A profound change has happened in the bully arena. In an article published January 26, 2014 on TVNZ.com, the headline reads: “School ditches rules and loses bullies.” The principal, Bruce Mclachlan, at Swanson Primary School, in Aukland, New Zealand, signed up to be one of eight schools in an experimental study done by researchers at Aukland University of Technology and Otago University. Their goal was to promote active play. The principal went one further step and provided a playground free of “playtime rules.”
What happened over a two-year period is phenomenal. Children thrived on the playground, using their imaginations in “loose parts pit” which had stuff like wood, tires and an old fire hose. There was a decline in “bullying, serious injuries and vandalism, while concentration levels in class are increasing.” After a two-year trial period, there was no need for a timeout area or as many playground supervisors. The experimental study is testing the theory that risk taking allows for the development of the frontal lobe of the brain, “meaning they (children) work out consequences.” In other words, active learning--as opposed to gaming, TV, and "playing by the rules"--encourages children to work out problems on their own, with each other.
Of course, the downside to active play is letting children take risks that might cause injuries. In the USA, parents have demanded and enforced through litigation, restrictive rules and supervision on the playground. Ironically, this may foster the very bullying environment that prevents children from learning to negotiate the physical and social skills necessary to get along with one another. Educators and parents would have to agree to ‘back off’ and allow children to navigate their physical and social surroundings without an adult compromising each encounter. Fine in theory, but do I want my child to possibly be hurt? It seems it is a trade-off that merits consideration from the research; free range play with minimal supervision has a domino effect on growth, brain development and learning, as well as social skills.
It is worthwhile to Google “School ditches rules…” and check out the other articles, YouTube videos, and comments about this not-so-new-idea. If enough parents were motivated to attend elementary PTA meetings and teacher/parent conferences with significant proof that something can be done to stop bullying, think how all children could benefit, both the victims and the perpetrators. I think it would be worth the risk of jettisoning rules on the playground for a happier, healthier childhood.