Free the children!

January 26th, 2014 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Ripping up the playground rulebook is having incredible effects on children at an Auckland school.

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 rid the school of 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, with the aim of encouraging active play.

However, the school took the experiment a step further by abandoning the rules completely, much to the horror of some teachers at the time, he said.

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.”

I’m not surprised. Kids treats rules as a challenge, not a restriction.

AUT professor of public health Grant Schofield, who worked on the research 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.

Absolutely.

The research project morphed into something bigger 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 – inspired by their own risk-taking childhoods – decided to give children the freedom to create their own play, principals shook their heads but eventually four Dunedin schools and four West Auckland schools agreed to take on the challenge, including Swanson Primary School.

It was expected the children would be more active, but researchers were amazed by all the behavioural pay-offs. The final results of the study will be collated this year.

Look forward to the formal results.

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37 Responses to “Free the children!”

  1. hj (6,991 comments) says:

    That decision to change the healthy only food options from tuck shops (Anne Tolley), wasn’t done for the children.

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  2. gump (1,647 comments) says:

    I am pleased to read that the schools agreed to support this research.

    The rigid conformity required by schools conflicts with the natural instincts of children. This is not to say that children’s behaviour should be entirely unrestrained, but there needs to be a balance (which this experiment seems to restore)

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  3. WineOh (630 comments) says:

    Here’s hoping that it’s a roaring success… and that we take a step back from the wowser hyper-protectionist stance that we seem to be taking.

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  4. Paul Marsden (998 comments) says:

    “I am pleased to read that the schools agreed to support this research.”

    Cheeses Chr##t.. the research has already been done!

    The more things change, the more things stay the same. Duh!…Idiots the lot of them. Thank god us jokers of my age never endured this PC, cardigan-wearing lot at school in the 50s/60s! Lots of cuts and brusies back then; the strap or cane if you stepped out of line; no graffitti; no (or little bullying), and lots of good mates and good times.

    Funny, most of us turned out pretty well (even if I do say so myself)

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  5. Mark Thomson (81 comments) says:

    The next thing you know these ivory tower academics will be claiming that smacking is good for children.

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  6. Kea (12,777 comments) says:

    Our ultra feminised schools are a disgrace. They are failing and especially so for boys. The goal is not to educate males but to socially engineer them to accept feminist doctrine. The broken spirited pseudo men that trudge glumly around NZ are evidence their plan is working.

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  7. Dave Mann (1,218 comments) says:

    This is great! Finally there are signs that our safety-obsessed, PC and risk-averse society is starting to swing back towards sanity. Good news indeed!

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  8. dirty harry (481 comments) says:

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

    The experiment failed.

    Which group of do-gooding hand wringers is going to be held to account?

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  9. Harriet (4,967 comments) says:

    Good. That’ll get rid of the idea of having a nation full of Justin Biebers

    Here in Aust one school does not allow it’s pupils to do a ‘pinch and a punch for the first of the month’ as it is an invasion of someone else’s personal space blah blah blah. It’s fucken stupid. Imagine if the whole country did that? Eventually no one would want to join the army or police. Or defend their property, wifes and daughters from some immigrants.

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  10. Harriet (4,967 comments) says:

    “…The broken spirited pseudo men that trudge glumly around NZ are evidence their plan is working.”

    Kea you’re not allowed to say that. :cool:

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  11. Viking2 (11,467 comments) says:

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

    Slight alteration makes that much better.

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  12. jaba (2,141 comments) says:

    about bloody time .. bullrush at the schools (and ball tag) where brutal at times, as were the jungle gym battles, they were great.
    There is nothing worse that a bored kid with energy to burn and no outlet

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  13. radvad (765 comments) says:

    Agree with Kea. These rules are just another example of how the zealots have feminised our culture. The smacking ban is another example. Good to see the backlash is beginning.

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  14. Gulag1917 (915 comments) says:

    This liberation of kids is great.

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  15. OlderChas (24 comments) says:

    Mark Thomson @ 9:31 The next thing you know these ivory tower academics will be claiming that smacking is good for children.

    It is!

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  16. Yogibear (365 comments) says:

    Coincidence that the school is in West Auckland and about as far away from the sandal wearers as you could be while still being in the city?

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  17. Cato (1,095 comments) says:

    But what if one of the children scrapes his or her knee‽

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  18. radvad (765 comments) says:

    “But what if one of the children scrapes his or her knee‽”

    Or their self esteem is damaged cos they cannot run fast enough.

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  19. Kimble (4,438 comments) says:

    Is anyone going to be against these changes?

    It really is a TINY minority that is ruining play time.

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  20. Kea (12,777 comments) says:

    Our feminised society is breeding dysfunctional people.

    6 Benefits of Roughhousing for Kids

    1. Roughhousing makes kid smart.

    This is fascinating: Roughhousing fertilizes our brain. For real. This kind of physical play releases a chemical called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) which really is like fertilizer for our brains. Roughhousing stimulates neuron growth within the cortex and hippocampus regions of the brain, responsible for memory, learning, language, and logic. Animal behaviorists have found that the youngsters of the smarter species engage in physical play, so it isn’t surprising that roughhousing actually boosts school performance. Who knows? If your kid wrestles everyday, he might win a scholarship to Yale!

    2. Roughhousing builds emotional intelligence….

    4. Roughhousing makes children ethical and moral….

    http://psychcentral.com/lib/6-benefits-of-roughhousing-for-kids/0007973

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  21. MT_Tinman (3,183 comments) says:

    Fantastic stuff!

    Hopefully next we’ll see an experiment dropping the road rules, signs, restrictions (Bohmte, Drachten etc.) and require all road users to think.

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  22. Kea (12,777 comments) says:

    Fantastic stuff!

    Hopefully next we’ll see an experiment dropping the road rules, signs, restrictions (Bohmte, Drachten etc.) and require all road users to think.

    Hans Monderman is a traffic engineer who hates traffic signs. Oh, he can put up with the well-placed speed limit placard or a dangerous curve warning on a major highway, but Monderman considers most signs to be not only annoying but downright dangerous. To him, they are an admission of failure, a sign – literally – that a road designer somewhere hasn’t done his job. “The trouble with traffic engineers is that when there’s a problem with a road, they always try to add something,” Monderman says. “To my mind, it’s much better to remove things.”

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  23. Kea (12,777 comments) says:

    Fantastic stuff!

    Hopefully next we’ll see an experiment dropping the road rules, signs, restrictions (Bohmte, Drachten etc.) and require all road users to think.

    Hans Monderman is a traffic engineer who hates traffic signs. Oh, he can put up with the well-placed speed limit placard or a dangerous curve warning on a major highway, but Monderman considers most signs to be not only annoying but downright dangerous. To him, they are an admission of failure, a sign – literally – that a road designer somewhere hasn’t done his job. “The trouble with traffic engineers is that when there’s a problem with a road, they always try to add something,” Monderman says. “To my mind, it’s much better to remove things.”

    Several years ago, Monderman ripped out all the traditional instruments used by traffic engineers to influence driver behavior – traffic lights, road markings, and some pedestrian crossings – and in their place created a roundabout, or traffic circle. The circle is remarkable for what it doesn’t contain: signs or signals telling drivers how fast to go, who has the right-of-way, or how to behave. There are no lane markers or curbs separating street and sidewalk, so it’s unclear exactly where the car zone ends and the pedestrian zone begins. To an approaching driver, the intersection is utterly ambiguous – and that’s the point.

    http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/12.12/traffic.html

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  24. Paulus (2,626 comments) says:

    Much of the blame for the political correctness goes back to the Clark days effectively enforcing the feminisation of Primary Teachers – remember when 25% of all males were rapists ?
    Problem still remains that many women teachers in primary schools haven’t changed.
    Men as Teachers, including all primary boys, are still anathema in education.
    Primary education can only be controlled by women.
    Which is why so many single mothers abound – the “partners” cannot put up with it any more – and it will increase.

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  25. wikiriwhis business (3,996 comments) says:

    Probably be the next school to be closed down.

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  26. wikiriwhis business (3,996 comments) says:

    I’m surprised kids don’t have to use trainer wheels on their bikes till age 10.

    Would have been discussed no doubt.

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  27. Kea (12,777 comments) says:

    “Much of the blame for the political correctness goes back to the Clark days effectively enforcing the feminisation of Primary Teachers – remember when 25% of all males were rapists ?”

    According to some on KB that figure is now 100%

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  28. dirty harry (481 comments) says:

    What about the wowsers who want child restrain seats in cars for up to 12 year olds…what a crock that is.

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  29. jcuk (684 comments) says:

    Kea “To an approaching driver, the intersection is utterly ambiguous – and that’s the point.”

    There is a short stretch of higher speed road near my home and some years back it was re-surfaced and for a few days there was no markings …. whereas usually drivers hug the centre line with no centre line they kept left … a far more safe practice.

    Fortunately I was brought up many years ago before the feminists gained so much control and I got smacked, caned, and kicked in the balls and I have one speeding ticket from when my supervisor encouraged me to save time with a false deadline, and no more parking tickets than can be counted with fingers of one hand …. Not sure what went wrong with my upbringing.

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  30. jcuk (684 comments) says:

    Dirty Harry … you should not confuse good common sense with regulation.

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  31. dirty harry (481 comments) says:

    what…putting a 12 year old in a child restraint seat..bollocks !

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  32. Sam Buchanan (501 comments) says:

    About time – I’ve long advocated minimum injury rates at schools – if there’s no cuts and bruises somebody should be held accountable.

    An it sounds like it might be time to dust off those old A. S. Neill books!

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  33. Chinarugby (87 comments) says:

    Great for this school – well done!!!!

    We encourage our kids to just be kids and when my son recently told me his teachers forbid this and forbid that – I told him to get on that field and play tackle with his mates – any teacher has a problen – get the principle to phone me!

    Having kids be told at his school they must wear mouthguard for touch bullrush – insanity.

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  34. wf (441 comments) says:

    . . . . . Having kids be told at his school they must wear mouthguard for touch bullrush – insanity.

    Yeah, but

    . . . I have to sell these mouth guards . . . .

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  35. jcuk (684 comments) says:

    DH Foolish crudity doesn’t help your case as it is apparently less the age but the size … it is just that many children only reach the height at about the age of 12. The idea of a seat tailored to suit the body size of the passenger in these mobile killing machines is great.

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  36. Manolo (13,735 comments) says:

    @jcuk, not sorry to say you are a wowser and shameless control freak.

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  37. RRM (9,915 comments) says:

    I took my 9yo girl to the flash playground in Martinborough a couple of weekends ago.

    Everything is well-groomed and maintained, about half of the stuff is good old swings and slides like we had when I was a boy (a shiny stainless steel slide you actually go down FAST – yay!) and about half of it was new and PC like all of the other playgrounds.

    The flying fox had so little angle on it, that you almost needed a run-up to get it moving. We were not impressed…

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