A free online tool to encourage parents to allow their children to take part in ‘risky play’ is now live.
Developed by a team led by Marian Brussoni, an Associate Professor in the School of Population and Public Health (SPPH) and the Department of Pediatrics, Outsideplay.ca walks parents through their priorities for their child and common concerns about playing outdoors to help them develop an action plan for changing their approach to outdoor play.
“What we now consider ‘risky play’ are activities that previous generations of kids just did as normal – building a fort, climbing a tree, cycling really quickly,” Dr. Brussoni said. “These activities have become progressively less common because parents are limiting where and how children play without considering the effect on children’s health and development.”
Research found that risky play is associated with increased physical activity in children and the development of social behaviours, self-esteem and risk management skills. It did not find an increase in the number of reported injuries.
“You still need to manage risks and hazards, but not automatically default only to safety,” she said.
Outdoorplay.ca involves parents reflecting on their own childhood activities, such as climbing a tree, and its outcomes – for example, feelings of happiness, or a sense of accomplishment – as well as the outcomes of limiting this play in their children, such as fear, or a sense that they were incapable of the task. Parents then develop goals for themselves when it comes to allowing children to take part in risky play. The tool takes about 20 minutes to complete.
“Outsideplay.ca encourages a balance in parents’ approach to children’s play, giving children the space to play in ways they feel comfortable,” Dr. Brussoni said.
Its effectiveness will be assessed in a randomized controlled trial involving about 500 parents, slated to start in May. The study is now recruiting parents with children aged six to 12-years-old, although the tool can be used by parents of children of other ages as well.
The study will examine whether parents changed their attitudes toward risky play and whether they felt they had achieved their goals one week, and then three months, after completing the tool.
“It’s about offering children the space to play and engage with their environment, because it can be an incredible opportunity to grow,” she said.
Outsideplay.ca is a collaboration between several health organizations and is funded by the Lawson Foundation.
Students interested in speaking with Dr. Brussoni about this work, or opportunities to be involved, and parents wanting to take part in the study, can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.