Take away the school playground rules and look what happens – the kids are smarter and happier


Here’s another “hurrah” post from National’s branch HQ in Eketanuna North.

It is a big hurrah of approval for happenings in Auckland, a city which Alf generally recommends is best avoided.

But obviously some good things go on in Auckland.

Whale Oil is based there, for example, which means his mighty blog is brought to us each day from that city.

We have learned today of another good thing happening in Auckland – the ripping up of the playground rulebook at one of its schools.

The consequence is to affirm what Alf has long believed.

We do our kids no favours by cocooning them in cotton wool to keep them safe.

Swanson Primary School has gone back to the good old days before health and safety pantywaists moved in and took over with their pappy policies.

According to this report at Stuff:

Chaos may reign at Swanson Primary School with children climbing trees, riding skateboards and playing bullrush during playtime, but surprisingly the students don’t cause bedlam, the principal says.

The school is actually seeing a drop in bullying, serious injuries and vandalism, while concentration levels in class are increasing.

Principal Bruce McLachlan is the bloke who deserves a medal for ridding the school of silly playtime rules as part of a successful university experiment.

“We want kids to be safe and to look after them, but we end up wrapping them in cotton wool when in fact they should be able to fall over.”

Letting children test themselves on a scooter during playtime could make them more aware of the dangers when getting behind the wheel of a car in high school, he said.

“When you look at our playground it looks chaotic. From an adult’s perspective, it looks like kids might get hurt, but they don’t.”

Swanson School signed up to the study by AUT and Otago University just over two years ago.

The laudable aim is to encourage active play.

The school took the experiment a step further by abandoning the rules completely.

Teachers at the time were said to have been horrified.

But when the university study wrapped up at the end of last year the school and researchers were amazed by the results.

Mudslides, skateboarding, bullrush and tree climbing kept the children so occupied the school no longer needed a timeout area or as many teachers on patrol.

Instead of a playground, children used their imagination to play in a “loose parts pit” which contained junk such as wood, tyres and an old fire hose.

“The kids were motivated, busy and engaged. In my experience, the time children get into trouble is when they are not busy, motivated and engaged. It’s during that time they bully other kids, graffiti or wreck things around the school.”

But weren’t the parents dismayed about what might happen to their sprogs?

Nope. They were happy too because their children were happy.

Alf gives a big pat on the back, too, to AUT professor of public health Grant Schofield, who worked on the research project.

He says there are too many rules in modern playgrounds.

“The great paradox of cotton-woolling children is it’s more dangerous in the long-run.”

Society’s obsession with protecting children ignores the benefits of risk-taking, he said.

Children develop the frontal lobe of their brain when taking risks, meaning they work out consequences. “You can’t teach them that. They have to learn risk on their own terms. It doesn’t develop by watching TV, they have to get out there.”

This was all pretty obvious to Alf and to the researchers, who claim to have been inspired by their own risk-taking childhoods when they decided to give children the freedom to create their own play.

The pity is that the health and safety zealots can’t remember their risk-taking childhoods, although maybe some of them fell out of their trees and on to their heads and have lost their memories as a consequence.

One Response to Take away the school playground rules and look what happens – the kids are smarter and happier

  1. isni says:

    yes! great idea to sack the nanny (state)… keep on going. And i do recall having enough time on way straight down from tree with rope swing to say, “memo to self, don’t do THIS again”… that was about the falling. The swinging was too great to miss.

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