Monday, 27 January 2014

Free-range experiments

New Zealand schools are pretty free-range relative to America: no security guards, playground equipment that would have been banned in America a decade ago, pot-luck community lunches without freaking out about allergies or health inspection of parents' kitchens.

Maybe they're not free-range enough.
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."
If you don't know what bullrush is, think of a tackle version of red-rover. Here's a video from the experiment's initiation last year.

And it gets results:
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.
I hope this rolls out more broadly. I would love LOVE to see this as an RCT and watch the effects on child obesity. If you ban everything except sitting down, you'll get fat kids.

I can't wait to read the final write-up.

1 comment:

  1. Yes, we used to call the game " Bulldog" in primary school Dunedin
    You had to cross the defenders to the line without being dropped.
    It had a Rugby running about it, you would pelt down one side and as they came across switch back.
    We also had trees in the school playground. Lunch time was fun, and then we swapped sandwiches