Playground removes "safety" rules; fun, development and injuries ensue

The Swanson School in Auckland, NZ, quietly eliminated all the rules against "unsafe play," allowing kids to play swordfight with sticks, ride scooters, and climb trees. It started when the playground structures were torn down to make way for new ones, and the school principal, Bruce McLachlan, noticed that kids were building their own structures out of the construction rubble. The "unsafe" playground has resulted in some injuries, including at least one broken arm, but the parents are very supportive of the initiative. In particular, the parents of the kid with the broken arm made a point of visiting the principal to ask him not to change the playground just because their kid got hurt.

The article in the Canadian National Post notes that Kiwis are less litigious, by and large, than Americans, and that they enjoy an excellent national health service, and says that these two factors are a large contributor to the realpolitik that makes the playground possible. But this is still rather daring by Kiwi standards.

He didn’t start asking “why” until he became part of a playground and risk study by Auckland University researcher Grant Schofield and his research manager, Julia McPhee, three years ago. The researchers gave 16 schools a grant of $15,000 to build their vision of a playground that would reintroduce risk and help encourage physical activity in children.

“It hadn’t occurred to me that anyone would actually abandon all school rules,” Prof. Schofield said.

Mr. McLachlan built a few play structures, but they were dismantled as part of a larger building project (he claims they’ll be resurrected somehow once the project is done). As the debris sat cordoned off with caution tape in the middle of the schoolyard, he noticed students ducking underneath, grabbing chunks of wood and metal and building their own toys.

While the caretaker and some teachers worried, Mr. McLachlan was energized to see them building makeshift seasaws and dismantling them once they got bored.

About a year ago, Mr. McLachlan quietly informed his staff that they would all just stop saying “No” when they saw a child climbing a tree or a fence, or walking toward an area that used to be “out of bounds” and no longer was. There would be no big announcement, just a silent backing away.

When one New Zealand school tossed its playground rules and let students risk injury, the results were surprising [Sarah Boesveld/National Post]

(via Hacker News)

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  1. JonS says:

    Kiwis are less litigious, by and large, than Americans,

    That's because of ACC, a landmark development of no-fault insurance that has made life a whole lot more rational. Part of the deal was that Kiwis lost the right to sue in a lot of circumstances. Therefore, of course, there is a noisy lobby - composed mostly of Randian fools - scheming to have it dismantled. Pricks.

    As an aside, I've anecdotally heard that the combination of numerous skate parks (most towns have at least one) combined with ACC coverage for tourists has made NZ a bit of a destination for skateboarders and the like.

    and that they enjoy an excellent national health service

    True so of course that too is under severe threat by neo-libs and 'but I'm paying for oncology/maternity/psychiatric/whatever services THAT I'M NOT EVEN USING' idiots.

  2. Robbo says:

    Here in Toronto the leading light for sensible human park and playground design and behaviour is the Dufferin Grove Park, where the local residents have consistently pushed back against the dickhead Harrison Bergeron bureaucrats of the city and maintain a most excellent playground which features a massive a sand pit, complete with running water, logs and adult sized shovels and rakes. It is THE BEST. I always took my young son there - he's now in his late teens - and always suffered watching him and the others of his tribe as they moved the heavens and earth, wanting to join in and knowing full well it would be "inappropriate" for an adult to engage in such activity. Lucky bastards.

  3. My daughter goes to this school. She's always coming home with bumps, bruises and scrapes, and she can never tell us how she got them because she's having too much fun in the playground to notice. She also can't wait to go back to school the next day. I picked her up from school one afternoon and there were kids climbing the traffic sign poles, sitting on walls and generally having fun while waiting for their parents to pick them up. One day, my daughter climbed a tree and took a nap there!

    Every morning we see kids walking to school on their own, or zooming along the pavement on their scooters, or even getting off the train on their own to walk to school. In other words, just like things were when I was at primary school 30 years ago.

    It's not a utopia by any stretch of the imagination, some kids are still mean to other kids, but it's not any worse than they'll get in the real world. The real, physical bullying is much less, and the classrooms are quieter and more productive. It's a really good school.

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