Skip to main content

Blog: The Light of Aurora

Why We Create Opportunities for Risky Play

14:00 PM - May 23, 2022

Why We Create Opportunities for Risky Play

I invite you to think back to your fondest memories of playing as a young child. Where were the adults while you were playing?

For many of us, childhood play was when we interacted with other children and nature without too much direct adult attention. Adults were on the periphery managing the work of daily life but available if we truly needed them. This unstructured time left us to our own devices: creating games, challenging one another, and discovering new capacities.

Research has demonstrated that children who engage in appropriate risky play benefit in numerous ways. Brittany Toole shares that “risky play in early childhood can help develop a child’s self-confidence, resilience, executive functioning abilities, and even risk-management skills.…Research [also] shows that engaging in risky play can actually reduce the risk of injury,” as children learn to recognize their limits and self-regulate.

(Risky play for children: Why we should let kids go outside and then get out of the way | Nature of Things)

Six ways kids should engage in "risky" play - Active For Life identifies different kinds of risky play:

  1. Play at great heights
  2. Play at high-speed
  3. Play with dangerous tools such as saws and knives
  4. Play near dangerous elements such as water and fire
  5. Rough-and-tumble play
  6. Play where there’s a chance of getting lost

In the Early Childhood program at AWS, we consciously create a learning environment where our students have opportunities to explore many of these types of risky play.


Each of our Pre-K and Kindergarten classrooms has a climbing structure (often referred to by the children as a “treehouse”) where they can practice climbing up and down a ladder and viewing the room from a high vantage point. Heights are also experienced during our excursions in the forest when we carefully descend the steep “billy goat hill.”


All the students at AWS enjoy the thrill of speed each winter on the sledding hill. During the warmer months, young children enjoy running or rolling as fast as they can down this hill behind our school.

Dangerous Tools

While our students don’t “play” with dangerous tools, they learn how to use real hand saws and kitchen knives appropriately as part of our early childhood curriculum. The children learn how to handle these tools safely and take great pride in sawing their own hiking sticks, chopping fruit and vegetables for snacks, and sewing with sharp needles.

Dangerous Elements

Learning to respect nature’s elements happens during the extensive time spent outdoors exploring the forest and creekside. The forces of nature are felt through the cycles of the year as the children experience the cold, exhilarating wind of winter and witness the powerfully rushing creek water in the spring. In a media-saturated culture, experiencing the sensations of nature nourishes the soul.

Rough-and-Tumble Play

From imaginative animal play to tumbling together on the sledding hill, rough-and-tumble play is how many children learn to socialize with one another. They become increasingly aware of their own and their peers' limits and learn how to communicate their feelings and develop self-control. At AWS, students have ample free playtime and may choose to engage in rough-and-tumble play with a supportive teacher supervising and available to step in if necessary.

Exploring the World Alone

While our students don’t have the opportunity to wander off and lose their way, they are free to explore the play yard and forest with teachers watching from the periphery. There is a sense of excitement at being able to discover something new on your own. Our young students have made amazing discoveries, including a fawn lying amid the forest foliage, snakes along the side of the path, bees gathering nectar from flowers, worms and bugs living under a fallen log, toads hopping in the garden, and most recently, a bunny nest under the mud kitchen in the sandbox. Besides wildlife, the children find many ways to challenge themselves, such as balancing on a fallen tree or climbing saplings. Nature offers a rich environment for children to develop observation skills and orient themselves in the world.

In today’s society, are we keeping children too safe? When children have opportunities to explore uncertainty, they are allowed to exercise their muscles of resiliency and overcome fears and anxious moments.

But how do parents keep their fears in check? One way is to focus on making sure the play environment is ‘as safe as necessary’ instead of ‘as safe as possible.’ Additionally, Mariana Brussoni, a professor at the University of British Columbia and BC Children’s Hospital, suggests we practice the 17-second rule when we feel the urge to intervene in their play. FThis practice involves stepping back and observing your child for 17 seconds to determine what they are capable of without your assistance. They might surprise you and themselves! If parents see their role as providing their children with time, freedom, and space, the kids will take care of the rest.

Jaime Thompson, Ash Grove Pre-K / Kindergarten teacher, has completed various Waldorf training programs and has an M.Ed. and B.S. in Early Childhood Education from SUNY Fredonia. She is also the proud parent of two AWS alumni and one current middle schooler.

< Back