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Outdoor play Does avoiding the risks reduce the benefits?
helen little shirley Wyver Institute of Early Childhood, Macquarie University AlthOuGh thE tErM ‘risk-tAkiNG’ often has negative connotations, the reality is that the willingness to engage in some risky activities provides opportunities to learn new skills, try new behaviours and ultimately reach our potential. Challenge and risk, in particular during outdoor play, allows children to test the limits of their physical, intellectual and social development. This paper examines the current status of outdoor play in urbanised, Western societies such as Australia and provides a critical analysis of the literature to present an argument for the inclusion of positive risk-taking experiences in children’s outdoor play, principally in the context of early childhood education. The increasingly restrictive regulation of early childhood services is considered in terms of the impact of risk avoidance in outdoor play for children’s optimal growth and development. Finally, a model of possible developmental outcomes resulting from the minimisation of risk-taking in early childhood contexts is proposed.

WithiN thE EArlY ChilDhOOD field, play has long been acknowledged as an important context for children’s learning and development. Play is a significant aspect of their lives, reflecting their social and cultural contexts. Consequently, changes within these contexts impact on both the nature and quality of children’s play experiences. This paper aims to examine outdoor play in the light of social and environmental factors that have impacted on children’s play experiences, particularly in urban Western culture. It provides a review of the literature since 1990, drawing on findings from a range of disciplines. It is argued that stimulating and challenging experiences involving physical risk are an important and necessary aspect of children’s healthy growth and development; yet social, institutional and educational factors...