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Disturbing Trend: A Focus on Safety to the Detriment of Beneficial Play
May 27, 2021
Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted with important matters.
-Albert Einstein
A study posted on eric.ed.gov is called “We Don’t Allow Children to Climb Trees: How a Focus on Safety Affects Norwegian Children’s Play in Early-Childhood Education and Care Settings.” The study’s authors, Ellen Beate Hansen Sandseter and Ole Johan Sando explain their results this way:

“Our findings mainly indicate that Norway’s once less risk-averse approach to children’s risk taking…may be changing. The pressure to make children’s safety the main focus of play activities seems to be growing in Norwegian ECEC settings…
Our results argue for a balance between children’s safety in play and their need for stimulating and challenging play to optimize development and learning…The participants in this study worry that the focus on safety has gone too far, resulting in a lack of physical challenges for children…[and a] negative effect on children’s risk-managing competence…Despite a low injury rate…activities that were normal a few years ago among Norwegian children are now restricted or even prohibited in some ECEC settings…It thus seems that Norway, once held up as an example of less restrictive attitudes in encouraging challenging play, has joined the disturbing Australian, American, and UK trend toward overcautiousness, trepidation, and fearfulness in adult attitudes toward children’s play. This study highlights the need for more effective strategies in balancing children’s safety, on one hand, and their need for and right to challenging and risky play, on the other. This is an important issue for ECEC staff, ECEC owners and politicians, parents, and other caretakers."

Rusty Keeler’s popular new book, Adventures in Risky Play, speaks to the issues Sandseter and Sando raise. He offers many strategies educators can use to carefully find the balance between safety and the benefits of risky play. For example, he writes: “We want to say yes more, but children push the limits and we see danger. In split seconds we scan a situation and make decisions whether to allow play or stop play. Even as super-supporters of play we do that and we should be doing that. But how do we make those decisions? What do we take into consideration? What inner guidance are we listening to? ... A great way to get some practice is by going through the risk-benefit analysis process on any given element your child might encounter.”

Adventures in Risky Play
What is Your Yes?

Use coupon code PLAY
to get this title for 25% off!

Adventures in Risky Play: What is Your Yes? goes to the heart of risk-taking and children. As educators working with young children, we all have boundaries and feelings around what risky play is allowed. Rusty Keeler invites us to examine the cage of boundaries that we have created for ourselves and our children. He challenges us to rattle our cage and discover where the lines are movable. In our role as educators and caretakers, when we allow children to play and confront risk on their own terms, we see them develop, hold their locus of control and make choices on how to navigate the bumpy terrain of a situation. What better teaching tool for life is there?

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Comments (4)

Displaying All 4 Comments
Tiffany Peckham · June 01, 2021
Lincoln, NE, United States

Judi- I definitely hear your concerns. I'm glad you see the benefits.

Peggy-I love your description of seaweed-covered ledges. It's unfortunate that children can't engage in opportunities of risky play because of this valid concern.

Rae- I hope more and more people can see the benefits of risky play!

-Tiffany at Exchange

Judi Kenney · May 27, 2021
Town & Country Early Learning Center
Middletown, CT, United States

I certainly understand the benefits of "risky play" in developing problem solving skills and managing risk. However, as the director of a childcare center, I can't allow our teachers to take that risk with other people's children. As a parent, I can provide opportunities for my own children to engage in open-ended, more risky play such as climbing trees.

Peggy Littlefield · May 27, 2021
Ocean House Child Development Center, In
Cape Elizabeth, ME, United States

We would love to allow the children more adventurous, rough and tumble play. Unfortunately, we had a child fall from an age appropriate set of monkey bars doing exactly what the equipment was made for. She landed wrong and broke her arm. The parents sued us for medical bills and for both parents' lost wages as they both took her to every appointment. If America wasn't such an easy place for people to sue, I would love to see children play the way I did as a child in my neighborhood - climbing trees, jumping from rock to rock on seaweed-covered ledges, setting up jumps for our bikes, etc. Until child cares aren't held responsible for legitimate accidents, I can't feel comfortable.

Rae Pica · May 27, 2021
Rae Pica Keynotes & Consulting
Alexandria, VA, United States

I am really sorry to hear this. Why are we all heading in the wrong direction? And what is it going to take to get us turned around?

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