Letting kids play like kids

Dunedin’s The Star has a front page article on Free play pays, schools say (view here). It’s about schools involved in a study to see if there are benefits in letting kids play like kids at school rather than protecting them in nanny school cotton wool.

Four Dunedin schools have thrown away the rule book and given their pupils more freedom on the playing field, leading to more skinned knees but more active and focussed pupils.

Kids who can let of steam in the playground do better in the classroom – and disrupt other kids less.

(Schools) took part in a University of Otago study into how relaxing playground rules would affect physical activity.

The two year multidisciplinary “Play Study” finished last year but both schools (that agreed to interviews) have kept the hands-off approach and allow pupils more freedom during lunch and breaks.

The results of the study have not yet been published but both principals said while it was hard to say for certain if more activity in then playground led to more attention in the classroom, so far it seemed to have worked.

Play Study co-ordinator Victoria Farmer, a senior research technician at the University of Otago, said researchers had been surprised by the enthusiasm for the project.

It just shows what people have been saying for a long time about being too careful with children and the benefits of letting themselves go and learn for themselves.

The enthusiasm shouldn’t be a surprise. Suppressing the natural enthusiasm of children to explore, experiment and play has been misguided.

There have also been potential issues reported on whether things like sun protection go too far. Sometimes paranoai seems to predominate.

What have the kids been allowed to do?

One of the most popular changes the school made was to allow pupils outside when it rained. The school bought 50 pairs of gumboots and 50 raincoats and pupils were encouraged to bring wet-weather gear from home.

“When it rains these kids can still get outside and jump in puddles and splash each other and burn off all that excess energy”.

In the old days we used to do that on the way too and from school. Now it’s usually the parent’s cars and SUVs driving through the puddles.

The study changed the way the schools thought about play.

Instead of complex playground equipment pupils now climbed trees or made their own fun with objects like concrete tunnels and old tyres. Pupils were more active than before.

Pupils were allowed to climb trees up to a certain height, which led them to create a game where they tried to climb from tree to tree without touching the ground.

Trees, logs, they were common parts of my childhood. A log could be a truck, a ship, whatever we wanted it to be. We built tree huts ourselves. We dug underground huts. We dug caves. Obviously the building and digging wasn’t at school.

Today there is too much cotton wool, too much electronics, too much plastic, too much manufactured “fun”. This starts from birth where toys and activity centres with every colour and bell and whistle imaginable clutter babies senses.

Children commonly have more toys before their first birthday than I had in my entire childhood.

We have a society where too much is provided to our kids and they are prevented from doing things for themselves and exploring their imaginations.

Maybe this study is a sign that the tide may be starting to turn on a cotton wooled molly coddled society.