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)