Building Resilience through Play (Part 2)

Resilience is the ability to steer through serious life challenges and find ways to rise above adversity, without much help.

When children are resilient, they are braver, more curious, more adaptable, and more able to extend their reach into the world.

When faced with uncertainty, playing allows children to develop and practice new behaviours without excessive risk. Play has specific features that allow children to try out, in relative safety, new strategies and solutions to challenges. Playing promotes both physical and emotional flexibility through the rehearsal of new and unexpected behaviours and situations. It allows children to modify behaviour to meet the challenges of the environment itself. This flexibility is integral to the play process.

Bundy and Colleages (2009) found that resilience increases and children are more likely to try a task again if an initial failure is followed immediately with another opportunity – and the necessary support- to attempt the task again.

In Britain’s playgrounds we are seeing an increase in risk to build resilience. Limited risks are increasingly cast by experts as an experience essential to childhood development, useful in building resilience and grit. This was the recent focus of an article by Journalist Ellen Barry in the New York Times – https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/10/world/europe/britain-playgrounds-risk.html

‘Outside the Princess Diana Playground in Kensington Gardens in London, which attracts more than a million visitors a year, a placard informs parents that risks have been ‘intentionally provided, so that your child can develop an appreciation of risk in a controlled play environment rather than taking similar risks in an uncontrolled and unregulated wider world’

A growing list of government officials, among them Amanda Spielman, the chief inspector of Ofsted are poking fun at schools for what she considers excessive risk aversion. Late last year, she announced that her agency’s inspectors would undergo training that will encompass the positive, as well as the negative, side of risk. ‘Inspections will creep into being a bit more risk-averse unless we explicitly train them to get a more sophisticated understanding of the balance between benefits and risk, and stand back, and say ‘Its O.K. to have some risk of children falling over and bashing into things,’ she said. ‘That’s not the same as being reckless and sending a 2-year-old to walk on the edge of a 200ft cliff unaccompanied.’

The shift to seeing some benefit in risk, advocates say, signals the end of a decades-long drift toward overprotecting children. At Tumbling Bay Playground which was built in 2014, it is about exploring controlled risk that has been carefully designed. The playground has got the gorse bushes, which are quite spiky, so that a child will touch it and learn that it is quite spiky. Its 20ft climbing towers, with natural, gnarled boughs lashed together with willow wands, were made by hand, not in a factory. Waving prairie grasses stand higher than the head of an adult (which could block sight lines). There are expanses of sand (could contain animal faeces or sharp objects) and boulders (no manufacturer, no shared legal liability).’