Getting our kids outdoors
18/01/2021 By Marc Armitage - Independent Children’s Playworking Consultant

Risky play is not a category – it’s what children DO

We often throw around the term ‘risky play’ as though it was a category of play like social play or gross-motor
play. But it is not. Taking risks is simply one of the things children do when they are playing and, because a significant amount of playing is about pushing boundaries and extending ourselves, it turns out that most play is risky in one way or another.

The problem is we have over a number of years gradually become a risk averse society. We have simply become very wary of anything labelled risky and have been encouraged to avoid it in any form. The newspapers for example are full of stories of this being banned and that being stopped on anti-risk health and safety grounds.

The issue seems to be largely confusion over our use of the word ‘risk’ and we can see this when reading documents such as the National Quality Framework (Síolta) where for example Component 2.4 ‘The environment promotes the safety, both indoors and outdoors, of all children and adults’ asks the question: “In what way is the indoor environment/equipment designed to reduced risk of injury to children?” [my italics]. The wider component goes on to give numerous examples of these ‘risks’ to be avoided such as not having sharp corners on furniture, electrical sockets being out of reach and non-slip flooring for example – all of which are hazards in this context not risks. There is further
confusion when the Health Service Executive (HSE) uses the unhelpful phrase ‘safe risk’ in its guidelines. So, it is no wonder people are confused when it comes to the question of risk and what is risky and what is not, and what we can do and what we can’t.

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