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Learning and Risk In Children’s Play

By January 1, 1970April 1st, 2022No Comments

Learning and Risk In Children’s Play. Some of the best opportunities come from the countryside and attractions open to the public. In the UK there are many open farms and Farm Parks suitable for children 8 years and under. Fortunately, we are very proactive in our safety duties as a business. We, as far as reasonably practicable, maintain the overall safety of our attraction so that visitors, employees and contractors are not exposed to risks to their health and safety. Therefore we actively managing risk within the health and safety measures on-site.

Working Within The Health & Safety Executives Guidelines

The Health and Safety Executive says,

“The goal is not to eliminate risk, but to weigh up the risks and benefits.  No child will learn about risk if they are wrapped in cotton wool”. 

Serious injuries are of course to be avoided, but bumps, bruises, cuts and grazes are an unavoidable, and beneficial, part of childhood, teaching children (through repetition) how to manage their bodies in many different physical situations – in other words, how to react when they do encounter genuine danger.

Boy playing with water in sand play at Farmer Palmer's Farm Park




Children Need To Learn and Risk Is Part Of That

Concerned parents can often be heard urging safety when children are at play. Parents are familiar with the feeling as they activate a sharp intake of breath and having said: “Be careful!” “Not so high!” “Stop that!” to keep your children safe. A natural, protective instinct that every parent will understand. We hear it as children have their first experience with a lamb and think it is OK to pop their snack-sized fingers into the mouth. As you can imagine similarity between a finger and a mothers milk giving teat often means the lamb sucks on the finger willingly!

Children learn the skills and abilities they need for life, we do them no favours by preventing them from pushing the boundaries of their physicality.

When you’re out and about with children, aim to enable them to take risks, not prevent them.

Risk-taking is good for children: taking risks is exhilarating, and children want and need to take risks.  Our role as adults is to make sure we enable this, without placing them in actual danger.  It’s essential to evaluate the hazards honestly, not just focusing in on the worst-case scenario, but also considering the likelihood of serious injury and what children will gain by participating in the activity.  This is called the ‘risk-benefit’ approach to play, and in the UK it has been developed and recommended by the Play Safety Forum, the Health and Safety Executive, and even the Department for Education.

Children meeting guinea pigs with Animal Barn team at Farmer Palmer's

Enable Them To Gain Confidence

So each time children head towards a feature or piece of play equipment, or try an activity that makes you anxious, try the Outdoors and Active Common Sense Top Tips to help them stay as safe as necessary:

  • Focus on the positive aspects of risky outdoor play – the physical skills children can practice, the excitement, the connection with natural materials and the ‘real world’ around them, developing strength, coordination, agility and body confidence.
  • Evaluate the hazards honestly: is this activity genuinely risky?  How likely is it that a child will get hurt?  How serious could the injury be?  If potential injuries are minor (cuts and grazes), or unlikely, then the benefits will probably outweigh the risks.
  • Build confidence by using positive language.  If your language is fearful (don’t go there / do that; come down, its too high; that’s dangerous) children will develop anxiety, not confidence.  Say instead, “show me how careful you can be” or “where do you think your foot can go next?” and ask them to talk you through their decision-making.
  • Make time for physical play.  Accidents often happen simply because we are in a rush, lose concentration or children are tired.  Give children plenty of time to play, whether it’s in the playground, garden or on the way to school or the shops.  Being generous with your time is one of the most important things you can do to help children become more active and more body confident.
  • Apply common sense; the risky outdoor play has always been an integral part of childhood, and the biggest risks to children are in their own homes and travelling in vehicles.

Promoting a Balanced Approach

The Health & Safety Executive “fully recognises that play brings the world to life for children. As a result, play provides an opportunity for exploration and understanding of their abilities. It helps them to learn and develop. It exposes them to the realities of the world in which they will live, which is a world not free from risk but rather one where risk is ever-present.”

  • The opportunity to play develops a child’s risk awareness and prepares them for their future lives.
  • Play is important for children’s well-being and development
  • When planning and providing play opportunities, the goal is not to eliminate risk, but to weigh up the risks and benefits
  • Those providing play opportunities should focus on controlling the real risks while securing or increasing the benefits – not on the paperwork
  • Accidents and mistakes happen during play – but fear of litigation and prosecution has been blown out of proportion
  • The ability to assess and make a judgement about risk resulting in building resilience and persistence

The Importance Of Risky Play

Everyday life is full of risks and challenges and children need opportunities to develop the skills associated with managing risk and making informed judgements about risks from a very young age. Risky play helps to develop important life skill learning such as:

Risk allows children to push themselves to the limits of their capabilities and allows them space to progress.

It also allows children to feel in control of their actions, learning and play;

They learn boundaries in a safe, secure environment where they can be supported directly or indirectly by trusted family members.

‘Risky’ play is thrilling and exciting play where children test their boundaries and flirt with uncertainty. In gardens and woodland children climb trees, build forts or dens, hide and seek and games from the depth of their vibrant imaginations. Play is associated with increased physical activity, social skills, risk management skills, resilience and self-confidence.

Children need to be given the mental and physical space to figure out appropriate risk levels for themselves: far enough that it feels exhilarating, but not so far that it becomes too scary.

There are concerns that we are keeping our kids too safe. Preventing our kids from exploring uncertainty could have unintended negative consequences for their health and development, such as increased sedentary behaviouranxiety and phobias.

Parents’ hopes and fears

In the 20th Century, we are evolving into a world of blame and parents  can be overwhelmed by worry about the possibility of serious injury or abduction. They also worry that someone is going to report them to the authorities for letting their child take risks. These worries make it hard for them to let go and can result in over-protection.

More recently, I’ve noticed the opposite trend: parents who are worried their child is too timid and not taking enough risks. They want to know how they can help their child take more risks in play.

How will children learn about themselves and how the world works if an adult is constantly telling them what to do and how to do it?

Kids playing in water play summer farmer palmer's

Learning and Risk In Children’s Play – Children are inherently capable! 

Risky play is an important part of many outdoor schools and early child care nurseries. In the UK and Dorset we are lucky enough to have outdoor forest schools and nurseries in the U.K., for example, pre-school and kindergarten kids build dens, climb trees, use tools and create fire — under careful supervision.

Remember when your little one was learning to walk. It included tumbles, trips and they learnt balance, focus and eventually spacial awareness. Seeing children engaged in risky play helps us realize that they’re much more capable than we think. When they’re given the chance, even very young children show clear abilities to manage risks and figure out their own limits. We just have to open our eyes and be willing to see what is in front of us. And most importantly, get out of the way to give them a chance to experiment for themselves. The potential for learning is enormous.

In their eyes they are driving their own pedal tractor, just like mummy and daddy, and are learning about steering.

Feeding the animals results in role play as a farmer.

Girl looking at painting of a chicken at Farmer Palmer's

children stroking a cow at Farmer Palmers

What’s a parent to do?

Setting unnecessary limits on a child’s play or pushing them too far: both are problematic. Our role as caregivers is to give children the freedom to explore and play as they choose while supporting them in managing the real dangers that pose a serious and realistic threat to their safety.

What this looks like varies for different children depending on their developmental stage, competencies and personal preferences. For example, play, where there is a chance of getting lost, is common at all ages: A preschooler hiding in bushes feels like he’s a jungle explorer. His parents supervise while giving him a feeling of independence.


Keeping our guests safe

We have a ‘duty of care’ to guests and other visitors. We make sure that the premises are reasonably safe and fit for purpose.

To make Farmer Palmer’s  ‘reasonably safe’, we apply a common-sense approach and take precautions such as:

  • Remove risks and obstructions that may cause guests to slip, trip or fall (E.g. wet floors, obstacles in walkways, clutter on stairs, etc)
  • Make sure furnishings are fit for purpose, secure and checked by professionals on a regular basis
  • Ensure electrical appliances are safe to use and are checked and tested by professionals on a regular basis
  • Make sure guests are aware of our emergency procedures with clear communication
  • Consider all guests and their needs (E.g. children, disabled guests etc.)


What about injuries?

Accidents happen, especially when children, animals, climbing, exploring and testing abilities all come together in one place. Be in no doubt; excitement is a wonderful thing but sometimes the unexpected happens.

  • Friction burns can hurt
  • Animals can bite
  • Children will climb up a slide the wrong way and get taken out by other children

This is where our policy of parental supervision is actively encouraged and supported. Our team who can offer first aid for those bumps and tumbles are amazing, and our follow up calls means we are aware of everything that happens onsite.

Businesses are aware they may be held liable for accidents caused as a result of the actions, equipment or staff. Our 70-page risk assessment covers all areas of the Farm Park and activities, shows due diligence, excellent processes and a caring approach to giving the best service

However, our guests also have a duty to take care of their own safety. If they have an accident due to their own negligence, or while doing something you wouldn’t reasonably expect them to do it can fall into the old fashioned category of an unexpected accident.

You Tell Us Like It Is

“When we visited my two little ones enjoyed themselves so much! Lots to see & do.
All the staff were so happy and the food in the restaurant was just as good as I remember! Especially the cakes! When I say we are off to visit nanny & grandad now they both ask if we can visit the farm! xxx”

“I also love that kids can pretty much touch and interact with most things, quite refreshing as kids normally get told to “look but don’t touch”!”

“You make it unique by offering a rugged, as real as possible farming experience for little ones, without over commercialising. We love it and visit whenever we’re on holiday.”

“Staff are very friendly , one of them last year helped my daughter as she was upset she didn’t get a selfie with a piglet so the young member of staff called her over and picked up a piglet so she could get her selfie , made her day.”

“Farmer Palmer’s is never the same experience when you go, the day is always filled with such exciting activities that keeps kids entertained. I love the variety, the family friendly prices and the staff act as one family and they always include their guests within that family. I’ve never been to anything else like Farmer Palmer’s.”



Learning and Risk In Children’s Play written by Sandra Palmer


Early Years Resources



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