Children are by nature adventurous and often do not know their own limits. Because of this young children and toddlers need careful supervision while playing. But the natural desire of adults to keep children safe often comes into conflict with the natural need of children to explore and develop risk taking abilities and judgment. That is why assessing playground risks for young children is very important and why an objective evaluation of the quantum of risk is essential. To allow unsupervised play is obviously dangerous. But to cosset children too much will stifle their creativeness and ability to learn the art of making risk assessments – a loss that could hurt them in many ways as they grow older. An understanding of risk levels in common playground activities will allow for an effective balance to be maintained between supervision and cosseting.
The Levels of Risk
Recent studies have identified six risky play activities. These are:
· Climbing and / or playing at heights
· Running and other high speed activities or motions
· Playing with potentially harmful objects
· Playing with or in dangerous element
· Play that becomes excessively rough
· Any activities where the child may be lost of disappear from sight
Of all of these, the most dangerous has been found to be play that requires climbing or movement at considerable heights above ground.
Children Are Inconsistent
While the risk areas can be broadly identified, the reaction of children to these risks varies greatly. For example, most children are aware of the rules for safe use of playground equipment, and that many activities can be potentially harmful. But these same children also usually admitted that the rules were often flouted because to do so was attractive and increased the “fun” element. Another problem is that children’s attitude to risk factors is not consistent. Some children will understand the risks involved with playing near water or a cliff, but others will not.
The bottom line here is that while there are some generalizations that can be made about the nature and types of risk that children are exposed to while playing, no generalization can be made about the type and nature of supervision that is required. The psychology of each child will need to be understood in order to evaluate the amount of risk the child will accept and in consequence, the amount of supervision that is required.
Rebels Without A Cause
To say that young children need careful supervision when playing is to state the obvious. But overdoing this can be counterproductive. Children,as already stated, are by nature risk takers – either because they do not see the risk or cannot appreciate the consequences and dangers or because they are in search of new experiences. If new experiences and the exhilaration that comes with them are denied to these children, the frustration levels will rise. And after a time this will build to the level that rebellion, albeit unconscious, against the restrictions will arise. Because the children are not able to understand the reasons for their frustrations or communicate them, their attitude and perceived negative behavior is often seen as simple indiscipline and unwillingness to accept authority. The common reaction to this is often to increase the levels of supervision and control exercised on these children without any effort to understand that it arises from the natural need to experience the exhilaration that comes from new experiences – an exhilaration that should not be stifled.
Parents and preschool teachers need to go the extra mile to ensure that while children are kept safe, they are not prevented from feeling the rush that comes from new experiences and limited amounts of risk.