When trying to control a group of rowdy children on the playground, schools usually rely on rules, rules, and more rules. What would happen if we threw out the rulebook? Would there be total anarchy? Would we witness a Lord of the Flies scenario with an extra dose of pure chaos? According to Swanson School in Auckland, New Zealand, the answer is no.
The concept of less adult oversight is not some wacky, newfangled idea, it’s way old-school. The researchers from UT and Otago University, who spearheaded the change at Swanson School, were “inspired by their own risk-taking childhoods” and decided that kids need fewer rules during playtime, not more.
Students were given more opportunities to climb trees, ride skateboards, and play in mud – basically to act like children circa 1958 instead of those who live in the safety-first mentality of today. And while the researchers assumed that the children would just be more physically active, there were more benefits than they imagined, like fewer bullies. “The kids were motivated, busy and engaged,” said Principal Bruce 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.”
So it’s not just that kids won’t delve into wild abandonment, but fewer rules may also curb bullying, cut down on serious injuries, decrease vandalism, and potentially improve classroom concentration. This child management style is reminiscent of the “free-range kid” philosophy that James Peron writes about on Huffington Post: “Entire generations of children have grown up under the wings of paranoid, over-protective hawks, who teach them to fear the world, to distrust everyone, and to seek some strong, authority figure to protect them from monsters under their beds.”
Not only might the playground become a less stressful environment, but there are additional long term benefits for our kids. “The great paradox of cotton-woolling children is it’s more dangerous in the long-run,” said Grant Schofield, one of the researchers behind the project. In having more freedom, they have a greater opportunity to gain important knowledge. “They have to learn risk on their own terms,” Schofield explained. “It doesn’t develop by watching TV, they have to get out there.”
We, as parents and as a society, have become a throng of nervous nellies, waving our rulebook in one hand while also keeping a watchful eye focused keenly on our offspring. For them to grow, we need to let them fall, let them play in mud, let them make up their own rules on the playground. This experiment may be happening on the other side of the world, but let’s hope that some risk-taking adults take a chance on our children, and allow them to just be kids, too. The benefits might far outweigh the risk.
Photo Source: Morgue Files