PhD project, Children’s risky play

In august 2005 I startet my PhD project about children’s risky play, and after some years of thrilling research I submitted my thesis to the Department of Psychology at NTNU in October 2009. On May 7th 2010 I orally defended my doctoral thesis.

My thesis can be found HERE: (the papers are not included but could be sent upon request)

Here is summary of the thesis:

Title: Scary funny – A qualitative study of risky play among preschool children

The present study’s overall aim was to contribute to a better understanding of the phenomenon of children’s risky play – particularly with the aim of trying to grasp children’s perspective.

Observations and interviews with preschool children and staff revealed six categories of risky play: 1) play with great heights, 2) play with high speed, 3) play with dangerous tools, 4) play near dangerous elements, 5) rough-and-tumble play, and 6) play where the children can ”disappear”/get lost. Further video observations of children engaging in risky play revealed two categories of characteristics by which to judge risky play: a) Environmental characteristics (such as height of climbing structure, surface hardness, steepness of sliding features, etc., as well as surveillance of adults), and b) Individual characteristics (such as the height and speed pursued by the child, the rashness of movements, motor control, focus/concentration, etc.). Individual characteristics are assumed to be highly influenced by the child’s subjective perception of risk, while both environmental and individual characteristics contribute to the objective risk in the play situation.

A phenomenological analysis of video observations of children’s risky play showed that children’s experiences of engaging in risky play range from pure exhilaration, through exhilaration and fear at the same time (exhilaration bordering fear), to pure fear. The results indicated that experiencing both exhilaration and fear at the same time was the primary goal of engagement in risky play. Interviews with preschool children also showed that children’s motivation for and experiences of engaging in risky play formed a phenomenological structure where the contrast and ambiguity between the experiences of pleasant emotions versus unpleasant emotions were key concepts. Children experience both fear and excitement in risky play, and this ambiguous feeling is the central motivation for engaging in this play.

The results of the study are discussed in relation to a model of risk-taking decisions and their influencing factors. In addition, an evolutionary psychological perspective of why children seek out risky situations forms a basic theoretical understanding for this phenomenon. As such, this study is a contribution to an emerging theorizing upon the phenomenon of children’s risky play.

Aknowledgement: I would like to thank Queen Maud University College for giving me the opportunity, financially, to conduct my PhD project.


7 thoughts on “PhD project, Children’s risky play

  1. Hi
    I really want to do my disseration on the benefits of Risky play for my Ba hons in Early childhood and Education. I really like Forset school ethos and have seen how different children are when allowed the freedom to try challenging new activties before adults interveve. Would love to read your PhD project. Many thanks Jackie


  2. Hi, your work has inspired me to research early childhood practitioner attitudes towards risky play in Namibia (Africa) as part of my master’s studies in early childhood. your leadership on this topic is commendable.


  3. Hi Ellen,

    I am working on a research project on Risky Play and would love to read your thesis. I have clicked on the link about but will not work for me. I am doing my Wonder Based Teaching Certification and this topic is something I am passionate about. I reference your 7 categories of risky play all the time at work when talking about the benefits and why we should be allowing the children to be more involved in this type of play.


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