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Culture, Public Health

Categorizing risk-taking in children’s play

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A tension exists between adults’ natural desire to keep children safe and the apparently natural need for children to develop their risk-taking abilities by engaging in adventurous play. The first step towards determining what is the appropriate level of risk for children is to categorize the various types play in which they engage.

A 2011 study published in the European Early Childhood Education Research Journal, “Categorising Risky Play: How Can We Identify Risk-Taking in Children’s Play?” used observations of 38 children over five weeks alongside interviews with eight children and seven childcare employees to determine the categories of risky play undertaken by children.

Results of the study include:

  • There are six aspects of risky play: Heights; high speed; potentially harmful tools; dangerous elements; “rough-and-tumble play”; and activities where children can “disappear” or “get lost.”
  • Of these, the most frequently engaged in behavior was play associated with climbing to various heights.
  • Children identified that jumping off play equipment in a manner inconsistent with the manufacturer’s design was known to be forbidden and could cause injury, but was also considered attractive and “fun” behavior.
  • There was great inconsistency in children’s’ abilities to perceive risk associated with playing near water or cliffs, some could identify this as very scary, risky behaviors while others did not see it as risky at all.

The authors note that the study’s sample size was small and therefore “generalization should therefore be done with caution.” The study is a first step in better understanding and managing children’s risky play, they state, concluding, “Research is needed to get a deeper understanding of why children seek experiences on the edge between fear and exhilaration, as well as of how adults’ attitudes (preschool staff) influence or restrict this kind of play.”

Tags: children, safety, parenting

    Writer: | Last updated: August 24, 2011

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    Analysis assignments

    Read the study titled "Categorising Risky Play: How Can We Identify Risk-Taking In Children's Play?"

    1. Summarize the study in fewer than 40 words.
    2. Express the study's key term(s) in language a lay audience can understand.
    3. Evaluate the study's limitations. (For example: Do the results conflict with those of other reliable studies? Are there weaknesses in the study's data or research design?)

    Read the study-related New York Times article titled "Can a Playground Be Too Safe?"

    1. Reporter's use of the study: Evaluate what the reporter chose to include and exclude from the study. Would the audience have acquired a clear understanding of the study's findings and limits from this article?
    2. Reporter's use of other material: Assess the material in the article that is not derived from the study. (for example: Does the reporter place the study in the context of other research and to what effect? Does the reporter include reactions to the study from other researchers or interested parties [e.g., political groups business leaders, or community members] and are their credentials or possible biases made clear?)

    Newswriting assignments

    1. Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study.
    2. Spend 60 minutes exploring the issue by accessing sources of information other than the study. Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study but informed by the new information. Does the new information significantly change what one would write based on the study alone?
    3. Interview two sources with a stake in or knowledge of the issue. Be prepared to provide them with a short summary of the study in order to get their response to it. Write a 400-word article about the study incorporating material from the interviews.
    4. Spend additional time exploring the issue and then write a 1,200-word background article, focusing on major aspects of the issue.