Play, leisure and recreation are vital ingredients of a healthy, happy childhood.
Children and young people of all ages and abilities have an appetite for experience and challenge, which they feed in part through play. When children play, they go from what they know and can do – and what is therefore familiar and boring – to what is engaging, exciting, uncertain and new. Through taking risks, children build their capabilities, explore their emotions, expand their horizons, and test boundaries. They also gain practical experience of taking responsibility for their safety.
Thus, taking risks is at the heart of children’s play. As children grow up, the focus of their play becomes more socially-oriented. But the emotional dimension, and the desire for risk and challenge remain. Indeed young people tend to have a greater appetite for risky activities, and rightly expect to be allowed to take more responsibility for their safety.
Because of children’s natural inclination to take risks when they play, those responsible for children have to take a balanced, thoughtful approach to managing risk. This is particularly important for play providers, because children today tend to have less freedom than in the past, and hence may have fewer opportunities for risk-taking as a normal part of their everyday lives.
It is because of the value of play and leisure, and confusion over what the law requires, that the HSE and the Play Safety Forum have worked together to publish a joint high-level statement on a balanced approach to managing the risks associated with play activities.