New Zealand Schools Ditch Playground Rules, See Less Bullying Among Children

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By Reissa Su | January 29, 2014 12:28 PM EST

The principal at Swanson Primary School in New Zealand has banned playground rules and saw a remarkable decrease of bullying among children.

Reuters
Students play in a school playground in Aleppo's Bustan al-Qasr October 28, 2013. REUTERS/Mahmoud Hassano

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Principal Bruce McLachlan stopped enforcing rules for children in the school playground and allowed them to ride skateboards, climb trees and play other games. The school children can play in the school's "loose parts pit" which contains junk wood, old tyres and fire hoses.

The removal of playground rules was part of an experiment conducted by researchers from Auckland University of Technology and Otago University who were looking for ways to encourage children to engage in active play.

According to the principal who spoke to TVNZ, the students were busy playing without rules that there was no need for a timeout area anymore. The school could also reduce the number of teachers patrolling the playground and stop troublemakers.

Mr McLachlan said the children were busy, engaged and motivated. Based on his experience, he has seen children bully other kids when they are not busy and motivated. It is also during those times that children may write graffiti or destroy things around the school.

Auckland University Professor of Public Health Grant Schofield worked on the research team leading the study and said children who learn to take risks can develop their brain's frontal lobe which trains them to calculate consequences.

Mr Schofield believes children can't be taught how to take risks since they have to learn on their own terms. For Mr McLahlan, parents and teachers tend to end up "wrapping them in cotton wool" when children would be able to fall and stand up on their own.

Four schools in Auckland were part of the experiment for a year, and all of them had the same findings. They have seen an actual drop in bullying, vandalism and serious injuries. The schools have also reported an increase in the children's concentration levels in class. Since the experiment has shown positive results, Swanson Primary has decided to make the banning of playground rules permanent.

Mr Schofield claims the modern playground rules can limit play for children and encourages them to ignore risks. He encourages other schools to embrace the same principle of free play and allow children to take risks.

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(Photo: Reuters / )
Students play in a school playground in Aleppo's Bustan al-Qasr October 28, 2013. REUTERS/Mahmoud Hassano
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