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Surprising Playground Practices
A New Zealand school tossed its playground rules and let students risk injury climbing tall trees and improvising their own games from construction debris.
A U.S. nonprofit revived recess in low-income communities by involving kids in active, cooperative games using inexpensive balls, jump ropes, hula hoops and coaches to help orchestrate safe, organized play.
Each of these decidedly different approaches appears to have resulted in more active students, better focus during class and less bullying. Learn more about the two strategies and share your thoughts about recess, play and risk.
Free Play In New Zealand
On a muddy concrete playground spiked with tall trees, hidden corners and construction debris, a charismatic principal decided to throw out the rule book and stop reprimanding students for jousting with sticks and careening on scooters.
“He knew children might get hurt, and that was exactly the point — perhaps if they were freed from the ‘cotton-wool’ in which their 21st century parents had them swaddled, his students may develop some resilience, use their imaginations, solve problems on their own.”
After several months of the recess experiment, the Auckland, New Zealand principal found fewer children were getting hurt on the playground; students focused better in class. There was also less bullying, less tattling, less vandalism. The kids climbed trees, improvised see-saws and swords from wood and metal construction debris and created their own games. One boy broke his arm, but his parents weren’t mad.
The school became part of an Auckland University study that gave schools grants to create playgrounds that would reintroduce risk and help encourage physical activity in children. The professor running the study said it never occurred to him than “anyone would actually abandon all school rules.”
Read about the New Zealand playground experiment in the National Post.
Playworks Organizes Recess
Meanwhile, in the U.S., a nonprofit called Playworks uses “Recess Rock Stars” (coaches who get in the game) and a library of hundreds of games (search or download more than 250 free games) to revive recess in low-income communities through inclusive, cooperative, safe, organized play. Jump ropes, hula hoops, traffic cones, balls—and conflict resolution skills—are standard equipment.
“Playworks’ vision is that one day every child in America will get to play - every day. We create a place for every kid on the playground, a place where every kid belongs, has fun and is part of the game. We offer an essential opportunity for children to explore their imaginations, to connect with other kids and to stretch and grow physically, emotionally and socially.
“Our experience is that diminishing opportunities for unsupervised play in our society have left kids with a very thin understanding of how to manage their own play and that it is important to have grown-ups introduce some basic rules to make play work."
In a nationwide survey of nearly 4,400 principals and teachers in schools that partnered with Playworks in the 2012-13 school year, respondents reported they reclaimed an average of 20 hours of teaching time because there are fewer behavioral problems on the playground and in the classroom.
Read about Playworks.
What are your thoughts about recess, risk and play? What works? What doesn’t? Comment below or email email@example.com.
Read summary of thoughful Pediatrics article on Why Kids Should Play.
Visit Wellbody Academy's Playdium to rev up your heart and laugh rate by chasing "bugs" on our ExerGames dance floor. Don't forget to bounce on the butt-bouncers in Loft-a-Palooza to launch balls into the stratosphere (actually a netted enclosure). Fun for the whole family!