Risk is part and parcel of healthy play, so why are we applying workplace safety to playgrounds?

My kids really loved the St Kilda Adventure Playground. Then management started taking things away. We used to fly down the concrete ramp on a billy cart and bang into a wall of tyres at the end. The ramp’s still there, but the cart is gone. Last October the flying fox bit the dust too, after some “safety incidents”. Our desire to hang out there has waned.

“I don’t want to go to the adventure playground any more. Because it’s not an adventure. It’s boring,” says my eldest daughter, who just turned 12.

Far from being novel, our local experience is part of a decades-long trend towards the eradication of risk and greater safety in playgrounds that, on the surface, seems laudable. Few, after all, would bring back those dreaded monkey bars perched over concrete. But there are rumblings we’ve gone too far.

In Britain, Office for Standards in Education chief inspector Amanda Spielman told an early education conference in November that “we don’t expect you to take away the climbing frame in case someone falls” and voiced her concern that we’re “creating overly risk-free environments”.

Beneath those concerns lie disturbing doubts. Is our push to remove risk really making kids any safer at all? Could we in fact, insidiously, be harming them? “I think we are. I think we are hampering their development,” says Ellen Sandseter, professor of psychology at Queen Maud University in Trondheim, Norway.

It’s a startling claim, but one backed by mounting evidence.

Read the full feature in the Age here

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