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Tool launched to help parents allow ‘risky play’

Apr 20, 2017 |

A free online tool to encourage parents to allow their children to take part in ‘risky play’ is now live.

Developed by School of Population and Public Health and Department of Pediatrics Associate Professor Mariana Brussoni and her team, 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.”
Associate Professor Mariana Brussoni

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, she said.

Mariana Brussoni

Associate Professor Mariana Brussoni

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, and did not increase the number of reported injuries, Dr. Brussoni said. “You still need to manage risks and hazards, but not automatically default only to safety.”

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.”
Associate Professor Mariana Brussoni

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 of children aged six to 12 years old eligible to participate in the study 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. Outsideplay.ca has the potential to be adapted for many different users, including schools and neighbourhood groups, and is designed to be used by a wide audience, Dr. Brussoni said.

“It’s about helping give children the space to play and engage with their environment how they choose, whether risky or not, because that’s going to be an incredible opportunity to grow.”
Associate Professor Mariana Brussoni

Outsideplay.ca is a collaboration between several health organizations and 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 here.

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