Mom Story: The Benefits of Risky Play with Dr. Catherine O’Brien

Parenting in the First 3 Years Podcast


#81: The Benefits of Risky Play

with Dr. Catherine O’Brien



How can we empower our children through risky indoor and outdoor play and embrace a facilitator parenting approach?

Play is an essential part of childhood, shaping a child’s development in countless ways. In this week’s episode, we have a special guest, Dr. Catherine O’Brien, a renowned expert in child psychology and play. We talk about playtime for young children, exploring the dynamics of indoor vs. outdoor play, understanding the concept of “risky play” for 2-3-year-olds, and how parents can change their protective mindset to nurture their child’s growth. 

Armed with practical suggestions, parents can embrace their role as facilitators and watch their children flourish in the process. Listen in now!

Topics Discussed:
  • Playing indoors vs. outdoors for young children
  • Understanding “risky play” for 2-3 year olds
  • Changing the protective mindset
  • Practical suggestions for parents.
About our guest:

Dr. Catherine O’Brien, often referred to as “Dr. Cat,” boasts over 25 years of experience in the field of early childhood education, where she has assumed various roles. Currently, she serves as a Lecturer within the Department of Educator and Leadership Preparation, specifically in the Early Childhood Program at Texas A&M University San Antonio. Notably, she is the proud mother of five adult children and holds a deep affection for nature and play. 

With an educational background that includes a Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree in Early Childhood Education and Business Administration, a Master of Arts (MA) in Education with a specialization in Early Childhood, and an Ed.D. in Teaching and Learning, Catherine’s commitment to lifelong learning is evident. Her passion revolves around supporting educators, families, and young children in their journey toward reaching their full potential. 

Dr. Cat’s pedagogical approach centers on cultivating a sense of community within the learning environment, one that is collaboratively shaped with her students. She draws inspiration from the teachings of Loris Malaguzzi and has incorporated the concept of the “Image of the Child” into her teaching philosophy, firmly believing that each student possesses myriad ways, akin to 100 languages, through which they can express themselves (as highlighted in Edwards, Gandini & Forman, 2012). 

Of late, Dr. Cat has directed her fervor toward advocating for children’s rights, encompassing their right to play, access to high-quality education, and the privilege of growing and developing in safe and nurturing environments.


Download a Transcript

In the 2023 season of Parenting in the First 3 Years, we’ll be bringing on parents just like you to share the story of their personal journey. Would you like to apply to be considered as a guest? Let’s talk about it! Simply email Ann McKitrick at

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