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Risk it for the biscuit – why risky play is important and five playspaces that incorporate it well.

Posted on 15.05.2023 in Children's development , Company News , Education , playground , Playground Design , risky play , risky playgrounds , school playground , school playground equipment

Learning to take risks and participating in risky play is a critical part of childhood, despite attempts by parents to quash these desires. Risky play has significant developmental benefits and “provides opportunities for challenge, testing limits, exploring boundaries, and learning about risk” (Ball, 2002; Little & Wyver, 2008). Learning how to respond to challenges and hazards builds confidence, emotional intelligence, and physical capabilities. Further to this, research has shown that risk aversion could have negative impacts from adolsecene into adulthood, possibly imacting the development of anxiety, depression and obesity (Gray, 2019).

Risky play takes many forms but Norwegian early childhood development expert Ellen B. H. Sandseter has identified the following types that excite and develop children.

Risky Play graphic showing all eight types of risky play.

Playgrounds are the perfect place for children to explore many of these elements but opportunities for risky play are not always catered for in public play spaces. Changes to laws and litigations in the 1990s resulted in councils going risk-averse in public (Ditchburn, 2017). Anything that could be perceived as a hazard was not allowed or discouraged. However, significant research into the benefits of risky play, such as the importance of learning how to navigate different terrains and materials, respond to changes in elevation, and learning how to weigh risks in decision-making, has seen councils, schools, and communities slowly start to assess how they can create risky yet compliant play spaces.

There is still more that needs to be done to ensure that children can access risky and thrilling play in a safe environment, but here are a few play spaces that highlight different ways that risky play can be incorporated into a fun, safe and playful park environment


Rockhampton Zoo and Botanical Gardens – Rockhampton, Queensland

The new playground at Rockhampton Zoo has many exhilarating climbing and sliding elements and offers children of all ages opportunities to climb high, disappear, and race through the air. A standout feature is sky rider which brings the thrill of pole vaulting and flying through the air to play spaces. Children can use the cliff rider to travel from one platform to the other, participating in risky play in a safe play setting.



South Bank Boulevard – Melbourne, Victoria

Mike Hewson, an artist and playground designer, was commissioned to create a playground in Melbourne’s CBD after the city that city kids needed to learn how to take risks. Hewson’s work offers an unrelenting, harsh view on play and features boulders on moving dollies, buckets holding up structures, and falling trees. Although getting some harsh criticism from parents and other play space designers, it achieved its aim of raising discussions and awareness about the importance of risk-taking for children and has become a popular play space since its opening.



Boongaree Rotary Nature Play Park – Berry, New South Wales

Water play, dry creek beds, and balancing logs give children the chance to engage in nature play and with playing on and around dangerous elements at this extensive playground. Sky cabins, enclosed slides, climbing nets, and a cableway give children opportunities to engage in elevated play with plenty of spaces for children to observe others engaging in risky play.

Moncrieff Recreation Park – Moncreiff, ACT

Moncrieff Recreation Park features three enormous towers that stand out against the surrounding landscape. Each Tower is packed with play and enables children to climb high, developing their cross-coordination skills, before racing down to the ground in the thrilling tube slide. Bridges between towers let children observe the surrounding playground and offer an exhilarating way to tackle heights in a safe way, providing accomplishment and thrill.

Baltic Street Adventure Playground – Scotland

Baltic Street Adventure Playground believes in children’s right to play and offers child-led play opportunities. Children can participate in loose parts play with ropes, crash mats, and tunnels, climb exhilarating play structures, or use the provided tools and materials to construct their own play. Whilst this may seem like a recipe for disaster, children are supervised by experienced play workers who intervene when necessary to ensure children remain safe.

As playground designers, we believe playgrounds should cater to risk-taking but also know safety is paramount. o discuss how to incorporate risky play opportunities into your play space design, contact Urban Play.




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