the child accident prevention foundation of australia

Risk and Challenge in Playgrounds

The prevention of serious injury is an important consideration in playground provision. However, safety considerations also need to be balanced with children's needs for play, learning and fun in the playground.

There is a growing body of research that highlights the benefits for children when play environments provide risk and challenge. There is also corresponding evidence of negative outcomes when children are not given such opportunities; and that striving for 'risk free' playgrounds can actually diminish learning and development opportunities.

Playgrounds give children opportunities to play and have fun. They are often one of the few places children can play freely without adult direction. Playgrounds can also help children to learn about themselves - their strengths, abilities, achievements and their limitations; and about how to assess risk, problem solve, communicate, collaborate and get along with others.

A summary of what the research says about risk benefit:

  • Appropriate risk-taking during play helps children improve their motor skills, balance and coordination and gain confidence in being physically active.
  • Children given opportunities to take risks in outside play develop confidence and are more likely to persist and persevere in problem solving in the playground as well as in their academic endeavours.
  • Insufficient playground novelty and challenge can lead to inappropriate risk-taking; and prevent children from developing decision-making skills needed to make accurate risk judgements.

Importantly risk and challenge in playgrounds must be age and developmentally appropriate for the children who will use them. Ideally, providing graduated risk or designing for flexibility can cater for children's diverse abilities and ongoing development.

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