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Risky Business: A New Approach to Outdoor Play

Risky Business: A New Approach to Outdoor Play

As parents, we constantly worry about our kids and their safety, especially in the outdoors! However, outdoor play provides a myriad of benefits. From physical development and health to mental well-being and freedom, playing outside can help our kids feel trusted; allowing them to satisfy their natural curiosity.

Despite these benefits, our safety concerns can lead to restrictions placed on our kids while playing outside. While designed to supervise and protect children, these restrictions can also limit development. It’s a fine line to walk between protecting our kids and limiting their exposure to the natural world, so how can we get the most of these outdoor opportunities while keeping kids safe? Enter the concept of risky play.

Risky play, as defined by the Canadian Pediatric Society, are thrilling and exciting forms of free play that involve uncertainty of outcome and a possibility of physical injury.

The very thought of physical injury is enough to make any parents' blood run cold, but academics make a distinction between risky play and hazardous play.

Hazardous play refers to an environment where children are unable to identify and deal with potential dangers. Conversely, risky play involves elements of danger that a child can identify, and consequently, tackle independently.

The benefits of risky play are immediately apparent. Such independence can encourage freedom of thought, critical thinking skills, and a healthy love for exploration. Above all, it allows our kids to have fun in an unsupervised capacity, encouraging self-monitoring and risk-assessment capabilities.

Benefits of Risky Play

Freedom of Thought

Risky play offers children the freedom to explore their environment without constant adult intervention. When children engage in activities where they must assess risks and make decisions independently, they have the opportunity to exercise their imagination and creativity. This freedom of thought allows them to develop problem-solving skills and fosters a sense of autonomy and self-confidence. By encountering and overcoming challenges on their own terms, children learn to trust their instincts and develop a resilient mindset.

Critical Thinking

Through risky play, children are also confronted with situations that require quick thinking and analysis of potential outcomes. Whether it's climbing a tree or navigating a new playground, they must assess risks, make decisions, and adapt to changing circumstances. This process stimulates their critical thinking abilities as they weigh the pros and cons of their actions. Over time, children become better equipped to evaluate situations objectively, anticipate consequences, and make informed choices, which are invaluable skills that extend beyond the playground into all aspects of life.


Risky play fuels children's innate curiosity and a thirst for exploration. When given the freedom to engage in activities that may carry a degree of risk, such as building a makeshift fort or exploring a rocky shoreline, children are motivated to satisfy their curiosity about the world around them. This hands-on approach to learning promotes a deeper understanding of their environment and fosters a lifelong love of discovery. By embracing uncertainty and embracing new challenges, children cultivate a sense of wonder and excitement that drives their intellectual and emotional growth.



Engaging in risky play allows children to develop self-awareness and self-regulation skills. As they navigate uncertain terrain and encounter potential hazards, they learn to monitor their own actions and reactions. By recognising their own limits and abilities, children become more adept at assessing risks and making informed decisions about their behaviour. This process of self-monitoring builds resilience and fosters a sense of responsibility for their own safety. Over time, children become more confident in their abilities to navigate the world independently, laying the foundation for future success.

Risk Assessment
Risky play provides children with opportunities to hone their risk-assessment skills in a controlled environment. By experimenting with different activities and gauging their own comfort levels, children learn to accurately assess the level of risk associated with various actions. This iterative process allows them to develop a nuanced understanding of risk and reward, enabling them to make more informed choices in the future. As children gain experience with risky play, they become better equipped to manage uncertainty and navigate challenges with confidence. This proficiency in risk assessment is a valuable life skill that empowers children to take calculated risks and pursue their goals with courage and determination.

Embracing the concept of risky play offers numerous benefits for children's development, despite the understandable concerns of parents regarding safety. By distinguishing between risky play and hazardous play, we can appreciate the importance of allowing children to engage in activities that promote independence, critical thinking, curiosity, self-monitoring, and risk assessment. Encouraging children to explore their environment and navigate challenges independently fosters resilience, confidence, and a sense of responsibility. Ultimately, risky play provides children with valuable life skills that empower them to approach the world with courage, curiosity, and determination.
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