New research from UBC and the Child & Family Research Institute at BC Children’s Hospital shows that risky outdoor play is not only good for children’s health but also encourages creativity, social skills and resilience.
The findings, published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, found that children who participated in physical activity such as climbing and jumping, rough and tumble play and exploring alone, displayed greater physical and social health.
“We found that play environments where children could take risks promoted increased play time, social interactions, creativity and resilience,” said Mariana Brussoni, lead author of the study, and assistant professor in UBC’s School of Population and Public Health and Department of Pediatrics. “These positive results reflect the importance of supporting children’s risky outdoor play opportunities as a means of promoting children’s health and active lifestyles.”
Playgrounds that offer natural elements such as trees and plants, changes in height, and freedom for children to engage in activities of their own choosing, have positive impacts on health, behaviour and social development.
“These spaces give children a chance to learn about risk and learn about their own limits,” said Brussoni, also a scientist in the British Columbia Injury Research & Prevention Unit at the Child & Family Research Institute at BC Children’s Hospital.
Safety concerns, such as injury, were seen as the main reason for limiting risky outdoor play. Researchers found that playground safety standards and too much supervision prevented children from engaging in risky activities.
“Monitoring children’s activities may be a more appropriate approach than active supervision, particularly for older children,” said Brussoni. “We recommend considering policy, practice and built environment approaches to risky outdoor play that balance safety with children’s other health outcomes.”
This study was a systematic review of 21 relevant papers, which focused on health indicators and behaviours from three types of risky play, as well as risky play supportive environments.
This study was undertaken in relation to the Position Statement on Active Outdoor Play, which was released earlier today in the 2015 ParticipACTION Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth. The Position Statement was developed by the Healthy Active Living and Obesity Research Group at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute (HALO-CHEO), ParticipACTION and a group of 12 other organizations, and was reviewed and edited by over 1,600 stakeholders from across Canada and around the world. It finds that access to active play in nature and outdoors – with its risks – is essential for healthy child development.