Benefits of Risky Play in Early Childhood


At Preschool of the Arts, we believe passionately that learning should be an adventure. For nearly 50 years, Preschool of the Arts has served the children and families of Madison. Our philosophy is inspired by Reggio Emilia, which means we allow children at our school to be the directors of their own learning, researching their ideas through hands-on investigation. A child’s experience is bounded only by his or her imagination and dreams.  Our mission is to offer a vibrant and innovative learning community committed to child-focused exploration, creativity and collaboration.

One way we encourage our children is through play, and we’ve taken steps to make our playground a space for learning and exploration. Research has consistently shown “risky play” to be beneficial to young children. While it may seem counterintuitive, risky play is a way for children to learn self-control, persistence, self-confidence and their own limits. (Psychology Today).

At Preschool of the Arts, “risky play” is just one tool in our toolbox. Teachers have seen firsthand how risky play allows children to explore what they are comfortable doing while allowing them to push themselves to try new things.
Here’s a first-hand example of how we encourage “risky play” at Preschool of the Arts. Our playground has ramps of different sizes and support so that they are a bit wobbly or unpredictable when children walk on it. The children have worked hard learning how to best go up or down the ramps – initially by choosing to crawl, walk or holding someone’s hand.

As the children have become more comfortable and coordinated, they have changed the way they explore these ramps. Some run or bounce up and down the planks and there have been a few times when someone has pushed a wagon or lawnmower up and down.

Recently, the children began trying to take bikes and wagons up and down the ramps with a lot of supervision from a nearby teacher. They had to work very hard to figure out how to get the heavy bikes up the narrow end of the ramp. Could they ride it? Did they have to lift it? Could they do it alone or did they need help? And what would they do when they got to the top?

One student tried taking both wagons and bikes up and down the ramps and was most determined to get up one ramp, across the bench and back down the other ramp. With a teacher nearby, he figured out that he could not get the bike across the bench or onto the other ramp and settled into working with a wagon. However, with the wagon he could complete the circuit. After going around a couple of times, he helped others get up the ramp and then left the area.

Another student wanted to get a red bike up the ramp very badly.  He didn’t seem comfortable trying to ride it up, so worked from the side to lift it.  He had a hard time as the front wheel kept turning and steered the bike off the side of the ramp.  He asked for help and other children and teachers helped him at different times. He worked so hard and got a little frustrated when things didn’t work as he wanted, but persisted in his efforts.

A third student figured out that he could ride a bike up if he lifted it by the handlebars to get over the narrow part of the ramp. He tried to ride on top of the bench, but quickly figured out that it wouldn’t work.  After a few trials, he settled on a routine: ride the bike up, climb off, and push the bike over the edge of the bench to make it land on the ground. This took a lot of strength and coordination, but he mastered it.

It was amazing to see this group of children work at a task that they set for themselves.  Each child found ways to accomplish what they wanted in ways that felt safe to them, ways that were unique to each child.If you’d like to learn more about the research regarding risky play for children, here are a few great resources:

Preschool of the Arts is inspired by the schools of Reggio Emilia and our philosophy states that our children are:

  • capable researchers who thrive in a negotiated curriculum. We value children’s ability to take part in the learning process.
  • creative communicators who express and develop their thinking in a variety of ways, including artistic media.  We value children’s many languages.
  • social beings embedded within a community. We value opportunities for meaningful collaboration with members of the community.

For more information about Preschool of the Arts, please visit their website or contact them directly at [email protected]

This post was written and sponsored by our friends at Preschool of the Arts. We are proud of the relationships we've built with local businesses and only partner with brands we trust.
Madison Mom
Madison Moms Blog is written by and for moms who live in the Madison Area. We strive to connect local moms by sharing personal experiences, fun ideas and useful information as well as promoting local businesses. Our community begins online, but doesn't stop there! We offer Mom's Night Out events, play groups and other opportunities to connect offline, with and without kids.


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