A New Zealand school principal lifted rules against tree climbing, skateboards and a contact game called bullrush and saw decreases in bullying, vandalism and injuries. From The Independent,
Principal Bruce McLachlan did away with the standard playtime rules as part of a university study conducted by Auckland University of Technology and Otago University looking at ways to encourage active play among children.
The study, which ended last year, found pupils were so occupied with the activities that the school did not need its timeout area anymore, or as many teachers patrolling the playground, according to TVNZ.
Teachers also reported higher concentration levels from their students in the classroom.
Mr McLachlan said: "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."
"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."
"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."
AUT professor of public health Grant Schofield, who worked on the team leading the study, said children develop their brain's frontal lobe when they are taking risks, which allows them to calculate consequences.
"You can't teach them that", Mr Schofield said. "They have to learn risk on their own terms. It doesn't develop by watching TV, they have to get out there."
Four schools in Auckland were involved in the experiment and all reported similar findings. The results have been so successful, Swanson Primary has opted to make the changes implemented during the experiment permanent.
For those who don't remember what a normal recess looks like, here's a video from playtime at an OPAL (Outdoor Play and Learning) school. From Youtube,
Beacon Rise Primary has nearly 500 pupils and is situated in Kingswood North Bristol. It is a large site and includes a multi use games area. You will see that only a handful of children choose to play on it.
Play of this high quality does not happen by accident and is the result of six years work by the head and the play team with support and advice from OPAL Outdoor Play and Learning.
I think grownups need something like this, too, and physical fitness is only part of the reason. At least, this grownup does: since doing alignment yoga and karate, I've had a better attitude and I've gone to bed physically tired instead of mentally weary. Maybe the best sign of all: I've stopped worrying about getting old for the same reason that young people don't try to be young: I'm not getting old.
Sources: "New Zealand School Bans Playground Rules and Sees Less Bullying and Vandalism" by Heather Saul. The Independent, February 3, 2014.
"Beacon Rise Playtime--What Play at an OPAL Platinum School Looks Like" by Michael Follett. June 13, 2013. Youtube.