Engaging in play that is exhilarating and pushes children beyond their comfort level is critical for optimal child development. This type of play has recently been categorised as ‘risky play’. Applying this label has allowed for researchers to study the topic and understand what occurs when this type of play is missing from children’s lives. A leading voice in this research area is Dr. Mariana Brussoni of the University of British Columbia. Dr. Brussoni has found that engaging in risky play results in increased physical activity, better social skills, improved resilience, higher self-confidence, and better risk management skills. More on this can be found in this article on Active for Life.

In order to understand risk, we also need to be aware of the distinction between a hazard and a risk. Within play, risk is defined as:

the challenges and uncertainties within the environment that a child can recognise and learn to manage by choosing to encounter them while determining their own limits”

In contrast, a hazard would be defined as:

a danger in the environment that could seriously injure or endanger a child and is beyond the child’s capacity to recognise”

An example of these two factors may be seen in climbing a tree. A risk would be determined by the child as the height that they would be willing to climb. A hazard would be a rotten branch that the child does not know how to correctly identify and is therefore unaware of the danger. In this situation, it would be the responsibility of the adult to steer the child away from the hazard (rotten branch) in order to mitigate the danger.

More information on risk versus hazard can be found in this pdf document from the Canadian Public Health Association.