when I first saw it taking shape, after the enormous hole was dug with an excavator and the pink granite boulders were being positioned I thought about how beautiful and inviting it was. I felt excited for the opportunities that it would present to enhance children's play.
However, many parents felt quite differently, reacting to the boulders as a safety hazard. The sand pit was not even finished when they began raising their concerns. There was still an orange bunting fence around it and the landscaper had not yet filled in all of the potential 'entrapment' holes. The rocks had to be laid like a jigsaw puzzle, and the sand would be filled to come right up to the top of the rocks, submerging much of the rock's 'dangerous' surfaces.
But still the fears remained. What if their children fell and landed on a rock? A sharp and hard one, none the less. What if they fell off a rock and broke their arm? Or cracked their head open on the edge of a rock? What if indeed?
Our playground is full of risk. It is a safe environment but there are  concrete paths, logs, timber edging, rocks and trees and verandah posts that all pose hazards to young children, especially when running, as they constantly do. We have two enormous Liquid Amber trees that leave their spiky and prickly fruits all over the ground and there are uneven surfaces and high climbing frames and a fort that can be climbed on, even up to it's roof. The children do have occasional minor accidents, usually it is equipment based (hitting someone on the head with a plastic spade) or from running and falling over. We provide an environment that encourages children to explore and play and experience risk in a managed way. I am passionate about children's play, and I believe that it is critical to get them outdoors, exploring and learning, testing boundaries and working things out for themselves. How else does a child learn what a boulder is like if they never get to sit or climb on one.

I have shared some research on the topic and I invite you to explore this further, and share your thoughts on the matter.

Play is a vital part of childhood and growing up. Children learn through play to develop social, physical and emotional skills. Providing children with an outdoor learning environment that incorporates areas for quiet, natural, creative, active and stimulating play will allow children to learn whilst using their imagination. By inviting a child to use their initiative and explore possibilities we provide them with the best opportunities to learn.
The National Quality Standard for Early Childhood Education  states a requirement for outdoor spaces to include natural elements and materials which allow for multiple uses. 
The prevention of serious injury is an important consideration in playground provision. However, safety considerations also need to be balanced with children's needs for play, learning and fun in the playground.
 There is a growing body of research that highlights the benefits for children when play environments provide risk and challenge. There is also corresponding evidence of negative outcomes when children are not given such opportunities; and that striving for 'risk free' playgrounds can actually diminish learning and development opportunities.
In addition to defining areas such as a sandpit or dry creek bed, rocks and boulders provide opportunities for challenging and fun play, and add to the natural materials used in playspaces. Children’s balancing skills are tested when they make their way along a boulder border or use the boulders as stepping stones. The boulders can also be a good place to sit and rest, talk or watch. Cleverly arranged rocks and boulders are safe. Children have a healthy respect for the solidity and hardness of rocks and boulders and develop their own sense of care, concern, and safety when they climb on them.          Rocks and Boulders - Kidsafe NSW
We let them direct their own play, make their own decisions, take risks, experiment, fall and get back up. All practice for when they are grown.        Don't Be Careful - Happiness Is Here
How playgrounds create healthier kids

 A child who has always been allowed to move freely develops not only an agile body but good judgment about what he can and cannot do. Developing good body image, spatial relations and a sense of balance helps the child learn not only how to move but also how to fall and how to recover. Children raised this way hardly have serious accidents.

If we all agree that a taste of freedom and adventure are vital ingredients of a good childhood, then surely we should see to it that children today are able to enjoy similar experiences.                                                                    Taking A Balanced Approach to Risk - Rethinking Childhood

I have come to realize that the reason I detest "be careful" so much is because 99% of the time it is said to make the person saying it feel better/safer about the situation!  It is usually said out of distraction, absentmindedly, out of not being truly present with our children.  


  1. It is stunning Laurel! Kids need to learn how to calculate risk - over the years I have seen some total nutters as parents, who freak out about every day things but will shriek their fears at the child. OK I get the nut thing at kinder, a bit sad about the nativity thing - but hey, our kinder allowed fruit and water at snack time - fruit cut up on platters. Kids were taught to wash their hands and supervised...people cough on you at the shop, the bus etc. Cars drive through houses sometimes - sand pits are for PLAYING IN!!! Rocks are for exploring and palyground MUST be run in!! I wholly support your ideas.

    1. Thanks Lynda. Play is critical for human development. If only adults could do a bit more of it!

  2. Good post Miss Muggins. Thank you for finding all those quotes. I am sure other educators will find them useful too when they have to make a case to allay parents' fears.


Thankyou for coming to visit and sharing your thoughts with me. You keep me blogging!


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