Running the risk: The social, behavioral and environmental associations with positive risk in children’s play activities in outdoor playspaces

Running the risk: The social, behavioral and environmental associations with positive risk in children’s play activities in outdoor playspaces

Authors: Janet Loebach, Rachel Ramsden, Adina Cox, Karen Joyce & Mariana Brussoni

Abstract

The importance of positive risk opportunities in children’s play environments has been well-established. Risk in play allows children to examine their own capabilities and limits in conditions where the likelihood of serious physical or emotional harm is low. Opportunities for risky play in outdoor settings has been tied to the features available in the physical environment, as well as peer and adult interactions. The varied materials and landforms present in more naturalized play spaces may especially encourage risky play. Scholarship has emerged which examines risky play in natural outdoor environments, but few studies tie positive risk to particular social, behavioural or environmental conditions. This paper investigates factors influencing risk-taking by examining young children’s play behaviours across two studies utilizing the same behaviour mapping framework. Play behaviours were examined in both The Backyard, a natural playspace in Santa Barbara (USA) and the outdoor yards of YMCA childcare centres in Vancouver (Canada). A profile of the range and degree of risky play observed in both sites is presented, followed by a deeper examination of the characteristics and conditions of ‘positive risk’ behaviours. Findings revealed risky play was significantly associated with physical play and more active movement behaviours. Peer interaction was not strongly predictive of positive risk, but some forms of adult interaction were influential in play in The Backyard. Physical environmental features such as natural and fixed elements, along with challenging topographies, were also associated with risky play. Analyses highlight patterns in the conditions and features which appear to support positive risk within outdoor playspaces, and implications for integrating affordances for positive risk into outdoor playspace design.

Journal:
Journal of Outdoor and Environmental Education
Year:
2023