Risky play? Adventurous play? Challenging play?

The last weeks (and months?) there has been a debate about terminology when we talk about risky play and children’s risk-taking. I would like to share my view on this issue.

First of all, I would not criticize anyone who use other terms than I have chosen to use when I write about my research, talk to parents or ECEC practitioners, politicians or other stake holders. My aim is to explain why I am not afraid of using the “risk-word” and why I think it is the most appropriate to use – in my context.

Recent blogs have suggested that we stop using risk and instead talk about adventure/adventurous play or challenge/challenging play.



I think these are interesting reads, but I can’t say I agree with everything.

I am a Norwegian, and even though I know I also communicate with an international audience, I spend most of my days in a Norwegian context talking to Norwegian early childhood teacher students, Norwegian ECEC practitioners, Norwegian parents and grandparents, Norwegian politicians and Norwegian researchers.

I think maybe the (seemingly) disagreement about terminology might be a result of different cultures and languages. In Norway we have no problem using the concept risky play (in Norwegian “risikofylt lek”) in our common language. It is even mentioned in some of the policy documents about Norwegian child care, and it is a concept used by both the Ministry of Education, politicians, public health professionals, injury prevention professionals, teachers, insurance workers, parents, grandparents, etc. etc.  And, it is not used as something completely negative – it has both a positive and a (possible) negative side. In the Norwegian daily vocabulary synonyms for risk(y) are both words such as danger, loss and threat, but also words such as responsibility, take a chance, to dare something, courage, opportunity, change etc.

So why don’t we use adventurous or challenging? In fact, we can’t translate “adventurous” directly from English to Norwegian because we don’t have a good word for that in the Norwegian language. Often adventurous is translated as “eventyrlig” which translated directly (word by word) back to English would be “fairy tale’ish” – which means something like “so good it could not be for real, just like in a fairy tale”… The reason for this is maybe that an “adventurer” is an “eventyrer” in Norwegian (like someone living out his/her dream exploring new and exciting things – just like some of the characters in a fairy tale). Adventure and adventurous is, in the Norwegian context, more connected to the wild-life tourism/business or the great Norwegian history of explorers – not to children’s play. It would not make sense in the Norwegian language to use “adventurous” because it would be a very odd word with no good meaning in relation to children’s play. It is the same in the Danish language, and “adventure playgrounds”, that Lady Allen called them, was originally called “skrammellegeplads” in Danish (e.g. Emdrup) which means junk playground… I have also argued against replacing the word risk or risky play with “challenge/challenging play” (in Norwegian “utfordrende lek) to softening it and make it sound less dramatic. In an educational context, at least, the word challenge could mean many things, and sometimes things far from what we want to address when using risk – for instance a cognitive difficult learning situation/-task. Therefore I also think “challenging play” is too inaccurate to make our point. And I very much agree with Teacher Tom in Seattle on his thoughts about this: http://teachertomsblog.blogspot.no/2016/06/everything-i-need-to-say.html

So instead risky is the concept that makes people, at least in Norway, understand what we are really meaning when we talk about it. Risky play and risk-taking have both positive and negative associations, and I don’t think we should cover what we mean with softer words to make it JUST positive (and more acceptable for some groups). For me it’s actually an important point that the meaning of the term ALSO includes the possibility of a negative outcome – since the fear of this outcome is the reason we have all the restrictions and surplus safety in the first place. Our very clear message should be that children’s risky play (yes, risk (!) but in a playful and relatively safe context) most often leads to positive outcomes; exciting experiences, development, learning, mastery….etc.

I am comfortable with using risky play (a noun), risk-taking in play (a verb), children taking risks etc. But I still stick to the word risk. I would say that people in any culture might want to use the word best suited for them to communicate what they want to communicate as long as they are conscious about what they gain or miss by using what they are using.

What I am a bit worried about is that through this discussion about terminology, people and academics who (I believe) basically agree on this important issue (whatever you call it), are put up against each other, and that we soon look like we don’t agree anymore…

I don’t think that would be good for our “case” in the long run, unfortunately.

Maybe this blog post is risky play, but I’ll take the risk…

Ellen 🙂

uten navn


3 thoughts on “Risky play? Adventurous play? Challenging play?

  1. Pingback: The R word: risk, uncertainty and the possibility of adverse outcomes in play | Rethinking Childhood

  2. Pingback: La parola R*****O: rischio, incertezza e la possibilità di esiti spiacevoli |

  3. Pingback: La parola R*****O: rischio, incertezza e la possibilità di esiti spiacevoli – Fuori dalla scuola

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