No more ‘cotton wool kids’: New Standard gives councils license to provide risky playgrounds

By intouch * posted 17-10-2017 19:06


It may seem contrary to conventional wisdom, but councils are being encouraged to introduce risk into their community playgrounds.

Numerous studies have shown that engaging in play with an appropriate level of risk helps children become more active, develops their social and risk management skills and increases their resilience and self-confidence. 

Childrens-feet-in-sneakers-on-the-playground-with-obstacles-529133750_1261x835.jpegOne of the latest studies in this body of work is from the University of Newcastle. Working with children between the ages of two and five in a year-long study, risks such as high climbing apparatus were introduced.
The researchers observed that children displayed an increased ability to judge risk, results that echo those from similar studies.

“Things like playing out in the street or climbing trees are often avoided, but these activities can be vital in shaping a child’s perception of the world and how they approach risk, ultimately building resilience in adulthood,” study author, Associate Professor Linda Newman, says.

For local governments and others involved in the provision of playgrounds, these types of studies, coupled with a new Australian Standard, provides a clear message that it’s OK for playgrounds to be exciting and have an appropriate level of risk.  

Published in August, AS 4685.0:2017, Playground equipment and surfacing – Part 0: Development, installation, inspection, maintenance and operation supersedes AS/NZS 4486.1:1997.

Associate Professor David Eager, Chairperson of Technical Committee CS-005 Playground Equipment, explains the intention behind the Standard.

“Risk is an inherent feature of playtime and there are many acceptable risks as part of a stimulating and challenging learning environment. The solution is not to wrap kids in cotton wool; the standard is all about challenging children and developing important life skills,” he says.

“AS 4685.0 introduces a risk benefit analysis technique that allows operators and owners of playgrounds to quantify their exposure to hazards using techniques that are simple to apply. Then they can make evidence-based decisions with regard to the maintenance, repairs and the timely replacement of their assets.

“Back in the 90s, there was a lot of litigation linked to playgrounds. We’re in a world now where we’ve got the Civil Liabilities Act and unless the councils are negligent, they don’t get litigated against.”

CEO of Standards Australia, Dr Bronwyn Evans says: “The standard helps promote one of the joys of an Australian childhood. In a world that is increasingly digital it is important that children enjoy physical play environments as well.”

Read the full story in the next edition of inspire magazine, arriving in IPWEA members’ inboxes on November 27.

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