By Darren Smith, Guest Contributor
A recent two-year University research project, finalized in a practical study at an elementary school in New Zealand, tested to see if regimented playground rules, which were designed to prevent injury, bullying and misbehavior, would change behavior if they were eliminated. Some expected chaos to result afterward. Instead, the school is seeing a reduction in injuries, vandalism, and bullying while classroom concentration is rising.
Now, students are permitted to ride skateboards, climb trees, ride scooters, and play “bullrush”; activities formerly prohibited.
School principal Bruce McLachlan reflected on past practices stating “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… The kids [now are] 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.”
Some might believe such a practice to be novel, but it actually is a return to former times before such restrictive rules were imposed.
AUT professor of public health Grant Schofield, a researcher on the project, said 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.
According to studies 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.”
The research project enlarged when plans to upgrade playgrounds were stopped due to over-zealous safety regulations and costly play equipment.
“There was so many ridiculous health and safety regulations and the kids thought the static structures of playgrounds were boring.”
When researchers elected to give children the freedom to create their own play, many educators were doubtful.
It was expected the children would be more active, but researchers were amazed by all the behavioral pay-offs.
Schofield urged other schools to embrace risk-taking.
How well American schools will accept this concept remains to be seen in an environment dominated by a zero-tolerance mindset of many administrators and teachers along with the protect children from anything “bad” style of mollycoddling. But it seems the occasional bruised knee or scraped elbow might actually be of greater benefit.
Photo Credit: Artaxerxes
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