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4 ways this child care centre encourages risky play for children

February 16, 2021

When you think of children’s activities at a child care centre, cooking on an open fire or woodwork classes aren’t likely to be top of mind. But that’s exactly what the educators at Top Ryde Early Learning are doing with their risky play philosophy. And the children absolutely love it! 

We spoke to centre director Nicole Wade to find out more about the program, and how it benefits the little ones in their care.

What is risky play?

‘Risky play is not different to what we call regular play in a child’s life,’ says Nicole. ‘It simply addresses lots of opportunities to make decisions about risk and personal safety.’

How does your centre incorporate risky play for the children? 

There are four main areas that the centre focuses on for risky play.

1. Fire pit: ‘We use the fire pit for warmth in the cooler months and we actively teach the children fire safety,’ Nicole explains. ‘We use it to cook food like damper or potatoes that we can include in our meal times during the day. We talk about, model, and support the children to set the fire up and how to safely light it. They learn about the elements required for fire and we talk about how fire has been used over the years and what our first Australian people would have used fire for.

2. Woodworking: ‘Woodworking is introduced in our projects work often as the children will ask to build or create something,’ shares Nicole. ‘We have a specialist teacher that joins our program to support the use of real tools and we discuss and model safety, sometimes starting by helping children hold tools. Over time as they build confidence and ability, we allow them more independence in their learning.’

3. Science experiments: ‘We run science experiments very often with the children,’ says Nicole. ‘We created a full program for STEM where children use pictorial instruction cards that we designed to allow them autonomy in learning. If there are no toxic materials, children will often sit together and run their own experiments. They learn to make predictions and come up with theories on why things work the way they do. We support this learning with extensive information on the learning cards that we use to talk children through the processes. So much fun and great learning happens when the focus is on the process.’

4. Bush walks: ‘As with everything else, we use risk assessments and walk the paths we will take with the children on the day we will walk with them,’ explains Nicole. ‘However, most of the children are very confident walking on bush tracks and are familiar with playing with natural resources. They love to collect fallen leaves and small sticks to create art, sometimes we sit and draw or paint, often we run yoga classes while we're out and we practice lots of landcare, gathering rubbish and noticing the changes in season and the changes in our environment with different weather patterns.’

What are the benefits of this type of play for children?

‘There are so many benefits of risky play,’ shares Nicole. ‘Firstly, and I believe most importantly is playing in a way that involves risk keeps you very present. You stay very connected to being here and now because you are required to concentrate to stay safe.

It encourages critical thinking and problem solving – children are provided opportunity to work out the best ways for them to engage and keep themselves safe while stretching and testing their own limits. They test and grow their own limits and even if they do not get to their desired outcome they are more likely to continue to try because it's all on their own terms.

Self-esteem is another factor – successful risky play offers children a huge win when they feel they have made decisions and engaged in a way that keeps them safe. They have been able to use their bodies to achieve an outcome and use their mind to make decisions to see them achieve an outcome. 

We know that children will be more motivated (just as an adult would be) to keep trying when it was intrinsic motivation that started the process.’

What do the children think of the risky play activities? 

‘The children love our risky play activities,’ Nicole explains. ‘Children love to feel trusted in their ability to make decisions and always enjoy using real life materials. 

Going for excursions is like a fun adventure and promotes a sense of freedom and participation in our wider community.’

What do the parents think of it?

‘All of the parents have been really enthusiastic about our Bush Kindy program which is where a lot of risky play is incorporated,’ says Nicole.

‘Many have asked to join us on nature adventures to see how we do it and join in the fun.’

How can parents incorporate risky play at home?

Get outside and play,’ shares Nicole. ‘Using natural resources in play times like sticks and rocks, seed pods, leaves. 

Practice climbing trees, they don’t have to be big to start with. Introduce some activities at a pace that suits you. 

Maybe allowing them to cut up some fruit and vegetables with you or use some power tools to drill holes or cut some wood. Allow children time to explore and learn how to use the tools to make and create or just enjoy the process. Try to stay relaxed and clearly explain the safety precautions.’

You can find out more about the Top Ryde Early Learning child care centre here. If you need to find child care for your little one, you’re in the right place. With every child care centre in Australia, Toddle can help you find care that’s perfect for your family. Simply enter your postcode in the search box at the top of the page to get started.

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Written by

Lee Price

Toddle is the most comprehensive child care finder in Australia, on a mission to make parents’ lives easier.