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Read Time: 4 minutes

Kids need to climb trees, jump off things, and ride their bikes fast. Says who? Says the Canadian Paediatric Society (CPS), that’s who. They may spell “pediatric” funny, but they get serious props from us for the big report they released today: “Healthy Childhood Development Through Outdoor Risky Play.”

If that sounds like a giant leap, you’re right. Mariana Brussoni, a developmental psychologist at the University of British Columbia, has been championing risky play for more than a decade. In 2015, she and a blue ribbon commission declared risky play crucial for kids. While some doctors from the CPS were on that commission, Brussoni says, the Society was never quite ready to endorse the declaration.

Until now.

Risky Play is Preventative Medicine.

Faced with soaring rates of childhood anxiety, depression, obesity, and even myopia, the Society came to realize that “letting kids go out and play could be a way to deal with a lot of these challenging issues,” Brussoni says.

That’s because the doctors came to recognize two truths:

1 – Children are hard-wired to play because it is developmental gold. It teaches them how to take action, make friends, and solve problems.

2 – Replacing rollicking, regular old kid-led play with structured, supervised, adult-led play was a colossal mistake. It deprived children of a million opportunities to exercise their autonomy. And in terms of physical injuries? Irony alert ahead.

Risky Play Makes Kids Brave.

When kids play without adult intervention, it increases their social-emotional skills, the report found. What’s more: It can “significantly reduce children’s risk for elevated anxiety.

Play does that in a rather obvious way, says Let Grow co-founder Peter Gray, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Boston College. “From an evolutionary standpoint, why do children want to play in a risky way? Because this is how they develop a little courage,” Gray says. “They deliberately put themselves into situations where they’re feeling fear so that, unconsciously, they can have a sense of control over it: ‘I can feel this fear and survive it.’ So when they face a real emergency, they are slightly less likely to panic. They are also less fearful because they know, ‘Something can happen and I can manage it.’”

The Canadian report recommends pediatricians start promoting risky play as preventative medicine for mental health.

Risky Play is Less Dangerous Than Organized Sports.

But what about the physical danger risky play involves? How can doctors – and parents, and schools – ignore that?

By looking at statistics, says Brussoni.

“From 2007 to 2022, there were two deaths from falls on the playground, and 480 deaths from motor vehicle crashes,” she says. Playing at the park seems safer than being driven there. Brussoni adds that in those same years there were zero deaths from falls from trees.

Where does the real playtime danger lie? “The research has established that children are less likely to be injured while engaging in unstructured activities than when playing an organized sport,” according to the report.

Risky Play Was Mistakenly Maligned.

Whoa! Sports are more dangerous than goof-around play? It’s starting to sound like the real risk in “risky play” is that our culture has been so busy trying to kill it. Think of signs like this one in suburban DC that cautions: “Adult supervision required. Do not climb on slides. No jumping from swings.” And, on the monkey bars, “Do not skip rings or rungs.”

Wrong! Creativity, boldness, and confidence are exactly what kids need — and get from, among other things, skipping rings and rungs!

So how can we re-normalize the free play suddenly so prized?

Brussoni tells parents to start with an “underwhelming” experiment. “Let them out into the backyard while you’re watching for a few minutes.” The next day, sit in the kitchen and don’t watch. You and your kids will get used to time apart. Take it from there.

Another way is to ask your kids’ school to start a Let Grow Play Club. That’s when the school stays open for mixed-age free play. When it does, suddenly there’s a swarm of kids having exactly the kind of fun the pediatric society recommends. Some may organize a football game. Some draw with chalk. Some run around and make up new games. An adult is there, but like a lifeguard. They don’t organize the games or solve the spats. A Play Club is the easiest way to get a lot of kids playing (and off their phones) before or after school — and our implementation guide is FREE! Here it is!

Risky Play Needs a Better Name.

The Canadian Paediatrics Society says it issued its full-throated endorsement of risky play partly in response to the “restrictive safety programs and measures that have become more broadly implemented – and sometimes mandated – in child care settings, schools, and playgrounds in recent years.”

By labeling normal childhood play “risky,” the risk-mitigators got it wrong. They didn’t think about trade-offs, or why kids are so driven to run and jump and hide and seek. And they didn’t think what might happen to kids deprived of this childhood staple.

But now, if even cautious Canada is saying safety culture has swung too far? It’s time to jump off the swing.


  1. RRaymond Brown says:


  2. RRaymond Brown says:

    exactly, right Dale and I wanted to be out of my house and away as much as possible when I got a bicycle, the world really opened up

  3. RRaymond Brown says:

    Hi Cary
    I think you made some good points. I can’t say that I like or dislike you, because I simply don’t know you. I was surprised by you, suggesting that no one likes you.
    I know you all don’t like me–I thrive on it.

  4. DDerek says:

    “…safety culture has swung too far? It’s time to jump off the swing.”

    Great line Lenore!

  5. MMark says:

    Any reason not to expect adventurous activity — work AND play — similarly to be impt to adults, including Dads and Moms? I’d hate to think I, my peers, stopped learning, expanding on what we’d encountered, on leaving home. That a lack thereof has had a negative impact I hear of with ADULT mental health, happiness, rewards from parenting, life?

  6. MMark says:

    I agree calling whotever play “risky” seems silly; asking for trouble. How about “adventurous”. Esp since many activities like white water canoeing seemed much more adventurous than the actual dangers merited. When you count vehicular injuries, of course these will entail many more serious injuries. So too adventurous activities we mostly needed adult participation to play. Like soccer. Getting to museums, movies, Scouting ventures, camping, the ocean, malls, the vet, concerts, our own medical/dental care. My childhood would have been even more deprived without these aplenty. My parents were happy to have me go for the Scouting Mile Swim award. But we all agreed this too dangerous with all the Motorboats zooming around Lake Hopatcong absent my Dad chaperoning me w/ his kayak. Warding off, de facto, these dangers I’d face swimming alone. The swim was still my initiative, my adventure: one requiring adult supervision.

  7. MMark says:

    Cary, I don’t know you. I don’t like your ludicrously proclaiming nonetheless I don’t like you, and that you thrive on this. Would you like me to thrive on your untethered hostility? I don’t. Why presume with FRanging v. Helicoptering, it’s all or nothing? In the nature of activity? In its impact? I grew up in a small, mostly working class town in NW NJ — about an hour west of the GWBridge by car. We had no access without adults to activities available in Manhattan; nor even in larger, ritzier suburbs much closer to NY. I, many others, thrived most when we had ample Free Play plus opportunities like Scouting, canoe racing, visiting NYC art museums/zoos that came with some adult transportation, supervision. FWIW, my one broken bone was a smashed nose in Gym class, not Free Play, Backpacking, etc. on my own.

  8. DDale Phenicie says:

    Freedom to interface with our community on our own was a key part of our growing up experience back in the 40s and 50s. How we did it, what we learned, and how it equipped us for success in our adult lives is described in the book “Be Home by Dark.” It’s available at Amazon prime members can read it for free. #modernparenting #letthemgrow #ontheirown

  9. CCary says:

    Good idea; however, it’s not really “free-range” if it’s adult planned, adult arranged, adult surveilled, and geographically restricted to someone’s yard. The kids have to decide they want to go out, go out unwatched, and once they’re out decide where to go, who to play with, and what they’re going to do. Adults have to butt out, other than to provide very general guidelines (be home before dark, stay off the freeway, etc.). Skinned knees, or even a busted nose or collar bone once in a while, are worth it for the gains in confidence, socialization, resilience, fitness, and motor skills. I know you all don’t like me–I thrive on it.