Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Is Modern Play Too Restrictive?

The advantages of play based learning are far greater than we may have anticipated when our society started to develop a fear of children playing in a manner that often results in a scrambled knee or a broken bone.

The phrase “risky play” has become more and more popular and describes limitless play where children can explore opportunities that have become less and less available to children as our society modernises. That includes climbing trees, fences, and dens, playing outside in bad weather, or children exploring their neighbourhoods on their own. All of these activities and many others categorised as “risky play” offer vital support for emotional development.

A study by Play England found that half of all children have been stopped from climbing trees, 21 per cent have been banned from playing conkers and 17 per cent have been told they cannot take part in games of tag or chase. Some parents are going to such extreme lengths to protect their children from danger that they even said no to hide-and-seek.

So what are the consequences of adults managing the risk of children‘s play?

According to a study conducted by Norwegian scientists, children develop fears of certain stimuli, e.g. heights and strangers that protect them from situations they are not mature enough to cope with. Risky play is a set of motivated behaviors that both provide the child with an exhilarating positive emotion and expose the child to the stimuli they previously have feared. As the child‘s coping skills improve, these situations and stimuli may be mastered and no longer feared.

Thus, fear caused by maturational and age relevant natural inhibition is reduced as the child experiences a motivating and thrilling activation while learning to master age adequate challenges. It is concluded that risky play may have evolved due to this anti-phobic effect in normal child development, and it is suggested that we may observe an increased neuroticism or psychopathology in society if children are hindered from partaking in age adequate risky play.

Offering opportunities for “risky play” will enable children to develop their own ability to manage and understand risk, making them stronger and more confident people.

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