The most important element and recognizing feature of risky play are the feelings it provokes! The play has an element of uncertainty and exploration that could lead to positive or negative consequences. Does the child climb to the top of that big snow pile and slide down fast and safely? Do they tumble and hurt themselves a bit and then adjust their slide next time? Ellen Sandseter and the Child and Nature Alliance of Canada refer to this as “scary funny.” It’s the feeling that leads a child to shriek, gasp, hold their breath and laugh, or pull back, reassess and sometimes, change their play.
Risky play is an intuitive and emergent experience for children worldwide, and has been for thousands of years. Learning the limits of their body, searching out those limits and learning what feels good and what feels scary or “too much” emerges in play throughout childhood.
European researchers have contributed to sorting risky play into categories. For the purpose of starting to recognize risky play in the children you’re supporting, let’s go over the categories here:
In 2007, Norwegien researcher Ellen Sandseter decided to examine children’s risky play and concluded it could fall into 6 categories:
In 2017, Rasmus Klepp, Edward Meluish and Ellen Sandseter studied children between the ages of 1 and 3 years at play to see if these categories remained consistent with younger children. They concluded there were two more categories —“Playing with impact” and “Vicarious play” — where children participated through observing. These 8 categories are:
Our next video shares the rich benefits of these experiences including opportunities to develop self awareness, practise social skills, and build confidence and independence. We’ll let Laura Molyneux from Cloudberry Forest School tell it!
Reflective Sharing Prompt: Even the most risk averse among us experienced the scary-funny feelings Risky Play provokes. Consider each of these Risky Play categories and share an example for three that resonate from your experience as a child. Remember you can write it, draw it or share it with a friend or colleague.