NZ School Abandons Playground Rules, Fewer Injuries And Bullying Incidents Result

By Darren Smith, Guest Contributor

Children PlayingA 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.

Fairfax Media
Photo Credit: Artaxerxes
Darren Smith
The views expressed in this posting are the author’s alone and not those of the blog, the host, or other weekend bloggers. As an open forum, weekend bloggers post independently without pre-approval or review. Content and any displays or art are solely their decision and responsibility.

32 thoughts on “NZ School Abandons Playground Rules, Fewer Injuries And Bullying Incidents Result”

  1. I wish Mike Spindell was here to discuss the psychology surrounding this issue… 🙁

  2. when children and adults are left alone, they will cooperate. To insist is to resist.

  3. I forgot to add the last part of this interesting article:

    “Schools should be factories in which raw products, children, are to be shaped and formed into finished products. . . manufactured like nails, and the specifications for manufacturing will come from government and industry.” – Elwood Cubberley’s dissertation 1905, Teachers College, Columbia University

    “We want one class to have a liberal education. We want another class, a very much larger class of necessity, to forego the privilege of a liberal education and fit themselves to perform specific difficult manual tasks.” – Woodrow Wilson

    IMHO, our educational system is designed to ‘steer’ 50% of our students away from attending college, and into manual labor and/or low-paying occupations (i.e. cashier at Walmart, cook at McDonalds, clerk at the service station, etc.).

    After all, according to the Elites-who run this world-(sarcasm), we can’t have everyone becoming a lawyer, doctor, engineer, scientist, CEO of Apple, etc……..

  4. An interesting article/commentary on our educational system:




    “Before Barnard saw schools as a path to fame and eventual fortune, he was a mercantile-oriented state legislator in Rhode Island with no interest in education. And yet before the 1840s would end he had seized the Public School Movement from Mann and had twisted that father of public education’s words into something quite different. In the end Horace Mann became the Geoffrey Canada of the 19th Century. A man who set out to make a real difference, but whose image ended up licensed to people with an entirely different agenda.

    Barnard, like Mann, looked at schools, education, and childhood from ‘way above.’ But his was not the view from heaven of Horace Mann. Rather, his view was from the banker’s office and the factory foreman’s post, and the mine supervisor.

    At first, he sounds a bit like Mann – without the learning. “The primary object in securing the early school attendance of children, is not so much their intellectual culture, as the regulation of the feelings and dispositions, the extirpation of vicious propensities, the pre-occupation of the wildeiness of the young heart with the seeds and germs of moral beauty, and the formation of a lovely and virtuous character by the habitual practice of cleanliness, delicacy, refinement, good temper, gentleness, kindness, justice and truth.” But quickly the purposes behind this desired docility are apparent. “By means of such schools, the defective education of many of the youth of our manufacturing population would be remedied, and their various trades and employments be converted into the most efficient instruments of self-culture.”

    In Barnard’s world education was training, not learning. And in pursuit of this he imports the Prussian Model of education to simulate the assembly-line (recently appearing in the gun factories of his native New England) with age-based grades. He introduces rigid time schedules to schools in order to prepare the students for the emerging shift-work of textile mills. He also pushed to lower teacher pay (through replacing male teachers with women) and status, and to standardize both school buildings and instruction. (Mann had brought a dualism to the “women teacher issue” – “That females are better fitted by nature than males to train and educate young children is a position, which the public mind is fast maturing into an axiom. With economical habits in regard to all school expenditures, it is a material fact, that the services of females can be commanded for half the price usually paid to males. But what is of far higher moment is, that they are endowed by nature with a stronger affection for children; they have quicker sympathies, livelier sensibilities, and more vivid and enduring parental instincts.” – Common School Journal (Boston), vol. 1, no. 6 (March 15, 1839), p. 85 – Barnard would use Mann’s words while emphasizing the savings and ensuring that women never held decision-making positions within the system.)

    Why this matters

    From this beginning with see two fundamentally different ways of viewing the purpose of education, or, perhaps, two and a half. And these visions persist today and explain our current battles over schools.

    Teachers, and most teacher educators, are, as Dr. Becker says, “blindly focused on their classroom and kids.” From Linda Darling-Hammond to Lisa Parisi, Dan McGuire, Patrick Shuler, Punya Mishra, Pam Moran, Dave Britten, Dave Doty, and tens of thousands more, are working with students every day, trying to make the changes we can in the lives and learning of our students. “We” are the William Alcotts of today, the Maria Montessoris of today.

    At the other end are today’s Henry Barnards (or Andrew Carnegies). Those building careers or reputations by making education work for American capitalism. Arne Duncan, Michelle Rhee, Bill Gates, Eli Broad – they look down from corporate suites and see that education is not producing the kinds of compliant worker/citizens their businesses need. These are education’s industrialists, with absolutely no sense that a student is different than any other industrially processed part, and no sense that a teacher is any different than any industrial worker. For this group, education is measured as industrial processing is measured, parts (students) which are not successfully processed in any industrial step (grade) are re-processed (retained), and unions for the line workers (teachers) interfere with cost structure.

    These two groups cannot conceivably understand each other because they simply do not see the same thing when they look at “school.”

    That half step – Horace Mann or Geoffrey Canada or Cory Booker or African-American leaders who sign-on with the industrialists – are the missionaries. Their heavenly view, however well meaning, plays into the industrialists hands, giving moral cover to brutal capitalism.

    And brutal it is. We cannot really understand why American schools use age-based grades and standardized tests, and why two-thirds of students do badly – consistently – unless we understand why Barnard and his successors built the system they did. Because the system they built endures, operating, as Cubberley noted, “factories in which raw products, children, are to be shaped and formed into finished products,” and discarding “defective” raw materials along the way.”

  5. RobinH45: “fyi in nyc WE DON’T have the protected playgrounds given to those in the suburbs @ RWL. our kids are allowed to fall down, to take risks, to ride bikes without helmets, etc”

    When was the last time that you taught and/or even substituted at an inner city, elementary school? The protected playground concept is applied to all elementary schools, nationwide. Remember: this study was conducted at an elementary schools, not the neighborhood surrounding the elementary schools. Hence, some of your ‘ideology’ of inner city/urban elementary schools as never been protected is inaccurate.

    Provide me with research studies or examples, delineating that inner city, elementary schools in America do not have protected playground rules. Riding bikes? What elementary school allows children to ride their bikes (or even taking a risk allowing the school to provide the bikes so that children can ride on)?

    In the 1990s, I used to substitute at several Saint Louis Public Schools (in North and South City), particularly the elementary schools (these schools were ‘easier’ to handle than 6th grade and up). At least 3-4 TAs, Susbstitute teachers-like myself-PE teachers, and/or sometimes the Assistant Principal or Instrcutional Specialist were on the playground with the students. Rules were strict to prevent bullying & fighting, allowing students to take turns on the swings, and trying to get everyone (students) involved in some form of activity during recess (The custodians had to take the basketball rims down monday-friday, after school, to prevent vandalism by the older children in the neighborhood. Some idiots still found it ‘kool’ to spray-paint the childrens’ slides.).

  6. fyi in nyc WE DON’T have the protected playgrounds given to those in the suburbs @ RWL. our kids are allowed to fall down, to take risks, to ride bikes without helmets, etc, its the over protected kids of the suburbs who suffer the most!!! the first thought in your head was how would this work in the inner city. lmaooo IT ISNT the families in the inner city that are sue happy.. though you would think we would be….. smh

  7. I liked the part of the article that talked about climbing trees. When I was a kid, one of the schools I attended was a country school. A huge old oak had fallen at the back of the property and all the branches were removed, though the remnants of roots stuck out all over the place. We clamored all over that tree. It was a preferred play spot–better than the swings, merry-go-round, and monkey bars.

    I hope influential teachers and administrators (and parents!) here read the article you cited, Darren, and get schools to return playgrounds and recess to this free play, nearly free range environment. Thanks for the great post!

  8. “many educators were doubtful”. That’s because many educators are actually quite stupid people, having no original thoughts or intelligence of their own. They’ve been brainwashed into believing the education agenda includes behavior modification, which isn’t true. This is what they’re being taught in their own education.

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