We’re working hard to shift the conversation regarding child safety to include risk as a conduit for learning, rather than a situation that must be avoided. When adults who design childhood play spaces have the ability to assess risk and see risk as a benefit, children become competent risk takers and better understand through experience how to keep themselves safe. For more discussion on the topic of risk assessment see Tim Gill’s thought provoking blog Playgrounds that rip up the safety rules.

A safe person is not someone who abstains from risk, but rather a person who can assess risk and decide what they are physically and emotionally capable of. Risk is not synonymous with danger, although a person who does not have the opportunity to experience risk, and internalize that experience, will not have the tools they need when they do encounter real danger.

Whenever I travel I make a point of visiting parks and open spaces. I’m always curious how playgrounds and parks are developed, and what chances, if any, are there for local residents to have some good risky play.

Swedish Climbing Tree

It is equally interesting how individual homes use design and landscaping in order to provide good risk, or completely risk-free, play spaces.

Everyone involved in the lives of young children agrees on the importance of keeping children safe; however, few know how to provide real assessments of potential risk or constructive ways to manage it. Other parts of the world are way ahead of the U.S. in creating dialogue, instituting policy and truly considering ways to assess risk in children’s play spaces. They focus much more on how to provide optimal benefits for children, instead of how to take all the risk out in order to try to minimize every possible litigation scenario. The organization PlayEngland has worked with the British government to shape policy regarding children’s public play spaces. With the help of Tim Gill of Rethinking Childhood, PlayEngland provides an implementation guide for managing risk  for professionals who manage and create many different kinds of play spaces. You can see from the table below that many factors are considered. How different would our American play spaces be if we too thought more carefully and completely about benefits versus risk?

Risk-Benefit Assessment


Post by Jonathan Iris-Wilbanks, with Susan Caruso
© Sunflower Creative Arts, 2012