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Time to take risks - school holidays the perfect time to get active

Time to take risks - school holidays the perfect t
Photo: Time to take risks - school holidays the perfect time to get active
It’s been a year like no other.

Lockdowns and isolation have seen the cancellation of children’s sport, reduced time in school, and more time indoors – resulting in significantly less physical activity for everyone, especially children.

The pandemic has also made most of us more cautious, which can mean an overall tendency to play it safe, in more ways than one.

But with the summer holidays in full swing, amid reductions in restrictions and lockdowns, the Australian Physiotherapy Association (APA) said it was the perfect time to encourage children to get outside and explore, play and take risks to support healthy physical and cognitive development.

In fact, according to the APA, over-protective parents who go to great lengths to reduce the risk in their children’s play can unintentionally inhibit their development.
Chair of the APA Paediatric Group Nicole Haynes said in addition to physical benefits of risky play, there were also psychological, social, and cognitive development aspects that helped children establish independence and achieve important physical milestones.

According to Ms Haynes, more physically demanding and challenging activities promote muscle growth and coordination.

But risky play goes beyond that.

“Children’s lives today are very structured, much more so than in their parents’ or grandparents’ childhoods,” she said.

“Many decisions are made for them, even when it comes to the playground.”

Risky play is about encouraging kids to participate in unstructured play, said Ms Haynes.

It also means being responsible for their own decision making, and the consequences that may arise as a result.

“Exposing children to low-level risk situations helps them to develop their risk assessment abilities and their physical and cognitive confidence,” said Ms Haynes.

“Over the past few decades, studies have shown a rise in over-protective parenting practices, dubbed ‘helicopter parenting’.

“While parents often understand the benefits of risky outdoor play, they rarely seek it out and struggle to overcome their own fears and concerns.”

Ms Haynes said the APA did not suggest putting your children in the way of hazards or leaving them unsupervised, but rather to modify reactions to suit the level of the hazard.

“Sometimes you only need to modify the challenge, not remove it,” she said.

“What we want to see is children given more opportunities to be active, challenge their bodies, and test their limits.

“As well as seeing these children improve their strength and balance, we also see them learn from their mistakes.”

Examples of risky play include heights, rapid speed, dangerous tools or elements; rough and tumble play, and exploring with a chance of getting lost.

Ms Haynes said it’s a good idea to be gender-equal and encourage building, digging, constructing, rough and tumble play and cooking with children.

“Explore various outdoor environments and encourage new and creative ways to use existing objects, tools, toys and equipment.

“We want to see kids develop mentally as well as physically. The goal is to inspire problem solving, creativity, initiative, and curiosity.

“These are all essential elements for our development into independent adulthood.”

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Nicole Madigan

Nicole Madigan is a widely published journalist with more than 15 years experience in the media and communications industries.

Specialising in health, business, property and finance, Nicole writes regularly for numerous high-profile newspapers, magazines and online publications.

Before moving into freelance writing almost a decade ago, Nicole was an on-air reporter with Channel Nine and a newspaper journalist with News Limited.

Nicole is also the Director of content and communications agency Stella Communications (www.stellacomms.com) and a children's author.