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Benefits of Outdoor and Adventure Play

By Zoé Thomas (MA BSc Hons)

What is adventure play?

What is adventure play? Well, adventure play is a type of play which encourages children to explore, navigate, and experience new things, or “daring” activities!

According to researchers, there are many different types of play, all of which stimulate different learning and developmental experiences – but over the years, we’ve become conditioned to be more cautious, and wary of the unknown; or even risky experiences that could have potential adverse effects, such as possible injuries.

As put by the Health and Safety Executive (2024), many children are now restricted to, or discouraged from, certain play and leisure activities due to adults “wrapping them in cotton wool”. Many think this sentiment is directed at parents but applies to most adults in general.

For example, schools now have more rules as to what children can and can’t do at play time, including the ban of certain activities and/or equipment. Studies have also found that some parents or family members are also now more cautious of leaving children to play outside in the street compared to previous years and generations, due to the increased concerns about children’s safety (Make Time 2 Play, 2013; Save the Children UK, 2022).

The general consensus is that adults are more concerned about the safety of the children and young people in their care, and therefore would prefer to eradicate the risk entirely by restricting or discouraging certain activities and/or behaviour.

Why is risk and adventure important? 

Play in general is important for children’s physical, social, emotional, and cognitive development – and has been proven to have incredible benefits on their wellbeing too (Whitebread, 2012; NiDirect, 2024).

Daring activities, or activities that push children out of their comfort zone in particular have also been found to teach children vital life skills, including how to keep themselves and others safe when doing so. A great example of this is how forest school and other youth groups teach children about fire safety – by teaching them how to build their own fire, what it can be used for (i.e. toasting marshmallows), and how to put it out safely.

Some adults may consider children playing with fire as an extremely dangerous activity due to the possible risks associated with it, but really, it’s from activities such as these that children gain and develop core skills that they will not only take on to their further education, but also adulthood. It equips them with a skill set that ultimately can only benefit their future, providing that the risks are managed (NIHR School for Public Health Research, 2024).

On BBC 4 radio, this was also discussed by Helen Russell, who stated “it’s not the kids who fall and break an arm who have a fear of heights, it’s the ones who never climbed a tree” (BBC Womens Hour, 2024).

Life will always be full of risks, and there will always be the element of danger in any activity or type of play. It is about managing those risks that is one of the key elements when planning and providing such opportunities to children and young people. It’s important to remember that the goal isn’t to fully eliminate a risk, but weigh up the comparative benefits, and reduce the severity of such risks (Brussoni et al, 2012).

Risky, outdoor, and adventurous play have all been found to benefit children’s development – where according to some researchers, it is vital for optimal child development. The outdoor environment in particular offers opportunities and health benefits which cannot be replicated indoors. It can challenge children, allow them to experience varying heights and speeds, and test boundaries.

Of course, with any activity, there will always be a potential risk of injury within environments where you cannot control all factors – but it is the uncertainty and freedom to take risks which encourages such key developmental stages during childhood (Brussoni et al, 2012; Spencer et al, 2021).

Such benefits include lower levels of anxiety, increased mental health in general, the development of self-regulation and resilience, increased confidence and independence; and has even been found to help children overcome fears (Spencer et al, 2021; Brussoni, 2024).

What is the difference between structured play, and unstructured play?

Structured play is a term used to refer to a goal-oriented activity. For example, this could include organised sport games (like football, rugby, etc), board games, or an outdoor game such as “tag”. They all have a specific goal, and in most cases, will often have rules to go with them, to play in a certain way. They can be led by either adults, or children (Play Smart, 2024).

Unstructured play, however, is the opposite, where there is no defined purpose or outcome from the activity taking place. An example of this could be children playing in a park, exploring a forest, or discovering rockpools down the beach. It is where children and young people have the freedom to “use their imagination to self-direct their play time – without the predetermined rules or guidelines to follow” (PlayDale, 2024).

How does Go Ape fit into this, you ask?


Well, we couldn’t tie in more!

With the range of activities, we offer at Go Ape, it provides both structured and unstructured play opportunities – all of which are based outdoors, and encourage participants in adventurous play.

Our Nets Adventure course is a fantastic activity to promote and encourage unstructured play. Of course, we do have safety rules and advice in place, as does any other activity centre or playground – but once up in the trees, participants are free to bounce around the nets, and be led by their own imagination.

Nets Adventure is designed with different net areas and crossings to discover, and children are often found exploring various play types within the activity including imaginative play, communication play, locomotor play, and role play. Really speaking, the list is endless and we could continue listing the types of play we’ve observed on this activity! 

For more information about the different play types, and how these can be observed in children’s structured or unstructured play, we have linked the Encourage Play (2018) website at the end of this blog.

Our Treetop Adventure and Treetop Adventure Plus courses however are a great example of a more structured play activity – where there are specific rules and guidelines that must be followed – but the end outcome is the same which is to have fun on an adventurous activity!

These activities are also particularly great in getting children and young people to engage in an activity that’s developing both their physical and cognitive skills, from their fine motor development in their hands, to thinking about how they’re going to tackle wobbly crossings.

Our Treetop Adventure activity is also great for less certain adventurers looking to develop their confidence in the trees, and overcome any fears. This is actually our top-recommended activity for adults looking to overcome their fears too!



For all of our activities -  while we do of course have safety rules and advice that participants must follow in order to reduce risks; the benefits of Go Ape activities, and “adventurous outdoor play” really is second to none, and provides so much more than just an outdoor activity in the trees.

We understand that our activities are not for everyone, and that’s absolutely fine too. But, if your tribe are looking for an outdoor activity that will not only provide a unique outdoor experience, but will also have incredible benefits to one’s development, then we really do have just the thing.

About Zoé

Zoé is a member of one of our internal support teams; where she also still helps out at Go Ape Margam from time to time. Zoé joined us in 2020, when Covid-19 impacted local play services in her area. She was employed with a local council as a play worker, and was also in the middle of completing her Masters in Developmental and Therapeutic Play at Swansea University.

Zoé has since graduated university, and still helps out with her local council by organising and running play sessions for the local community. She comes from a background of all things play -and has put together this blog to discuss adventure play and how it ties into the world of Go Ape.


BBC Womens Hour (2024) - ‘It’s not the kids who fall and break an arm who have a fear of heights, it’s the ones who never climbed a tree’ This week, writer… | Instagram

Brussoni, M., Olsen, L.L., Pike, I., and Sleet, D.A. (2012) - Risky Play and Children’s Safety: Balancing Priorities for Optimal Child Development - PMC (

Brussoni, M. (2024) - Outdoor risky play | Education in the Digital Age : Healthy and Happy Children | OECD iLibrary (

Encourage Play (2024) - 16 Different Types of Play — Encourage Play

Health and Safety Executive (2024) - Children's play and leisure: promoting a balanced approach (

Make Time 2 Play (2013) - Parents believe it's more dangerous to play outside (

NiDirect (2024) - How play helps children's development | nidirect

NIHR School for Public Health Research (2024) - The importance of (risky) play: promoting child physical activity, mental health and family wellbeing - NIHR School for Public Health ResearchNIHR SPHR

PlayDale (2024) - The Importance of Unstructured Play - Playdale Playgrounds

Play Smart (2024) - Structured vs. Free Play: Which is Better? | PlaySmart UK

Save the Children UK (2022) - Children Today 62% Less Likely To Play Out Than Baby Boomer Grandparents (

Spencer, R.A., Joshi, N., Branje, K., Murray, N., Kirk, S.F., and Stone, M.R. (2021) - Early childhood educator perceptions of risky play in an outdoor loose parts intervention - PMC (

Whitebread, D (2012) - The importance of play (

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