Friday 10 February 2017

Risky Play and Mental Health by Chris Shaw, Elementary Physical Education Specialist

by Chris Shaw, Elementary Physical Education Specialist

Recently, the Centre for Active Living and Injury Prevention put on a one day workshop on Risky Play. The workshop featured a presentation by Dr. Mariana Brussoni and Dr. Ian Pike from the Department of Pediatrics at the University of British Columbia. They identified some strong connections between risky play and physical and mental development.

So, what is risky play? Risky play is thrilling and exciting forms of play involving a chance of injury. For example, play at heights, play at speeds, play with elements, rough and tumble play, and play where there is a chance of getting lost. Risky play is normally associated with the outdoors in a natural setting. Risky play is not neglect, recklessness and promotion of hazards. The environment in which risky play takes place is as safe as necessary and not as safe as possible. Thus providing that sense of developmental and natural excitement for a child; not fear or anxiety.

Risky play provides a plethora of positive benefits to a child. Some important developmental benefits of risky play are:

  • Physical/motor competence- muscle strength, balance, coordination, reaction time
  • Spatial orientation- awareness of body and body parts in space, perception of object depth, height, speed and ability to adjust;
  • Environmental competence- sense of purpose, self-worth and self-efficacy, social competence and resilience.

Risky Play has also been linked to increasing the executive functioning of a child through the regulation of thoughts and actions in relation to goal directed behavior. It promotes planning, decision making, memory, and task-shifting. All of which contribute to positive mental health.

Risky play opportunity in Calgary. The Calgary Herald recently published an article called: Telus Spark's Brainasium adds new phase offering more 'risky play'. The article came out on Aug 5, 2015 and looked at the new addition to the playground equipment at the Telus Spark Science Centre here in Calgary. “Risky play is really important for kids’ brain development,” explained Greg Stein, daily program co-ordinator at Telus Spark, this was a line that really drew my attention to thinking about how playing and brain development are linked, and how crucial letting children play and gain a sense of understanding about their abilities and gain a sense of mastery. ‘Kris Kelly-Frere, exhibit developer at Telus Spark, agreed, adding that it’s critical to teach all children how to manage stress through play, not only to increase intelligence, but also to gain coping skills’ another quote from the article, that was a huge eye-opener! Wow, ‘risky play’ can help increase intelligence, manage stress and teach coping skills!! There is data and research on this, and evidence on the positive effects that this play has in the synapses in the brain. I urge you to read the study, also another great reason to visit the Telus Spark science centre! Recently the Lawson Foundation, a Canadian non-profit organization, has sunk $2.7 million into Canadian cities in an attempt to encourage kids to engage in more risky play. These money’s will be used for the development of risky play playgrounds, train play ambassadors and to develop a PLAY charter. Calgary is receiving a large chunk of this money to enhance risky and unstructured play in our children.