Anarchy on New Zealand playgrounds brings harmony to students

bohannon_recessrulesPrivate schools, which by and large have been considered the gold standard of education, bring to mind a certain austerity. Remember the tales of, “Catholic school as vicious as Roman rule?" However, the place of strict attitudes and stringent codes of conduct in education is being challenged.

Swanson Primary School in Auckland, New Zealand, changes the rulebook by destroying it altogether. This school actually lets its students learn life by doing, an approach that educators everywhere should try to imitate. That’s right, no more rules at recess.

The head-scratch-worthy move seems like every child’s dream of recess anarchy. However, it's been successful in reducing levels of bullying, injury and vandalism at school. Not only that, concentration levels in the classrooms at Swanson are rising. This experiment has far-reaching implications, and if it were implemented on a global level, future generations would be drastically better off. By abolishing rules, Swanson restores a tangible means for students to learn about risks and responsibilities as well as creativity.



The absence of rules and the popularity of activities such as skateboarding, tree climbing, and physical contact sports turned recess into some sort of “Fight Club for young children. But that may be the point. When asked about his motives behind the new policy, principal Bruce McLachlan commented, "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."

Making mistakes and taking risks are no longer reprimanded with detention or time-out but rather a few scrapes and bruises. With the lack of rules, students are forced to make their own rules, and consequentially feel the actual repercussions of their actions — something that some full grown adults can’t even manage. Parents are simply not willing to let their children fail. While their intentions may be well founded, failure is a useful and necessary part of childhood development.

There is a real risk associated with over protecting young children — a risk that is often forsaken for safety. Failing on the playground and then dusting off your trousers is a lost art. In a society where re-dos are granted and rules are stringent, children fail at every stage in their growth. They will be confused when life presents them challenges, because they won’t be equipped with the emotional capacity to adapt and prosper. Protection, more often that not, cripples a child’s sense of understanding risk, discovery and adaptability.

Unfortunately, a lack of recess rules would simply not work in the U.S. Parents demand recess rules to foster a sense of heightened fear, reinforcing the culture of anxiety. It really is a shame that children in the U.S. aren’t allowed the basic freedom to enjoy pastimes such as football or tree climbing. As imagination becomes increasingly vilified through oppressive regulations, children will be indefinitely benched from their own lives.

Reach the columnist at or follow him on Twitter @JordanBohannon

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