9 September 2011

Risk-taking in the playground

Thank heavens for the prevalence of common sense, at last! Coverage in several newspapers this week tells of playgrounds being encouraged to ‘revive potential dangers’. 

Monkey bars encourage challenges
In plain terms, this simply means a return to traditional playground equipment, such as climbing frames, monkey bars and sand and water play, that our compensation culture has previously deemed undesirable to leisure operators and local authorities alike.

With the risk of litigation too great, play providers have gradually opted for low-risk equipment that offers children little opportunity for adventure, or to calculate risk or overcome fears. Our children have been wrapped in the proverbial ‘cotton wool’ and kept close at hand, probably encouraged to seek entertainment and risk within the constraints of their four walls, on a games console or similar.

The Sunday Times quoted Ellen Sandseter, a professor of psychology at Queen Maud University in Norway, on the perceived benefits of overcoming fears about risk in the playground. Writing in the scientific journal Evolutionary Psychology, she said: “Children must encounter risks and overcome playground fears – monkey bars and tall slides are great. They approach thrills and risks in a progressive manner, let them encounter these challenges from an early age and they will master them through play over the years.”

Of course, rigorous safety requirements demand that all playground equipment is safe anyway – the risk offered by any respected supplier’s equipment will only be within the boundaries of the appropriate safety assessor’s recommendations, and all playgrounds should be subject to regular maintenance checks to ensure their continued safety too - but a little adventure never hurt anyone…

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