A child’s play environment is very important because it is through play that they learn the skills needed to make careful judgements about space

A child’s play environment is very important because it is through play that they learn the skills needed to make careful judgements about space, distance, speed, height and other concepts that involve risk. It is important therefore that in a young person’s setting reasonable consideration has gone into planning the play environment. Young children like to play and explore and have “an instinctive desire to play” and that play is “the very process of learning and growth”.
Settings like playgroups and nurseries are carefully thought through so that the child’s environment is managed. Outside play equipment where children can be physical will provide opportunities for children to test themselves, “I can jump from the second step now”(from a climbing frame with a mat at the bottom) or “I can go really fast now” (on a wide 3 wheeler tricycle) where a “road” has been marked out by a play leader using coloured cones and away from other high use play areas. Using large wooden blocks to build “dens” in the playground may result in the occasional trapped finger but the risk is minimal and the child will learn to play more carefully next time and hopefully develop an empathy towards another child should it happen again.
So it is very important when planning an Early Year’s setting that children should feel that they can take risks but that the risks are controlled. The Play England publication Managing Risk in Play Revision states that risk assessment “sets out in a single statement the considerations of risk and benefit that have contributed to the decision to provide, modify or remove some facility or feature.” This statement is a “sensible approach to risk management.”
It is a balanced approach because it is important that children have “real experiences” in a multi-sensory setting. So managing garden tools and using soil to plant seeds and bulbs also becomes an activity that reinforces the need to not put fingers in mouths and to wash hands after the activity. Using scissors for junk modelling reinforces fine motor skills and care with cutting tools and small hammers and nails are safe to use in an adult controlled activity with parent/helper support.
In all play settings it is always the responsibility of the adult to ensure the safety of children. Thus a knowledge of each child, their confidence level in carrying out an activity and the risk assessment by the adult working with the child should enable a child to take acceptable risks without putting themselves in danger or suffering unnecessary harm.
The aim of all play experiences should be to give children opportunities for healthy growth and development “all of which is likely to lead to them having a happier childhood and becoming more resilient, competent and confident people.” (Play and risk Tim Gill: Welsh Government)