The Benefits of Risky Playgrounds

Why safe playgrounds aren't great for kids” — Vox, 2019, 5:43

What was your favorite area for play as a child and how did it affect your development? While this question may be hard for most people answer, research appears to show children benefit from risky playground environments. This may sound counterintuitive but consider the highly-structured format of modern playgrounds. Could having everything pre-built and permanently installed stifle children’s creativity? Would children not experience more peer-to-peer interaction from creating the play environment themselves? There may be merit to unstructured and somewhat risky environments where children can let their imaginations run wild. Would you allow your child to play in one of these riskier playgrounds? How do you think our cultural of intensive parenting will respond to this idea? This video could be a good accompaniment to discussions on parenting styles (e.g., helicopter parenting versus free-range parenting) as well as our culture of safety, litigation, and controlled public spaces.

From the video’s description: The stereotypical modern playground — with its bright colors and rubberized flooring — is designed to be clean, safe, and lawsuit-proof. But that isn't necessarily the best design for kids. US playground designers spent decades figuring out how to minimize risk: reducing heights, softening surfaces, and limiting loose parts. But now, some are experimenting with creating risk. A growing body of research has found that risky outdoor play is a key part of children’s health, promoting social interactions, creativity, problem-solving, and resilience. Some communities are even experimenting with “adventure playgrounds,” a format with origins in World War II Denmark, where bomb sites became impromptu playgrounds. Filled with props like nails, hammers, saws, paint, tires, and wood planks, these spaces look more like junkyards than play spaces — and parents are often kept outside of the playground while children are chaperoned by staff. Now, that question of keeping children safe versus keeping children engaged is at the heart of a big debate in playground design.