Risky Play Categories

Topic Progress:

Sandsetter (2007) identified six categories of risky play. These categories support early learning professionals in viewing spaces where children play. Think about why it is important to accommodate each of these risky play types into children’s environments. How might they look in early learning programs?  Why are they important in the lives of children?

Click on the words below the graphic to reveal sub categories.


Rough and Tumble:

Wrestling. Fencing with sticks, etc. Play fighting

High Speed:

Swinging at high speed. Sliding and sledging at high speed. Running uncontrollably at high speed. Bicycling at high speed. Skating and skiing at high speed.

Great Heights:

Climbing, jumping from still or flexible surfaces. Balancing on high objects. Hanging, swinging at great heights

Dangerous Tools:

Cutting tools: knives, saws, and axes. Strangling tools: ropes, etc.

Dangerous Elements:

Cliffs. Deep water or icy water. Fire pits.


Go exploring alone. Playing alone in unfamiliar environments.

Early learning teachers benefit from understanding the differences between risk and hazard. Crossley and Dietze (2002) defined safe risk taking as “the opportunity for the active child to carry out an action involving risk in an environment that decreases potential for harm” (p. 141). Similarly, Frost et al., (2012) described risk as “an action chosen by an individual that poses a chance of injury. The level of the risk may vary widely, depending on the nature of the hazard, the abilities of the individual, and related factors such as weather, adult supervision, and maintenance” (p. 409). A hazard is an act or experience that children do not visualize or predict (Greenfield, 2003). The child makes the choice about if and how to pursue the experience.

As identified in the table below, as cited in Dietze & Kashin (2012), there are generally three hazard levels considered within the environmental design and risk management plans that early learning professionals use to support children’s risk-taking options.

Level I – Limited Hazard
Conditions that lead to minor injuries, such as scraped knees.

Level II – Moderate Hazard
Conditions that cause serious injury, such as a broken leg.

Level III – Extreme Hazard
Conditions that cause permanent disability or loss of life.

If children are rolling down gentle and grassy slopes, how would you assess the level of hazard? When you survey the slope and see no sticks, rocks and debris, you could determine that there might be limited hazard if the children ran down the hill and tripped and skinned their knee. However, if there was a log lying in the middle of the slope, the hazard level increases as children can trip over the obstruction and their injury can be more serious. Now imagine that the slope was actually a hill that is quite steep and there is a log obstructing the children’s trajectory. You can assume that this is an example of extreme hazard and quite dangerous.

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