News / Vancouver

B.C. researcher pleased to see municipalities adding risk to playgrounds

Mariana Brussoni has spent years researching the benefits of risky outdoor play for children.

A child climbs up a ladder at a playground.

Flickr: Michael Newman

A child climbs up a ladder at a playground.

After years of researching the benefits of risky outdoor play for children, a University of B.C. professor says she feels gratified to see some Lower Mainland municipalities heed her work.  

Mariana Brussoni, who teaches in UBC’s School of Population and Public Health, said she is pleased to see local municipalities include natural play features in their playground designs in an effort to reintroduce risk into children’s play.

Delta council recently voted unanimously to include natural play environments to help teach children about risk management. Richmond and North Vancouver are also updating their playgrounds.

“As a researcher, unless something is done with the research that we develop, it often feels like there’s not much use to it,” she told Metro. “But to know that the evidence is being taken on board and influencing play space design for kids, that’s incredibly gratifying.”

Brussoni is lead author of a study published last June that found risky outdoor play, such as climbing, jumping and rough and tumble activities are not only beneficial for children’s health, but also encourage creativity, social skills and resilience.

In the last generation, she said adults have been consumed with protecting kids from injury. But her research shows that too much bubble wrap may be thwarting healthy child development.

While Brussoni acknowledged that nobody wants to see a child fall and hurt themselves, she argued that today’s playground safety standards combined with too much supervision are preventing kids from developing risk management skills.

“Nobody wants to get a broken arm, but at the same time, it’s not the end of the world,” she said. “These are things that are fundamental for learning about themselves. If they’re figuring out what they can do and what leads to a fall, those are skills that they can then translate to other situations to help keep themselves safe.”

With her own kids, ages 7 and 6, Brussoni said she subscribes to the notion of making things “as safe as necessary, but not as safe as possible.”

“It’s about trusting their own instincts more, peeling away those layers of other people’s expectations, and guilt and letting kids be kids.”

With files from The Toronto Star.