Narrator (Catherine Sewell, play specialist): Risk is a fundamental part of play. It’s not about putting children in dangerous situations. It’s about saying that children need to test their own boundaries and their limits.
So, on a practical sense, there’s a difference between a risk and a hazard. A hazard is something that the child can’t see for themselves that’s in their environment that could cause serious injury. So, for example, a hazard, when you’re playing outside, might be a big hole in the ground that’s sort of covered up and you can’t see that it’s there so, if you ran, your foot might drop in and it’d be likely that you’d break your leg. Whereas a risk might be that there is a large sort of hole in the yard or something like that, but a child can see it and they can test how deep it is and maybe walk on its uneven surface.
So, if we take away all the risk in play, we’re taking away the opportunity for children to learn how to do things for themselves, and that’s so fundamental. There will come a time where they need to know the limits of their bodies, where they need to know how to socially or emotionally stop or say no. They need those skills for themselves.
A nice way to think about challenging your child is really to ask them to try and do things for themselves. If they’re getting a bit stuck with something – say they’re halfway up a tree and they start to get stressed and worried, we can support them. ‘I’m right here. You can do it.’ But maybe challenging them by maybe just talking them through how to get down. ‘Just take a deep breath and maybe try popping your foot here. You’re all right. You got up there. You’ll be able to get down.’ So, talking them through it instead of actually physically moving their legs or pulling them down from the tree, in which case they’re not learning how to do it themselves. So, leaving an element of that challenge for them will extend their abilities because again they’re kind of playing on the edge of what their capabilities are and they’re learning how to do new things. The next time that they do it, they’ll be just that little bit more competent and that little bit more competent until they’re up and down there in a flash without even thinking about it.
Play is all about testing. It’s all about trying things out, so give them a chance. Allow them to test things out, try things out. Allow them to fail. Allow them to make mistakes, because that’s how they learn.