A Risk-Averse Response to Childhood

In 2017, a school in Northern Ontario prohibited cartwheels to avoid wrist injuries and concussions. In 2011, a school in Toronto banned balls from the playground to protect staff and students.  In many major cities, children aren’t allowed to climb trees in parks. Many children have never played in an open outdoor space that is not fenced. 

Playgrounds are no longer wooden. They’re metal or plastic. Wood breaks down over time and children could get a splinter.

Many school playgrounds are without loose parts. Children crowd the space. Conflicts break out, as they do in all play spaces, but it happens more frequently when play resources are limited and space is tight. 

Outdoor play programs that centre the value of risk in play and learning offer children more space to move, build and invent. The field or forest offers loose parts to spark play and those loose parts are unlimited. Where an argument could break out over a limited number of balls on the playground, there are almost always enough sticks, enough mud, and enough space in outdoor play spaces. Every loose part in the forest is open-ended; sparking imagination and creativity in children’s play. 

By contrast, while intended to hold space for play, small fenced-in spaces, plastic playgrounds, and concrete rubberized outdoor flooring are barriers to children’s connection to each other, to themselves and to the land. In the effort to remove the risk from play, many elements which support development and mental health have been removed too. 

Adult anxieties about liability, litigation, and blame can make it difficult to strike the right balance between children having the freedom to play, and keeping them safe from harm. Along with these anxieties, there is sometimes significant pressure to use an overcautious approach or provide written documentation for every decision. These approaches may undermine the good judgment of experienced educators.

Thorough and regularly updated Risk-Benefit Assessments, combined with facilitation strategies that support risky play on the ground, and an understanding of our legal obligations, offers educators the confidence to lead outdoor play programs and navigate risky play with children and their parents. 

This entry written by Marlene Power describes a risk-averse and fearful response to children’s active outdoor and risky play:

WHEN ADULT PERCEPTIONS OF RISK RESULT IN REAL BANS ON CHILDREN’S PLAY

Retrieved March, 2018 from: http://childnature.ca/when­adult­perceptions­of­risk­result­in­real­bans­on­childrens­play/