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Playspaces that Encourage Risk-Taking

Although we feel the instinctive urge to 'protect or correct' our children, in some cases, it is over-protection that could contribute to creating a sense of anxiety.

Written by: Early Educational Advisor - Jo Harris  

One of life's simple pleasures for young children is to explore, and very often, that is by interacting with the environment in ways that do not align with its original purpose.

Although we feel the instinctive urge to 'protect or correct' our children, in some cases, it is over-protection that could contribute to creating a sense of anxiety. At best, exploration encourages self-confidence, persistence, resilience and an opportunity to problem solve.

Here are several ways to encourage children to break the traditional rules of using outdoor playspaces that will add to their learning experience.


1.     Managing Expectations that Generate Emotions linked to Risk

Introducing the concept of risk to children can terrify or delight, depending on how it is delivered. Consider the interest and excitement shown by children towards a simple pair of scissors. Many young children are fascinated by how they work, having observed how educators and other adults seem to transform one thing into something else right before their eyes.

It would be as careless to give a child a handsaw without any instruction as it would be to allow them to learn to hold and cut with scissors first for fear that they could seriously injure themselves or someone else.

However, by planning in thought-out stages that consider both physical and cognitive development, it is simpler to get the full benefit of the experience. The delight for children is feeling trusted with an implement to explore simply.

A straightforward but effective idea is to add scissors to play-doh to simulate the idea of cutting without cutting!


2.     Enjoying the Learning Process Together 

Children yearn to participate in the activity when watching adults use tools such as work, gardening, or cleaning tools.

Think of a young child observing an adult constructing something with a hammer and nails. To them, it may seem easy, but when it comes to attempting the same task themselves, they understand the difficulty involved.

Educators should recognise that children need several different skills working together to achieve that same outcome. The ability to sustain their concentration, have appropriate hand-to-eye coordination and physical strength to manage to hold and apply the hammer, to name a few.

This can be easier to assess if Educators have an idea of a child's capability with other tools, including pencils, textas, and paint brushes, when exploring emergent mark-making or dressing skills such as opening and closing zips and buttons on their clothing.


3.     The Value of Less is More Thinking  

Planning can and should begin long before the tool bench is set up in a carefully supervised outdoor space.

Selecting activities like a Wonderworld Pounding Ball, or a Tap Tap Set, mirror the skills required to introduce a real tool set like a Stanley Stubby hammer. These are all essential progressions that lead to children developing the confidence and skills to challenge themselves further.   

Introducing simple props like dress-up vests, a Tool Kit or tool belt for children showing an interest in tools could be the first step, as the kit pieces are wooden with no sharp edges. More advanced children could feel confident in handling the fully working metal vice included in the Billy Kidz Work Bench & Vice during the later months of their Kindergarten year.


4.     Listening and Responding to Children's Curiosities 

While safety and care of resources should be top of mind, there is a natural urge for children to want to explore things in their way.

While it is widely accepted that you should climb a slide via the stairs, a child may want to climb it in exciting and challenging ways, namely climbing up the slide itself.

When inviting children to discuss exploring equipment, giving them time to think of possible consequences can help them feel supported and valued. Further, this can help extend their learning while respectfully acknowledging how behaviours affect others. An ideal time to do this may be before heading out for an excursion or when practising an emergency evacuation at your service.

The more Educators try to change or modify behaviour without discovering the child's intentions, the more frustrating it can become for all involved. Additionally, there can potentially be a missed opportunity that interrupts valuable learning for children. 



The Reward in Risk Taking 

An ideal outdoor space should consider the different needs of children who will play within it.

The joy of discovery is put at risk if, as adults, we don't allow children the opportunity to indulge in taking risks. Our attitude towards this type of exploration directly affects children's belief in their limitations, not just in childhood but for the rest of their lives.

For more ideas and information about managing risk within Exploratory play, please visit to read more blogs or watch videos on the progression of hammering and cutting resources and tools.


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