Friday, February 14, 2014

Rip Up Recess Rules and Reap the Benefits

Losing Recess Rules Results in Drop in Bullying and Higher Academics

No recess rules?! Does this sound astonishing to you? A school in New Zealand has ripped up the recess rules and now has a drop in bullying, serious injuries, and vandalism while creativity and learning are increasing - and behavior problems disappearing. Could this happen in the United States? You simply must watch this video where students are climbing trees, riding skateboards, playing bullrush (a tag and tackle game), playing with sticks, and having mudslides! Just click on Bullrush Returns to Schools to view, but I hope you will come back here to read my section: The Benefits of Relaxing Recess Rules.

How did this happen that school recess rules were done away with completely? Swanson Primary School was one of eight schools that decided to participate in a study by Aucland University of Technology (AUT) and Otago University. The aim of the two year study was to encourage active play. But Swanson Primary decided to do away with the rules entirely, as the principal and some teachers were inspired remembering their childhood free play. 

Some of the teachers were skeptical and some parents were concerned. But the results have been so positive that the school will continue this practice. Teachers love the better behavior and increased learning. Parents are happy because their children are happy and eager to go to school. At Swanson Primary there is no longer a need for a time-out area and no child loses recess, yet behavior problems have all but vanished.

Does your school allow swings?
I know, I know: But what if someone gets hurt? Will you at least consider how we used to play? Okay, I admit it; I’m a senior citizen. My childhood recess was before health and safety rules dominated children’s playtime and more lawyers in our country than the number of soldiers or doctors or policemen. 

Swanson Principal Bruce McLachlan 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... In my experience, the time children get into trouble is when they are not busy, motivated and engaged... Here they don't have a chance to be bored... This is just about letting children be children." 

AUT professor of public health Grant Schofield, who worked on the research project, said there are too many rules in modern playgrounds. "The great paradox of cotton-woolling children is it's more dangerous in the long-run." Society's obsession with protecting children ignores the benefits of risk-taking. Children develop the frontal lobe of their brain when taking risks, meaning they work out consequences. "You can't teach them that. They have to learn risk on their own terms. It doesn't develop by watching TV, they have to get out there." (School ditches rules and loses bullies)

I survived teeter totters!
Parents, teachers and researchers were amazed at the results of losing the recess rules. But here is what is happening at Swanson Primary: 

  • As children learn to take risks, they work out their consequences while confidence and cooperation increases
  • Children become more creative - inventing games and rules
  • Children are more likely to follow the rules that they have co-construced with the teachers
  • Better behavior leads to no time-out area needed
  • Fewer teachers are needed to supervise recess, yet there is less bullying and conflicts
  • Children are happily engaged doing something of their choice, some even choosing to read
  • Children work off stress and return to the classroom ready to concentrate
  • Less money is needed for “boring” (children’s word) playground equipment
  • Children became more responsible (isn't this what societies need?)
  • Children are happy and want to go to school; parents and teachers are pleased
  • Children are better prepared to handle life's challenges

Do you think children have too many rules at recess? Are they even getting enough recess? Are we bubble-wrapping (cotton-woolling) our children - protecting them from the challenges and reality they will face as adults?

Growing a Jeweled Rose
playful activities and recipes
Are you a helicopter parent or teacher? I was too. Can you learn to relax your rules? Can you take a risk and watch what happens?

Young children learn using their five senses and movement. The Happy Mommy Handbook is filled with ideas for creative playful learning and the child development theories behind them as told from a mom and teacher's perspective. Would you like activities to help prepare your child for kindergarten - or help you become a better teacher? Glimpse into kindergarten with my book: Kindergarten: Tattle-Tales, Tools, Tactics, Triumphs and Tasty Treats for Teachers and Parents. Both are bestsellers and the ebooks are only $3.99. Also available on Barnes & Noble and Kobo.

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  1. I've never been helicopter parent but feel as if my kids didn't really like taking risk either. My mistake was enrolling them in a very academic private school when they were young. Great post!

  2. I think you make a good point by saying that children get hurt when they're bored. That's true with all children and adolescents. My little Fortify has no problem with this. She has such a sense of wonder and imagination that she never goes a moment being bored. That's why we need to let kids to have the freedom to do what they want. They're so limited that as they grow older they'll grow without a creative bone in their body. Children need to be allowed the freedom to think creatively.

    Paul O. Herman |

  3. It's well known that kids need recess! It's interesting that so many other people see the behavioral changes with recess. Sometimes they can get their wiggles out to pay attention in preschool.

  4. This is fun! Kids deserve a break which makes recess an important part of a schoolday. I guess, there are times when you just have to let them be so they can explore and discover things on their own.

  5. This sounds like a lot of fun for children. Giving freedom to children can encourage learning in multiple ways. They get creative, confident and learn cooperation. Under guidance there cannot be a better way for children to learn something they feel intrested from. I can tell you from my personal experience that this goes a long way in their learning as I have a son who is just about completing his preschool education from Williamsburg Northside Preschool and indeed i have seen the benefits of providing children with free play at an early age.


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