Parents naturally try to do whatever they can to keep their young ones out of harm’s way, and expect the schools to do the same. Despite the committed effort, kids frequently return home physically or emotionally injured. It seems that no matter how hard parents try to protect their kids from getting hurt, they simply cannot keep the latter 100 percent safe. If keeping the kids safe and answering the question of how to prevent bullying constantly proves to be such a steep challenge, why not give them the license to get hurt? This may seem like an outrageous suggestion, but one particular school in Auckland, New Zealand found out through experience that such an approach can actually work like a charm.
The Playground Experiment
Swanson Primary School was among the eight schools that signed up for the study conducted by Auckland University of Technology (AUT) and Otago University a few years back. The purpose of the study was to encourage active play among kids by relaxing some health and safety playground rules. However, Swanson Primary School went a few steps ahead of other schools by doing away with all the playground rules, giving students the license to do as they please under minimum adult supervision. With the rulebook ripped, children were allowed to everything from climbing a tree and riding a skateboard or bike to playing in a “loose parts pit” which contained nothing but junk such as old types, pipes, pieces of wood and hose. From a distance, the stage looked set for complete mayhem. While the principal of the school was confident, the teachers feared the worst. Nobody was expecting the experiment to reveal one of the coveted ways to prevent bullying.
An Unexpected Outcome
With the students getting the freedom to do whatever they wanted in the playground, the fear and uncertainty among teachers was not without merit. They were prepared to find the playground get overrun by chaos, with kids fighting with each other and putting themselves at risk of serious injuries. However, what they eventually saw was something completely unexpected. Rather than engaging in conflict and causing bedlam, the students were peacefully engaging in the activities of their choice... Furthermore, even though the kids were taking risks, these appeared to be incremental and calculated, thus leading to a decline in playground injuries. The Principal of Swanson Primary School confirmed a noticeable drop in bullying, conflict and serious playground accidents. The effects of the playground experiment reached the classrooms, with teachers reporting higher levels of concentration and engagement.
An Example for the World to Follow
The result of the study clearly shows that once children were allowed to do what they wanted to do rather than what the adults wanted them to do, they appeared more content and at peace. There was less aggression, less serious injuries and less conflict. AUT professor of public health Grant Schofield, who also worked on the research project, was of the opinion that the benefits of risk taking are overlooked due to the many playground rules. He further explained that taking risks and calculating consequences is important for the development of brain’s frontal lobe in kids. This, he said, helps kids to look after themselves better. Schools across the western world can surely use the approach adopted by Swanson Primary School to curb bullying among their students. By keeping children busy, motivated and engaged in activities that they like, it may be easier to keep them away from destructive behavior. Furthermore, giving them freedom along with responsibility can teach them to make better choices. Too many rules and regulations in the playground can keep kids from developing resilience and therefore keeps them too weak to hold their own when faced with challenges such as bullies.
The Principal of Swanson Primary School has made it clear that the school doesn’t plan on reintroducing playground rules. It’s not just the kids and teachers who’re happy with the move, but the parents have also extended their support for the initiative after discovering its positive impact on their young ones. Other western schools may have a very good reason to follow suit.