• Jenn C.

Types of Risky Play: Playing with Heights


Risky play is an important part of every childhood to help develop many skills such as confidence, resourcefulness, balance, and budding curiosity.


If you haven’t already taken a look, make sure to read up on my previous blog post about What is Risky Play and why it is important!


Now, more times than not, the first thought most individuals tend to have is their child(ren) playing with heights. In the case of risky play, playing with heights indicates a child’s play in one of the following ways:

  • climbing

  • jumping from heights

  • swinging over heights

  • hanging

  • dropping from heights

  • balancing over heights

Yes, there’s way more than the title makes it sound!


I’m going to take this post and break it down for you as simply as possible. This post will be going through: ~ What are the risks with playing with heights

~ The benefits to play with heights ~ How risky play with heights may look with age ~ Ideas for playing with heights

~ Things you can say to your child


What are the Risks?


The known risk for playing with heights is the possibility of injury when slipping and/or falling from the height. I know, you’re probably saying “well duh” in your head. Just remember, knowledge of the play space your child is using, as well as a risk benefit assessment, will help reduce the hazards that could emerge when playing with heights.


Hazards in this case mean unnecessary dangers that could severely injure your child and is beyond your child’s capacity to recognize. These will look different depending on your environment, as well as your child’s development and comfort level.



The Benefits of Playing with Heights


This is where we see where the benefits outweigh the risk! The more your child plays with heights and learns how to safely navigate the space in which they are playing, the more they will become less fearful of heights, creating an anti-phobic effect.


When a child challenges themselves with heights, they are growing and testing themselves both physically (balance and coordination) and mentally (awareness of capabilities, confidence, independence, and problem solving). This will enhance their abilities and allow them experiences to understand the limits of their environment and their own bodies.



How Risky Play with Heights Looks with Age


Playing with heights doesn’t necessarily mean climbing to the top of a 20-foot tree (though that is also a great example!); the way playing with heights looks will change with the age, development, and confidence of your child.


Although an adolescent may not see the thrill in standing on a picnic table anymore, a preschooler would be jumping his own height if he were to hop off the table to the ground… that’s a long way to go for a younger child! The thrill and excitement of that could be more equivalent to an older child climbing a tree, or doing flips on a trampoline. Though one may look more extreme to a parent, it is having the same internal effect and rush for the child in both scenarios!


Here are a few simple examples of playing with heights:

  • A small child standing on top of a chair/table

  • Climbing up the ladder and on a play structure

  • Swinging as high as possible on a swing set

  • Running up the slide to the top

  • Climbing a tree

  • Jumping from one stump to another

  • Walking along a stone wall

  • Hanging from/using the monkey bars


Ideas for Playing with Heights

There are so many ways your child can engage in play using heights! Plus, there is a lot we can do as parents to help facilitate this risky play and guide our children to understanding their boundaries during play.


Whether obvious or not, here are some examples of activities you can support your child to take part in:

  1. When you go to the park, encourage your child to use the climbing equipment! Whether using monkey bars, swinging a little higher on the swings, or going to the tallest slide, you can cheer on your child as they conquer any fear they may have of their height!

  2. Using nature, such as trees, logs, stumps, and large rocks, to be higher than the ground.

  3. When hanging up a picture, painting the wall, or prepping dinner at the counter, ask your child if they’d like to help; they can use a stool or small step ladder to be higher and be able to help.

  4. Draw a large picture on the driveway that’s hard to see up close, encouraging your child to get higher to get a better view.

  5. Ask your child questions when they are up on a higher surface: what can they see that they couldn’t before?

  6. Have your child jump into the pool instead of just walking in. This could include from the edge of a pool, a ladder, or even a diving board.

  7. What happens when you drop a water balloon or an egg from your regular height versus the top of a ladder or tree? Use some cause and effect exploration play with your child!

  8. Having children help and boost each other is a great way to use a buddy system to encourage cooperation.

  9. Going for a walk? Try putting your young child on your shoulders for some time and see what their reaction is to the height!

  10. Use other toys and structures that enable your child to get more height in their play: ladders, trampoline, pogo stick, foam climbers, etc.



Things You Can Say to Your Child

What if they’re always climbing?

What if it looks dangerous?


I get it; it’s easy to quickly yell out for your child to stop doing something when you’re nervous about them possibly hurting themselves.


Always state things in a positive way; try not to use “don’t” or “stop” when speaking to your child about their risky play with heights. When you tell your child what they can and cannot do, you are preventing them from developing a skill: awareness of the capabilities and limits of their own bodies.


Instead, here are some examples of allowing your child to assess their own risk:

  • Instead of “don’t climb that if it’s too high” ... try “I noticed your having trouble getting down, do you need some help? Can I guide you where to put your feet?”

  • Instead of “don’t even think about climbing on the table!” ... try “If you would like to climb, let’s go over to your climber”

  • Instead of “stop climbing that tree, you’re going to fall” ... try “I see that you’re getting higher as you climb, do you still feel okay up there?”

  • Instead of “jumping from there will hurt your legs” ... try “Let’s look at the best place to jump from for an easier landing”

  • Instead of “don’t jump onto concrete from there!” ... try “what do you think will feel better to jump/land on, the grass, the sand, or the stones?”


By phrasing things differently, you encourage your child to process the intake of information going on around them to make the best choice for them.


Your child can slowly learn through problem solving, making judgement calls, and natural consequence what the best decisions for them will be in their play when including heights.





Have any more questions about engaging in risky play with heights? Comment them below!


Make sure to come back and read up on the future posts about the other types of risky play.

Until next time, have fun and be safe!

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