Monday, February 3, 2014

playground without rules…

I think back to my childhood with very fond memories. School days seemed to be spent in the playground with occasional breaks to learn the basic skills of reading writing and math. At primary school we would wolf down our packed lunch or snack (outdoors) before racing off to dig in the sandpit, jump on the trampoline, play amongst the gnarled roots of the cyprus trees, swing on the monkey bars, hang from branches, kick a ball, tumble on the horizontal bars, play tag, roller skate, play mini tennis or four-square, throw quoits, jump rope, play elastics/stockings, leapfrog the bollards, climb knotted ropes… basically act like kids. Less energetic pursuits involved cats cradle, jacks/knuckles or marbles. The whole school population took breaks together. The playground was alive and full of energy. This energy was contagious. All were engaged somehow.

I look at my kids today and feel sad. They eat lunch indoors, in the cafeteria. There is no play time after lunch. One 20 minute recess is provided per day. This is spent at the teacher's discretion and does not necessarily occur at the same time other classes have their break. Recess is spent outside, dependent upon weather conditions. Recess activities are regulated and there are restrictions on more boisterous activities. At least one child spends the major part of recess in time out. My oldest child tells me they are about to ban kids from playing football as they don't want children to tackle one another. It all seems very static and boring to me. 

Paul showed me this video of a stance taken in New Zealand (originally part of a university study) to remove onerous and stifling rules from the playground. The Principal who adopted this approach speaks about benefits here. The resulting impacts are brilliant. Not only are the children becoming more engaged and creative, there have been the added effects of increased camaraderie, less vandalism, no need for time outs, and reduced bullying. The children are also better equipped to learn as they burn up their excess energy through play. Love it! 

It reminded me of the playground scene in the first episode of the Seven Up series. Apparently, post-war Europe was well aware of the benefits of Adventure Play. See this documentary for a totally convincing case for free play and its benefits (from the 1960s perhaps?). 

For the sake of comparison, here is the American 'take' on removing rules in the  playground.