Risky play – is it a good thing?

Yes, says a new parliamentary report. But does 'risky' really mean playing on cliff edges?

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The term ‘risky play’ would probably set alarm bells ringing in most of our heads. But a new All-Party Parliamentary Group has said that kids who take part in ‘risky’ playtimes are more capable of facing danger when they are older.

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So what does ‘risky play’ really mean? 

Much of the media had a bit of a field day when news of this report first came out. “Children should engage in ‘risky play’ near cliffs and water” declared The Independent’s headline, overshadowed only by The Daily Mail, which announced “Children should play near CLIFFS to learn about danger” – capitalising CLIFFS just in case you didn’t get it. 

Not surprisingly, the report doesn’t tell parents to send their children off to play on their own on cliffs or near water. But it does suggest that supervised play in places that have an element of risk (eg cliffs) can be a good thing. 

The report, called Play, says that risky play can include:

  • physical tests of ability
  • mental challenges of determination or imagination

but might also include situations such as:

  • a child attempting to make a friend, which may lead to rejection and consequent hurt

The All-Party Parliamentary Group publishing the report, which was sponsored by LeapFrog, is co-chaired by Baroness Floella Benjamin (yes that Floella, the former kids TV presenter who used to be on PlaySchool).

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Floella got the media frothing when she said that playing in chancy situations could also involve “rough and tumble, height, speed, playing near potentially dangerous elements such as water, cliffs and exploring alone with the possibility of getting lost”. She explained this gives children a feeling of thrill and excitement and other accompanying benefits.

While half the MFM team initially recoiled at the term ‘risky play’, Baroness Benjamin personally explained to us what she meant.

“We will not advocate putting children in danger. We want them to be happy, playful and resilient all at the same time,” says the mum-of-two. Risky play should be supported and there should be provisions made for children’s safety. That’s number one.”

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“The most important thing is to make sure if we put children in a risky situation we’ve done a risk assessment ourselves. We’re not saying go out and let children run wild. We’re saying children need to know discipline, they need to know where the lines are and they need to know when you say no, that’s as far as you go.

“It’s people’s interpretation of what we are saying that is going to matter, because we experience play in many different ways that’s why it makes an exciting report because you can interpret it in any way you like.

“The fundamental thing is we want the best for children.”

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The report also calls for:

  • The Government to make local authorities ring-fence money for play
  • Teachers to be trained in play as part of a professional qualification
  • Schools to offer informal play sessions before and after school
  • Schools to open-up play spaces and facilities to the local community outside of school hours
  • The Government to give parents advice and assistance when choosing ‘tech toys’

This is the forth report from the All-Party Parliamentary Group, which was set up in 2014 to look at all aspects of childhood health and wellbeing, in the hopes it can influence active Government policy.  

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