09 Aug 2007,
One function of play is to test abilities before they are called upon in real life. For example, an infant primate will test its ability to climb branches through play, building its abilities to cope at a time when it has to fend for itself. If human children use these abilities for real before they are ready then serious injury or worse could occur.
But we must not forget that accidents are a vital part of children's play. It is through accidents that they discover the boundaries of their capabilities - and learn how to adapt to do it better next time. Playgrounds provide children with the opportunity to have these accidents in a risk-managed setting. We do not seek the unachievable goal of absolute safety - indeed, this would be far more deleterious in the long term.
It would be folly simply to create fully man-made environments for children to play in. If they are to understand their abilities to interact with the world around them, they must have as full an exposure to the entirety of the environment as possible.
Marguerite Rouard and Jacques Simon said in Children's Play Spaces (1977) 'In the country, children can climb hills and trees or stroll through the woods. In the city, they must have the opportunity to test their physical strengths in playgrounds arranged to provide similar stimuli. It is not enough to install a few pieces of equipment.'
I hope that we can promote the development of exciting and challenging play opportunities for our children that combine the excellent utility of playground equipment with the unrivalled bounty that nature can provide for us.
Therefore accidents form a vital part of play, but we must endeavour to avoid serious injury and death.