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The Importance of Risky Play in Forest Schools

As we move into a more cautious society, the idea of children engaging in 'risky play' is often viewed with apprehension. However, with the right support and environment, such as a forest school, risky play can be a powerful tool in developing resilience, independence, and problem-solving skills in children. This article explores the importance of risky play in the context of forest schools, providing a new perspective on child development and learning.

What is Risky Play?

Risky play is a type of play that involves a perceived sense of danger or risk. In the context of a forest school, risky play could involve climbing trees, exploring unknown areas, or engaging in rough-and-tumble play. While it may seem counterintuitive to allow children to engage in activities that could potentially lead to harm, risky play has numerous benefits for a child's development.

"The woods are like an enriched classroom — a Gymboree on steroids."

Cognitive Benefits of Risky Play

Engaging in risky play allows children to test their boundaries and develop critical thinking skills. As children navigate through different challenges, they learn to assess risks, make decisions, and solve problems. These cognitive skills are essential for their future, equipping them with the tools to handle complex situations and make informed decisions.

Physical and Emotional Benefits of Risky Play

Risky play also contributes to physical development. Activities like climbing, running, and jumping help children build strength, coordination, and endurance. Moreover, overcoming challenges and taking risks can boost children's confidence and self-esteem. It teaches them that it's okay to make mistakes, fostering resilience and encouraging them to step out of their comfort zones.

The Role of Forest Schools in Facilitating Risky Play

Forest schools provide an ideal environment for risky play. In these natural settings, children are given the freedom to explore, create, and engage in play that might be deemed too risky in more conventional playgrounds. But how do forest schools manage the balance between allowing risky play and ensuring children's safety?

Encouraging Independence and Adventure

At the heart of forest schools is the belief in children's capabilities. Children are encouraged to climb trees, explore new areas, and engage in adventurous play, all under the watchful eyes of trained practitioners. The professionals at forest schools understand the importance of risky play and work hard to ensure it's accessible to all ages.

"We want our children to grow up with resilience, to be independent, to be confident, to be problem solvers."

Safety and Risk Management

While promoting independence and adventure, forest schools also place a strong emphasis on safety. Trained practitioners are present to provide guidance and support, helping children navigate the risks and challenges they encounter. They continuously assess the situation and are ready to intervene when necessary.

The Argument for Risky Play

The benefits of risky play go beyond the immediate physical and cognitive development. By allowing children to engage in risky play, we are essentially preparing them for the real world. They learn how to handle uncertainties, deal with challenges, and make informed decisions.

"If we deny our children the opportunity for risky play then we also deny them the opportunity to bolster their mental health."

The Impact of Risky Play on Mental Health

Engaging in risky play allows children to face their fears and learn how to manage them. It helps them build emotional resilience, an important aspect of mental health. By denying children the opportunity to engage in risky play, we could potentially be denying them the opportunity to develop this resilience.

Encouraging Risky Play 🌳

So, how can we encourage this type of play? Here are some tips:

  1. Choose the Right Environment: A safe but challenging environment is key. Our Saturday morning forest school sessions at Wick Woodland are a perfect example!

  2. Be Present, But Don't Hover: It's important to supervise, but try not to interfere. Let the kids explore and make their own choices.

  3. Talk About Safety: Before engaging in risky play, have a chat about the rules and how to stay safe.

  4. Celebrate the Effort: Whether they succeed or fail, celebrate the effort your child puts in. This will encourage them to take risks in the future.

  5. Trust Your Child: This might be the hardest part, but trust is crucial. Believe in your child's ability to make decisions and assess risks.

Conclusion: Let Children Play!

Yes, risky play involves some degree of risk. But with the right environment and guidance, such as that provided by forest schools, these risks can be effectively managed. It's time we let children play, let them explore, let them make mistakes. Because through these experiences, they are not only having fun but also developing essential life skills.

"Let's give children more freedom. Take them outside. Let them climb a tree. Encourage them with words rather than your hands. And revel with them in the thrill of success when they reach the top."


  1. Excelled Schools. (n.d.). Why Risky Play is Important for Your Child’s Development. Retrieved from

  2. The New York Times. (2020). Risky Play Encourages Resilience. Retrieved from


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