Spontaneous Order on the Free-Range Playground

PlaygroundNew Zealand has encountered the same problems
with playground bullying and acting out as schools in the United
States, and has responded with the same tightening web of red tape
we’ve seen in the northern hemisphere. “There was so many
ridiculous health and safety regulations and the kids thought the
static structures of playgrounds were boring,”
Professor Grant Schofield. As Director of the

Human Potential Centre
at Auckland University of Technology,
Schofield was in a position to do something about that. Along with
colleagues at Otago University, he came up with a research project
involving reducing or even eliminating playground rules and letting
the kids set their own limits. Then they actually persuaded schools
to sign on to what constituted an experiment in free-range
. The results aren’t surprising to those of us who ran
free in our own childhoods, which is to say they’re very

Marika Hill at Stuff.co.nz

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

The school is actually seeing a drop in bullying, serious
injuries and vandalism, while concentration levels in class are

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

Youth is a relatively low-risk time to test your limits and
discover what hurts and what doesn’t. Kids are practically rubber,
so when they fall down off a bike or out of a tree, it may be a
jolt, but it’s unlikely to do permanent damage. The lessons they
learn about what’s fun and what’s painful can be retained for later
in life when the stakes are higher. I know that I gained a
relatively low-cost understanding of the world wandering the
streets unescorted as an eight-year-old than I would have if I’d
been “protected” from the world around me, and I suspect the same
is true of most kids everywhere.

And, of course, kids get to burn off a lot more steam when they
play free than they do when adults ban
. Those rules are imposed by adults who live in fear
that children will damage their little selves, but that leaves the
tots chock full of unreleased energy and uncertain of the limits of
their worlds—limits they’ll have to discover when they’re older and
the consequences can be more severe (or else they won’t discover at
all as they internalize the fear in which they’ve been

Principal Bruce McLachlan
told TVNZ
that resistance to the free-range experiment came not
from parents, but from teachers who were afraid they’d be blamed
for any injuries the kids suffered. Not that parents can’t be
control freaks themselves—the term “helicopter parent” evolved for
a reason—but nothing embodies fear of risk like a bureaucrat. And
it’s hard to get in trouble for piling on more rules
rather than stripping away the ones that cause problems.

The New Zealand research has yet to be published, and it will be
interesting to see the formal results. In fact, the research was
originally intended to just encourage more activity, and the
behavioral improvements were unexpected gravy.

Grant Schofield is also something of a paleo guy on his Twitter feed and blog, Reasonoids may be interested to

(H/T CharlesWT)

from Hit & Run http://ift.tt/MaynkR

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