Risky play: Swinging the pendulum back!

More and more folks acknowledging the value of children being allowed to take some risks during play!  Think back to how you played as a child.  And then compare that to the environments that most modern kids find themselves.  Are modern children being robbed of the joyous possibilities of risky free play?

In the recent New York Times feature article Making Playgrounds a Little More Dangerous, the author examined one of my favorite play spaces, The Yard on Governor's Island, NY.  They dug into why these 'risky' environments are actually safer for kids in the long term!

Meghan Talarowski, the founder of a playground research and design organization, Studio Ludo, in Philadelphia, conducted a study that compared playgrounds in London and in American cities.

Ms. Talarowski found that children were more physically active and remained in the British playgrounds longer than in American ones. And surprisingly, given the potential for risky play, there were fewer injuries in the London playgrounds than in those in the United States.

“The best playgrounds look dangerous but are completely safe,” Ms. Talarowski said.

I could not agree more!  Kids are always responding to the environment around them. And they adjust their behavior based on their perception of safety.  Risky 'junk yard' playgrounds seem dangerous so kids behave safer!  Conventional playgrounds seem too safe, so kids increase the level of riskiness to get the thrill they are looking for. This often results in accidents and injuries.

This fact is also born out by a study done at the Parish School, in Houston Texas which looked at accidents and injuries on their two different playground environments.  One is a conventional play structure and one a kid-built adventure playground that looks like a junk yard.  The adventure playground setting had about 4 times fewer accidents and injuries than the conventional one!

It is high time to begin to re-think our notions of risk and safety, where children's play is concerned.   If we do that, maybe we can provide today's kids with some of the amazing (and risky) play experiences that we cherished growing up!