Sunday, February 2, 2014

Why Protection in the Playground Robs Children of Their Resilience

Children at Play
by Brian Clark, Precision Profiling: http://precisionprofiling.com.au/whwhy-protection-in-the-playground-robs-children-of-their-resilience/

I sometimes wonder if we as parents and our schools have gone too far in over-protecting our children, pandering to their whims, and being hell-bent on saving them from accidents or disappointment in their young lives. 

Remember that old saying from the fairground … “Every Player Wins a Prize!” But should they? 

We all know that’s not the reality in the real world and we may be risking future emotional harm by trying too hard to smooth out the bumps in the road for our children during their formative years.

Political correctness gone mad and ‘safety first’ may be responsible for breeding a generation lacking in resilience who throw in the towel at the very first falter or knockback. 

I remember the days of falling on the hard ground and skinning my knee; cutting my arm on a nail sticking out of the billycart I and my brother had built; breaking a collar bone in a football tackle; and discovering that what I thought was a ‘best in class’ composition only gaining me a B-. 

Yet eventually the knee and the arm healed; the collarbone knitted together and I knuckled down and tried harder on my next classroom assignment.

And yes there was the occasional schoolyard falling out between friends when lunchtime games went awry, but ultimately we sorted things out and made up again the next day without the need for adults to come in and impose their ‘play fair’ rules upon us.

So if you, like me, feel that the protection pendulum has swung too far in the opposite direction, here is a wonderful story about a radical new move to back away from over-protection in the schoolyard. It originates from my old home town in Auckland, New Zealand.

I read this story on Australia Day and it is sourced from ONE News in NZ. The headline reads “School Ditches Rules and Loses Bullies.” Now that piqued my interest. Here’s the gist of it …

(Source: Television New Zealand Limited. www.Tvnz.co.nz )
"… Ripping up the playground rulebook is having incredible effects on children at an Auckland school. Chaos may reign at Swanson Primary School with children climbing trees, riding skateboards and playing bullrush during playtime, but surprisingly the students don’t cause bedlam, the principal says.

The school is actually seeing a drop in bullying, serious injuries and vandalism, while concentration levels in class are increasing. Principal Bruce McLachlan rid the school of playtime rules as part of a successful university experiment.

‘We want kids to be safe and to look after them, but we end up wrapping them in cotton wool when in fact they should be able to fall over. 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.’

Swanson School signed up to the study by AUT and Otago University just over two years ago, with the aim of encouraging active play. However, the school took the experiment a step further by abandoning the rules completely, much to the horror of some teachers at the time, he said.

When the university study wrapped up at the end of last year the school and researchers were amazed by the results. Mudslides, skateboarding, bullrush and tree climbing kept the children so occupied the school no longer needed a timeout area or as many teachers on patrol.

Instead of a playground, children used their imagination to play in a ‘loose parts pit’ which contained junk such as wood, tyres and an old fire hose. 

‘The kids were motivated, busy and engaged. In my experience, the time children get into trouble is when they are not busy, motivated and engaged. It’s during that time they bully other kids, graffiti or wreck things around the school. Parents were happy too because their children were happy,’ Principal McLachlan said.

But this wasn’t a playtime revolution, it was just a return to the days before health and safety policies came to rule.

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-wooling children is it’s more dangerous in the long-run. Society’s obsession with protecting children ignores the benefits of risk-taking,’ he said.

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.’

The research project developed into something bigger when plans to upgrade playgrounds were stopped due to over-zealous safety regulations and costly play equipment. ‘There was so many ridiculous health and safety regulations and the kids thought the static structures of playgrounds were boring.’

When researchers - inspired by their own risk-taking childhoods - decided to give children the freedom to create their own play, principals shook their heads but eventually four Dunedin schools and four West Auckland schools agreed to take on the challenge, including Swanson Primary School.

It was expected the children would be more active, but researchers were amazed by all the behavioural pay-offs. The final results of the study will be collated this year. In the meantime Professor Schofield is urging other schools to embrace risk-taking …’.

Isn’t it about time we took stock of what we are creating in our homes and schoolyards? I am interested in your comments.

Until next time … let’s seek to understand more and judge less. Have a wonderful week and a prosperous New Year - Brian.

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