Taking Risks at Recess

New Ark Adventure Playground

At Swanson Primary School in Auckland, New Zealand, what started as a research experiment ended in a permanent policy change. In a decision that sounds truly foreign to most American educators, the school eliminated all rules during outdoor recess. Instead, children run free and play however they choose, even if that means more risky activities like skateboarding or tree climbing. The school has seen so many positive benefits in attention, social interaction and even serious injury reduction they have decided to adopt the policy for the foreseeable future.

For many American educators and parents, that may sound like a breath of fresh air, even if it’s one we take with hesitation. After all, research consistently shows that choice and free play are absolutely essential to children’s growth across developmental domains — in free play, children develop problem solving skills, self-regulation, oral language, socio-emotional abilities, physical and spatial awareness, and more. They also learn perseverance and confidence. As a professor who worked on the Auckland experiment explains, “children learn how to deal with risk only by facing risk.” And perhaps even more powerful than the evidence from research, many adults cherish fond memories of their time running free outside as children, making some mistakes, and learning more than we will probably ever realize along the way.

In other words, if the children in our lives suffer the occasional scrape or bruise, we need not panic. Of course, in our daily routines, it is much more complicated than that. Parents live with the powerful instinct to protect their children in all circumstances. Educators face increasing pressure to structure the outdoor time provided during the school day. Even when free play is allowed, it is often closely supervised with strict rules in place. As such, we must ask ourselves important questions: how can we advocate for the (true) free play opportunities all children need while ensuring their safety and well-being? To put the question a different way, how can we cultivate environments that protect our children and students from serious harm while still allowing them to take meaningful risks and develop a sense of perseverance? After all, children from Auckland to Houston have a lot in common: they all need the chance to experientially learn what it means to have a body that moves through space – and all the risks that come with it!
Read the full article here: http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2014/01/recess-without-rules/283382/

Authored by Magen Eissenstat, Community Bridges Intern, Rice University School Literacy and Culture

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