Creating a culture of Adventurous Play-risk rich environment

“We feel that risk has a role to play in learning and as research shows, has the potential to achieve positive outcomes for children.” (Lewis, 2005; Nichol, 2000).

“Children and young people need to encounter some real risks if they are to respond positively to challenging situations and learn how to deal with uncertainty. This cannot be achieved by limiting them to supposedly safe environments. Therefore, providers of play opportunities have no choice but to offer situations in which children and young people can experience real, not make-believe, hazards”
Managing Risk in Play Provision, by Ball, Gill and Spiegal

Think back to your own childhood! What did that look like? Was the main focus outdoors and freedom?

Research has shown that contact with the outdoors is often limited for many children in modern society, and the vital experience of using the outdoors and being comfortable in nature is being lost. According to research by Planet Ark (2013), “one in ten Australian children play outside once a week or less. We have become a nation of indoors, not outdoors.” Not only is the frequency of outdoor play changing, the nature of outdoor activity in Australia is also changing. Ball games are still popular and organized youth sport remains popular at 35%, however games like tag, hop scotch, street games and exploring local nature have declined significantly in the last decade.

The Planet Ark (2013) data states that the decline of outdoor play is not linked to the amount of homework children receive however parents commented that concerns about crime and safety and lack of time to play outside were identified all as significant factors that prevent children from playing outdoors. As a result children have become reliant on indoor sedentary play for recreation, learning and socializing with low risk associated. These modern pastimes are filling the space of that outdoor play occupied.

Children are driven by nature to seek challenges; it is how they learn. Taking risks are an essential element in play, learning, exploring, experiencing and growing. However a culture and adult expectations can increase or diminish this drive. If there are no challenges in an environment children will create their own acts of daring or experimentation that can result in harm.

As Educators working in Education and Care environments we have a duty of care to the children and their families to manage risk whilst still ensuring children have appropriate opportunities to belong, be and become. As a society we are increasingly recognising the necessity and the developmental value in children engaging with natural and built environments, taking on some challenges and testing themselves as they explore, grow and play and this is supported by the National Quality Standards.

It is our role as Educators to showcase and engage children in the natural environment paying close attention to creating a culture of Adventurous play-risk rich environments. When this is a main focus children will:

  • learn through child-led play at the child’s pace
  • develop a sense of responsibility for themselves and others
  • build early risk management strategies
  • develop coping mechanisms and problem solving capabilities
  • learn to take on challenges and accept responsibility
  • consider the impact of their actions on themselves and on others
  • develop a respect for danger, hazards and experimentation.
  • foster their self-esteem and self-belief

Claire Warden (2011) suggests by offering children a risk-rich environment allows adults to help keep children safe by letting them take more risks, whilst guiding them through a progression of experiences.

What is your role and responsibilities as an Educator creating an adventurous play environment?

Educators play lots of roles in children’s group settings; they make it possible to go outside frequently, they help to make experiences challenging, spirited and safe, they help to make the outdoors a place for growth and learning, they observe, they interact and make judgements around the safety of the environment.

Here are a number of roles you may play….Consider which role/s do you take around creating a culture of adventurous play;

  • Rule Maker
  • Provisioner
  • Observer
  • Safety Monitor
  • Participant
  • Mentor and Guide
  • Conflict Resolver
  • Enthusiast
  • Maintainer
  • Safety, Liability and Risk Management


Educator Reflective Questions when creating a culture of Adventurous Play- Risk Rich environments

  • What are the real safety issues and risks in your environment and what are the perceived ones?
  • Who sees these risks?
  • Do you focus on both risk assessment and benefit assessment? For example, it may be risky to climb a tree, but the sense of achievement and physical skills that children gain from climbing are very beneficial.
  • Does avoiding the risks reduce the benefits?
  • What is risky for one child, in a particular setting on a particular day, may not be for another child. Risk is relative.
  • How do you share this with families and the service?


Current evidence shows that when Educators are thoughtful and purposeful around planning for a risk rich environments this supports the best learning outcomes for children. This approach enables children to become strong stakeholders in their own development, which allows them to build confidence, competence and independence.

How can services create a balance between being aware of risks, while honouring and valuing children’s play, freedom of movement, indoor and outdoor learning opportunities and, most importantly, the relationships children have within the service?



Buchan. N (2015) “Children in Wild Nature- a practical guide to nature based practice” Teaching Solutions, Blairgowrie.

Lewis, I. (2005) Nature and adventure ECOS 1

Nichols (2000) Risk and Adventure Education Journal of Risk Research 3(2)

Planet Ark (2013) From Climbing Trees –Getting Aussie Kids back outdoors:



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