Risky Business 101

A few weeks ago, I was on a panel examining risky play at Recreation Nova Scotia’s annual conference. What follows are a few resources that I shared with conference participants.


Risk, as it relates to children’s play and independence, is a subject that can arouse strong emotions. As parents and caregivers we all want to do our utmost to ensure that kid’s are safe. Sometimes our utmost can be too much and the kids themselves don’t get to assess and experience risk because adults intervene at the slightest sign of difficulty regardless of the setting.

One extreme of the risk spectrum is represented in the pages below (click images to enlarge) from Irish comic David O’Doherty’s satirical handbook Danger is Everywhere.

Playgrounds – full of nothing but dangerous human catapult machines…

….so let’s repurpose, or better yet make them safer

Regardless of the level of safety standards codification, it is impossible to eliminate accidents no matter how diligently professionals work to promote the perspective that injuries are ‘predictable and preventable’.

Here are a few resources that provide context about risk and play.


On the opposite end of the risk tolerance spectrum is New Zealand’s Swanson School – a no rules kind of place. Here’s a quick peek at what happens there during recess thanks to the Australian television show Dateline.

And for some historical perspective, here’s one of my favourite play clips from an adventure playground in London from 1964. This is closing of the documentary Seven Up! the first episode in an acclaimed British documentary series.

From 2012, here is an informative discussion on risk featuring Tim Gill, Darrell Hammond, Dr. Elizabeth Lange and others.

From earlier this year, there is the CBC Nature of Things documentary – The Power of Play produced by Nova Scotian production company, Tell Tale Productions and available on CBC Gem.



A Case Study in Outdoor Design: Berlin Playgrounds – Grounds for Learning (2012)

A playworkers guide to risk – Play Wales (2018)

Balancing Risks and Benefits in Outdoor Learning and Play – Tim Gill for Outdoor Classroom Day

Child and Youth Unintentional Injury in Atlantic Canada: 10 Years in Review – Safe Kids Canada

Playing it Safe? A global white paper on risk, liability and children’s play in public space – Bernard van Leer Foundation with Tim Gill (2018)


Media Articles

Changing tastes prompting new park designs, facilities in Canadian cities – Linda Givetash (Canadian Press), The National Post (December 2017)

Five ways parents can help their kids take risks – and why it’s good for them – Linda Newman, Nicole Leggett, The Conversation (November 2019)

From obesity to allergies, outdoor play is the best medicine for children – Mariana Brussoni, The Conversation (June 2019)

Michael’s essay — Helicopter parents and caregivers are going too far to protect kids – CBC Radio, The Sunday Edition (November 2017)

Risky Play: Why Children Love It and Need It – Peter Gray, Ph.D., Psychology Today (April 2014)

Stop helicoptering other people’s kids – Karol Markowicz, New York Post (October 2019)

The Overprotected Kid – Hanna Rosin, The Atlantic (April 2014)

Why kids need risk, fear and excitement in play – Mariana Brussoni, The Conversation (August 2017)



Canadian Paediatric Society

Canadian Public Health Agency – Risk, Hazard, and Play: What are Risks and Hazards? and Playground Injuries

International School Grounds Alliance – Risk in Play and Learning (2017)


For PlayGroundology posts on risk related themes enter ‘risk’ in the search box.

If you have any resources you would like to share, or questions related to play and risk, don’t hesitate to drop me a note.

Thanks for hanging out. I hope you’ll drop in again….