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Designing Out Nature Playground Hazards

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Designing Out Nature Playground Hazards

Is Your Nature Playground Safe?  Needs Maintenance?

Most playground injuries can be prevented or reduced in severity through careful planning, design and maintenance of the playground and play equipment. Together with supervision of children at play, these factors will ensure that the playground is a safer and more enjoyable place for all who use it. The following hazards provide a brief overview of what to look out for in any playground or play area:

  • Hard surfaces under equipment
  • Inadequate fall zones & playground surfacing
  • Lack of maintenance, broken or faulty equipment
  • Inadequate supervision
  • Potential entrapment
  • Pinch points & sharp edges
  • Protrusions & tangling hazards
  • High platforms without barriers
  • Inappropriate use or play
  • Trip hazards
  • Overcrowded play areas
  • Contaminated with dangerous items such as broken glass & even syringes

The NSW Kids Safe has an excellent website of relevant information available, including a section on FAQ: 

Challenging Play - Risky!

Children both need and want to take risks in order to explore their limits, venture into new experiences and for their development. Any injury is distressing for children and those who care for them, but the experience of minor injuries is a universal part of childhood and has a positive role in child development.

An ideal environment for developing and testing skills in safe, creative play environments. Children need opportunities to:

  • Develop skills in negotiating the environment (including risks);
  • Learn how to use equipment safely and for its designed purpose;
  • Develop coordination and orientation skills;
  • Take acceptable risks; and
  • Learn about the consequences (positive/negative) of risk taking 

Risk does not always have a negative outcome. Many positives can come from taking risks. Therefore, it can be helpful to think as risk being divided into two components:

  • A CHALLENGE: something obvious to the child where they themselves can determine their own ability and to decide whether to take that risk, or not.
  • A HAZARD: something unseen or not obvious to the child that often results in injury!

Both are RISKS!

Some hazards may have value in that they can be an opportunity for learning.

Try to avoid treating each potential hazard with the same degree of seriousness. Consider these:

  • which hazards need to be modified or removed?
  • which hazards might be acceptable or desirable because they create opportunities for children to gain access to potential benefits?
  • what hazards need to be created to enhance children’s opportunities to gain potential benefits?
  • what is to be done about identified hazards, if anything?
  • can this hazard actually be reframed and managed as a challenge?

Managing Risk and Challenge

Effective risk assessment and on-going risk management requires that your group considers each of these.

  • Distinguishing between acceptable & unacceptable risks including:
  • The likelihood of coming to harm;
  • The severity of that harm; and the benefits, rewards or outcomes of the activity.
  • Observing the children and identifying those who need greater challenge or specific support
  • Establishing and displaying expectations for behaviour
  • Actively encourage children to assess risks and possible consequences
  • Establish a systematic maintenance program

Benefits of Risk Taking

When considering the benefits, rewards or outcomes of the activity you may include the following:

  • Fun, enjoyment & pleasure in the outdoors
  • Development of self-confidence and well-being
  • Engagement with the natural environment & natural elements
  • Learning through experience (experiential learning)
  • Challenging outdoor exploration, fun & adventure
  • Mixing between different age ranges

By weighing up the positives as well as the negatives of a risk in a natural playspace, providers are more likely to be able to provide for managed risk which is engaging, developmentally appropriate and beneficial for children of all ages -including in your own backyard.

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The Benefits of Risk in Children’s Play

"Risk teaches children how to fail and try again, test their limits and boundaries, become resilient and acquire coping skills. It’s an important part of play, yet children are allowed fewer and fewer opportunities to experience risk."  The presenters in this clip speak out on the subject of the importance of children’s play.

A Recent Review of the Benefits of Kids in Nature: The evidence of the wide-ranging benefits and some very strong claims have been made about the importance of children spending time in nature. Natural environments are said to have restorative qualities that help in relaxing and coping with everyday stress. They are claimed to promote adaptive processes in child development (for instance motor fitness, physical competence and self-confidence). 

This report sets out the findings of a review into the evidential support for claims about the benefits for children of experiences with nature. The review was part of a project exploring children’s relationship with nature, commissioned by the London Sustainable Development Commission. Click here to take a look at a Review of The Evidence: Children And Nature (2011)

Want even more propaganda?  Recent Articles on Play, Risk & Adventure Playgrounds (there's a whole bunch of the stuff)

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