Playgrounds and Education Policy

File52eec04d490efBy Mark

This story was circulating on social media recently, and despite my initial reactions, it appears to be true.

A primary school in New Zealand has changed rules around recess as a result of research conducted at local universities. The essential finding: fewer rules on the playground resulted in "a drop in bullying, serious injuries and vandalism, while concentration levels in class are increasing" (from the article linked above).

At my own son's elementary school, students are apparently not permitted to run during recess. That's right, no running during outdoor recess. Only brisk walking. And forget about tag, let alone touch football. I am not an elementary school teacher or staff member, so sure I can sit over here and judge, but the findings from this (albeit small) research project where children were allowed to be children during recess seems to me yet another indicator of how our drive to protect children from harm actually harms them more than the bumps, bruises and grass-stained knees we want to spare.

Sadly, this article above also makes this statement:

[M]any American school administrators do not feel they have the freedom to eliminate playtime rules the way Swanson [the primary school in New Zealand] did. And they certainly don’t see it as a zero-cost game. Parents drive our nation’s tendency toward more restrictive playground rules because parents are the ones who sue schools when their children get hurt.

It is all very interesting to me both as a parent and as an educator.

I wonder: what if a whole education system had no externally ascribed rules? Would the flaws we are trying to eliminate with laws, rules, and policies diminish (and achievement increase) as analogous to the positive changes witnessed on that playground in New Zealand? 

2 thoughts on “Playgrounds and Education Policy

  1. Tom

    My first reaction is, “Hey Mark, have you read Lord of the Flies recently?” But I know you have, so my second reaction is yes, we do need to back off with the rules, especially at recess. Supervision, yes, but it’s getting to the point at my school where we have adults choosing captains, picking teams and reffing games.
    Not that we were perfect, but having to do all ourselves that taught us a lot of valuable life lessons.

  2. Mark

    Ha, I am surprised I didn’t think of Lord of the Flies. Maybe the one good step is to make sure recesses don’t last several months, but just maybe fractions of an hour instead 🙂

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