Adventure play and children with disability

A play area showing brightly coloured poles and a boardwalk leading to equipment.Play is children’s “work”. They set themselves challenges and most like to take risks. It’s how they grow and develop. But not all children get the opportunity to participate in adventure play. Disadvantaged backgrounds and disability are just two reasons. Underestimating what a child can do can also be a barrier to inclusion.

We are moving from a culture of controlled play to one of letting children explore through free play. Parents of children with disability are seeking more opportunities for their child to participate in these play experiences. However, most children with disability will need adult guidance or help, so care-givers need to be considered too. 

A research paper from Italy proposes that we should promote greater participation in risky play beginning by involving children with disability in the design process. The paper covers the literature on play and the benefits to health and development and the right of all children to participate. Making the play space “accessible” is necessary but insufficient to make it inclusive.

The title of the article is, When the risk is worth it: The inclusion of children with disabilities in free risky play.  It can also be found on ResearchGate.  

Abstract: Children show a universal propensity to perform thrilling and exciting play activities that involve some kind of risk: climbing or jumping at great heights, swinging, playing or engaging in rough and tumble play. Free risky play, which can be observed also in several mammalian species, has an evolutionary function, as it offers the opportunity to learn life skills, to master age-adequate challenges, to manage fears. Reasonable risk taking in play is a fundamental factor in gross motor, cognitive and emotional development (Sandseter, 2011). Adults’ concerns about children safety as well as social and environmental factors may severely limit children’s opportunities to engage in free risky play, compromising their overall health and wellbeing. For children with disabilities, free risky play is even more crucial than for their peers without disabilities, but they often face major barriers (e.g. lack of accessible playgrounds, overprotective attitude of caregivers) that can prevent them from fully benefiting from the opportunities afforded by this kind of play experience.The aim of this paper is to investigate the state of the art as regards studies on children with disabilities participation in free risky play, and to identify areas for further research.

Practical examples by Mary and Sally Jeavons were presented at the 2014 Australian Universal Design Conference.