Skip to content

The Importance of Children’s Risky Play


Originally appears in the Spring 2016 issue

It is a common story. A gaggle of children are outside laughing, jumping, and generally running around. Then someone starts a new game or activity that just seems a bit too dangerous …. or is it? The children seem to be having such a good time. So should you let them continue or should you stop the new activity for being too risky? How do you determine if it is too risky?

Risky play is defined as exhilarating or exciting play where there is a possibility of physical injury. Sandseter[i] outlines six different kinds of risky play: speed (e.g., running fast), height (e.g., climbing a tree), with tools (e.g., knives, ropes), elements (e.g., water, fire), rough-and-tumble (e.g., play fighting), and disappearing or getting lost (e.g., independent exploration). Risky play can sound like scary and dangerous play and, as with any type of physical activity, there is the possibility of injury. However, serious injuries are rare and risky play is typically a safe activity.[ii]

Injuries are one of the leading causes of death for children in developed nations so there is good reason for concern. However, injury-related deaths typically do not result from children’s risky play, but rather motor vehicle crashes, suicides, and poisoning. Furthermore, several researchers, teachers and public health practitioners suggest that efforts to keep children as safe as possible have resulted in constraining children’s play and limiting opportunities to be challenged to such an extent that it could be having negative impacts on their health and development. Increasingly, recommendations are being made to shift from keeping children as safe as possible, to as safe as necessary.

Please enter subscriber password to continue reading  full article.


To view the photo-rich magazine version, click here.

If you are not already a subscriber, please subscribe to read the full article

         Morgan Yates is a Registered Nurse and PhD student at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. Her research focusses on what factors influence parental perceptions of neighborhood safety, specifically the role of crime, and how parental perceptions of safety influence children’s health. Dr. Mariana Brussoni is an Associate Professor in the Department of Pediatrics and the School of Population and Public Health at the University of British Columbia. She investigates child injury prevention, including developmental importance of children’s risky play.



[i] E. B. H. Sandseter, “Risky play and risk management in Norwegian preschools – A qualitative observational study,” Saf. Sci. Monit., vol. 13, pp. 1–12, 2009.

[ii] M. Brussoni, L. L. Olsen, I. Pike, and D. A. Sleet, “Risky play and children’s safety: Balancing priorities for optimal child development.,” Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health, vol. 9, no. 9, pp. 3134–3148, Jan. 2012.

[iii] A. Stephenson, “Physical risk-taking: Dangerous or endangered?,” Early Years, vol. 23, no. 1, pp. 35–43, Mar. 2003.

[iv] I. Janssen and A. G. Leblanc, “Systematic review of the health benefits of physical activity and fitness in school-aged children and youth.,” Int. J. Behav. Nutr. Phys. Act., vol. 7, p. 40, Jan. 2010.

[v] J. Nauta, E. Martin-Diener, B. W. Martin, W. van Mechelen, and E. Verhagen, “Injury risk during different physical activity behaviours in children: A systematic review with bias assessment,” Sport. Med., vol. 45, pp. 327–336, Nov. 2015.

[vi] M. S. Tremblay, C. Gray, S. Babcock, J. Barnes, C. C. Bradstreet, D. Carr, G. Chabot, L. Choquette, D. Chorney, C. Collyer, S. Herrington, K. Janson, I. Janssen, R. Larouche, W. Pickett, M. Power, E. B. H. Sandseter, B. Simon, and M. Brussoni, “Position Statement on Active Outdoor Play.,” Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health, vol. 12, no. 6, pp. 6475–6505, Jan. 2015.

[vii] D. J. Ball, T. Gill, and B. Spiegal, “Managing risk in play provision: Implementation guide,” Play England, London, 2012.

[viii] Statistics Canada, “Table102-0561 – Leading causes of death, total population, by age group and sex, Canada, annual CANSIM (database),” 2012. [Online]. Available:

[ix] D. J. Ball and L. Ball-King, “Safety management and public spaces: Restoring balance,” Risk Anal., vol. 33, no. 5, pp. 763–771, Sep. 2013.

[x] S. Herrington and J. Nicholls, “Outdoor play spaces in Canada: The safety dance of standards as policy,” Crit. Soc. Policy, vol. 27, no. 1, pp. 128–138, Feb. 2007.

[xi] J. M. Ramseyer and E. B. Rasmusen, “Comparative litigation rates,” Cambridge, MA, 681, 2010.

[xii] A. House of Lords, “Government Policy on the Management of Risk,” London, UK, 2006.

[xiii] A. Lussenburg, “Defining Risk,” Annie the Nanny, 2016. [Online]. Available: [Accessed: 21-Jan-2016].

[xiv] R. A. M. Baird, “Thompson v. Corp. of the District of Saanich, 2015 BCSC 1750.” BC Supreme Court, Victoria, BC, 2015.

[xv] G. Valentine and J. McKendrick, “Children’s outdoor play: Exploring parental concerns about children’s safety and the changing nature of childhood,” Geoforum, vol. 28, pp. 219–235, 1997.

[xvi] Public Health Agency of Canada, “Injury in review, 2012 edition: Spotlight on road and transport safety,” Ottawa, ON, 2012.

[xvii] M. L. Dalley and J. Rucoe, “The abduction of children by strangers in Canada: Nature and scope,” Feb. 2003.

[xviii] A. N. Niehues, A. Bundy, A. Broom, P. Tranter, J. Ragen, and L. Engelen, “Everyday uncertainties: reframing perceptions of risk in outdoor free play,” J. Adventure Educ. Outdoor Learn., vol. 13, no. 3, pp. 223–237, Sep. 2013.

[xix] B. Spiegal, T. R. Gill, H. Harbottle, and D. J. Ball, “Children’s play space and safety management: Rethinking the role of play equipment standards,” SAGE Open, vol. 4, no. 1, p. 2158244014522075, Feb. 2014.

[xx] ParticipACTION, “The Biggest Risk is Keeping Kids Indoors,” Ottawa, ON, 2015.

[xxi] S. Herrington and C. Lesmeister, “The design of landscapes at child-care centres: Seven Cs,” Landsc. Res., vol. 31, no. 1, pp. 63–82, Jan. 2006.

[xxii] S. Herrington, C. Lesmeister, J. Nicholls, and K. Stefiuk, “7 Cs – An informational guide to young children’s outdoor play spaces.” [Online]. Available: [Accessed: 31-Mar-2016].

[xxiii] University of Sydney, “Sydney Playgroup Project.” [Online]. Available:

[xxiv] D. Lupton and J. Tulloch, “‘Life would be pretty dull without risk’: Voluntary risk-taking and its pleasures,” Health. Risk Soc., vol. 4, no. 2, pp. 113–124, Jul. 2002.