Out with the old and in with the new school rules
One New Zealand primary school is breaking all the rules when it comes to child’s play. At the Swanson Primary School in Auckland, children enjoy a “no rules” recess. This laissez-faire approach to education means that the primary school students are permitted to climb trees, skateboard, get dirty or play contact sports without being reprimanded by teachers or chaperones.
These new no-rules recess began as an experiment two years ago by two New Zealand universities, Auckland University of Technology (AUT) and Otago University, undergoing research about the effects of active child’s play and learning. The results were shocking. Instead of the chaos that might be expected in this type of environment, the school has experienced fewer instances of bullying, serious injuries and vandalism and an increase in classroom concentration.
Because of the unexpected – yet positive – results, Swanson’s principal
Bruce McLachlan decided to rip up the rulebook permanently even after the study was completed.
“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,” he said in a TVNZ news article. “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.”
By abandoning the recess rules completely, Swanson Primary School students experienced higher levels of creativity and imagination on the playground and increased motivation in the classroom.
“The kids were motivated, busy and engaged,” said McLachlan. “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.”
Although many teachers and parents were initially horrified at the thought of throwing out the rulebook during recess, their views morphed once they saw the results.
“The great paradox of cotton-wooling children is that it’s more dangerous in the long-run,” said Grant Schofield, AUT professor of public health. “Society’s obsession with protecting children ignores the benefits of risk-taking.”
Included in those benefits are learning firsthand the consequences of certain actions on their own terms, Schofield said.
“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,” he said. “It’s a no brainer. As far as implementation, it’s a zero-cost game in most cases. All you are doing is abandoning rules.”
The results of a no-rules recess may seem inconceivable, and Schofield himself admitted in an article in The Atlantic that the results of the study might not work out as well on playgrounds in the U.S.
Jessica Lahey, writer of The Atlantic article, said she is cautiously optimistic about the results of the study in New Zealand. Despite cries of support for more freedom on the playground, she said that American parents are more resistant to letting their child take risks and fail.
“When it comes to allowing their children to fail, or to wrestle with another kid on the playground with the risk of bruised limbs and egos hovering over recess like a black cloud, they are resistant,” she stated in the article. “For all our talk about daring greatly and the blessings of skinned knees while free-ranging our children, real change toward a more sane vision of childhood is going to require parents willing to see their own children take risks and get a little dinged up in the process.”
Let us know what you think about the concept of a no-rules recess. Can we throw out the rulebook in America with the same positive results? Would this work at your child’s school?