In an unorthodox effort to encourage active play in a New Zealand primary school, a principal has stopped enforcing rules on the playground. According to TVNZ, children at Swanson Primary School in Auckland can be seen “climbing trees, riding skateboards and playing bullrush during playtime." Aside from successfully encouraging children to be more active during the time alloted for recreational activities, the study has had some unintended positive consequences.
Since implementing the new no-rule policy, the school has experienced a decrease in instances of bullying, vandalism and injuries. The school even claims that the concentration levels in class have increased as a result of the new policy.
School Principal Bruce McLachlan explained that preventing trouble is as simple as allowing children the freedom to explore and take risks on their own.
“We want kids to be safe and to look after them, but we end up wrapping them in cotton wool when it fact they should be able to fall over. 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,” McLachlan said.
The primary school’s new playground policy actually began as part of a larger study conducted by two New Zealand colleges, the Auckland University of Technology and Otago University. The goal of the study was simply to encourage more “active play” on the playground, but McLachlan saw such vast improvements in his school that he decided to drop the playground rules altogether.
“The kids were motivated, busy and engaged,” McLachlan said about the results of the study, “In my experience, the time children get into trouble is when they are not busy, motivated and engaged.”
AUT Professor of Public Health Grant Schofield explained that he conducted the study under the belief that children “have to learn risk on their own terms. It doesn’t develop by watching TV, they have to get out there.”
According to the Sun News Network, Swanson Primary School no longer needs a timeout area or as many teachers on patrol during recess.
McLachlan also encouraged other schools throughout the country to take similar action, explaining how his simple method has worked wonders.
“It’s a no brainer. As far as implementation, it’s a zero-cost game in most cases. All you are doing is abandoning the rules,” McLachlan said.