An elementary school in Auckland New Zealand has noticed something incredible – that getting rid of playground rules doesn’t result in anarchy, but happier, more active children. Swanson Primary School’s recess may look like unmitigated chaos, but the school has actually seen a drop in bullying, serious injuries, and vandalism. Two years ago, Swanson School signed up for a study conducted by AUT and Otago University aimed at encouraging active play in children. The school went above and beyond the terms of the study, actually getting rid of recess rules altogether. Although some teachers were nervous about the decision, it paid off. The active play (including tree climbing and skateboarding) kept the children so occupied that the school no longer needed a time-out area and reduced the number of teachers acting as playground patrols.

So what does this mean? Well, it seems that the current trend of overly protective playgrounds may be harming the children instead of helping them. Our society’s obsession with protecting children tends to ignore the benefits of risk taking, such as learning consequences and cognitive development. The elementary schools that participated in the study saw not only reduced bullying, but increased classroom concentration.

Granted, this experiment was only conducted at four schools in New Zealand, but I think we can learn from it here in the United States. Kids today are so scheduled and managed that they don’t seem to have much time to just be kids. Maybe we can take a page from New Zealand’s book and start letting kids have active playtime without any team sports or designated activities. Who knows what those kids might achieve?

Image Credit: EJ Fox