Risky play: ‘keep children as safe as necessary and not as safe as possible’

All children want to play. Fortunately, play has an important function for a child’s personality development. Above all, ‘risky play’ is good for physical, social and intellectual development. Unfortunately, we see that less and less. Reason for researchers at Utrecht University to research this. The first part of the study has now been completed and the obstacles are now well understood: municipalities struggle with their responsibilities and parents with their concerns. But in the interests of the child, things must and can be done differently.

Photo: EasySwim Netherlands


Children like to climb, climb and explore, but do it less and less. Kirsten Visser is an assistant professor in urban geography at the Faculty of Geosciences at the University of Utrecht and, together with a team of researchers from the Department of Human Geography and Planning, has investigated the reason for this. “In the project ‘The power of risky play’ we looked at two playgrounds in Rotterdam to see how they are designed to stimulate risky play and how these places are used by children.” In addition, they asked children and parents what they thought about risky outdoor play and talked to politicians about decision-making and policing of risky playgrounds. There has been no research into the benefits of risky play, but Visser says that they have looked at previous studies. “We know from this that it promotes motor development, as well as cognitive and emotional development, and that it forms the basis for a child’s social and intellectual development.” By literally and figuratively giving children challenging spaces to play, you are giving them a really good foundation for the rest of their lives.”

Read also: Instructions encourage parents and children to play in the water

To exclude risks

According to Visser, the fact that children play less challenging is certainly not because they do not need it. “Children like to look for risks in their play, think natural elements like water or sharp parts like branches. We also know that they rarely rush in. They assess the risks and sometimes practice before they try something.” Why children still play less risky is due, among other things, to the supply of challenging play areas in public spaces. “Municipalities must of course comply with all kinds of rules, and laws and regulations have become tightened. It must be prevented that something happens and that the municipality can be held responsible for it. A councilor does not want to burn his fingers on that. As a result, many elements suitable for risky gambling are avoided.” In addition, public space has changed significantly in recent decades. “It’s much busier on the street, half the population has a car, which of course determines the street scene.” This is also what the parents struggle with, notes Visser, because they are also one of the obstacles. “Parents play a big role when it comes to children’s play behaviour, and our research shows that they are very protective. They prefer not to let children play out of sight and want to rule out any possible risk.” At the same time, Visser feels that parents are aware of the benefits. “We have spoken to many parents who understand the importance of it, but think that the environment has changed to such an extent that it is not always safe. They want to offer their children more challenges, but in a safer environment than is often the case now.” Which, according to Visser, is also the core: “Children need to experience different contexts in order to better assess risks. So they need more challenge.”

Read more in Swimming Pool Industry #86


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