Why Our Children Don’t Need Bubble Wrap (except to stomp on because it makes cool noises!)

Author: Lara Jennings   Date Posted: 28 January 2017 


Does your child climb trees?

Scale fences?

Roughhouse with you or another adult?

Cycle as fast as they can on their bike?

Jump off the top of a bunk bed?

Balance on rocks or logs to cross a creek?


Does your heart leap to your throat when you see them about to do something that may result in an injury?  I bet your first instinct is to call out for them to stop before they hurt themselves.  Right?

There are a whole lot of good reasons for you to check your words before they leave your mouth.  Risky play is good for children and there are mounting reasons why they should be allowed to do more of it.


I am not for one moment suggesting that you allow your child to partake in dangerous activities.  While risky play contains an element of danger (the risk), the overall benefits to the child hugely outweigh the risk.


How so?


Think about activities you may have enjoyed when you were growing up. I lived on a sheep and cattle farm as a child and although we moved away from the farm when I was 6, my grandparents ran that farm for decades afterwards and we would visit them every long weekend and school holidays. There was always a few cousins there with us, some older, some younger. Next to the farmhouse was a massive hay shed. And that hay shed was our favourite place to play. We would climb to the top of the hay bales, jump from one stack of hay bales to another, and hide between the hay bales for hide and seek. Not once was there an adult watching us. There would be a call for dinner or fresh scones with jam (usually a ring of a cow bell) and we would come running into the house. Always laughing and keen to get back out there for more!


Other adventures to be had were, climbing the huge trees that surrounded my childhood home with my siblings. Riding our bikes or rollerskates down the hill to see who go the fastest.  Collecting scrap wood and nailing them together to create weapons for our pretend wars with each other. Wrestling each other when Mum was out of the room.  Leaving our holiday accommodation and exploring the beach nearby for hours on end.


While there were times when one of us sustained some kind of injury from our escapades, serious injuries were very rare (neither my sister or I have ever broken a bone!) and most we sustained could even be handled without the intervention of Mum and Dad.  What we did gain from these activities was a sense of our own ability - what we could do versus what we were comfortable doing, and we also experienced an incredible sense of achievement when we found we were able to do something that we initially perceived as being out of our range.  Being able to test our boundaries in these ways gave us the confidence and skills to be able to attempt other unfamiliar activities as they arose.  


Offering the opportunity to take part in risky play is, thankfully, becoming more and more popular in early childhood centres.  Children may be able to climb appropriate trees, bang some nails into pieces of wood with real tools and test their balance on play equipment.  I’ve even seen articles that reference children as young as 4 being encouraged to whittle sticks with knives - and being very good at it!  (How’s that for developing fine motor skills?)


Our children certainly trust us to provide them with a safe environment for their growth and development, but we also need to be aware of their need to test their boundaries for themselves.  No child should be forced into partaking in risky play - how and where children choose to test themselves is highly personal and should be respected.  But the opportunities should be given so they can be taken when they are ready.  


When they do become curious about testing themselves they will experience emotions that require self-regulating: there will be initial fear and there will be exhilaration when they complete the activity. Is unlikely that they will get it right on their first go (if they do, it may have been too easy!) so they are learning to review their actions and modify what they do to complete the task well.  All sounds like good skills to develop, yes?


So give your children the chance to do something a little different.  Review the balance of risk v. benefit - if it is tipping over towards the benefit side, let them have a go.  Participating in risky play is excellent for building confidence, self-esteem and resilience, and our children definitely need as much of this that they can get.



Interested in learning more about you can facilitate risky play in your centre?

Call us for a consultation or in house workshop.

We are more than happy to help your educators and families get comfortable with risky play,

so that every child has the best chance to reach their full potential.


Comments (1)

I love this!

By: on 28 March 2017
Yes! I absolutely agree! My children have learned so much from risky play! Sometimes it results in injury but most of the time it results in lots of critical thinking and problem solving...and me snapping lots of pictures!

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