An unconventional approach to today’s modern thinking is making waves around the world. A New Zealand principal in charge of 500 students in Auckland has started throwing off the shackles of playground rules that the administration had installed. Ones that at one time cited student safety as the reason for stricter playground laws.
But Principal Bruce Mclachlan has stopped the admonishments on the playground, allowing students to use sticks as swords in play fights, run on the concrete and ride their scooters around the mud. He acknowledges he knew students would get hurt, but that was the point, says McLachlan. Believing many students to be too coddled and swaddled, he believes students should be able to build up resilience, solve problems and be creative.
In the United States, many elementary and middle schools have enacted rules stating student safety at the main concern, but some can border on the ludicrous. No running—period. No more tree climbing, playing tag, ‘imaginary fighting games’ or hide and seek. Even stricter schools state ‘no touching’ as part of their zero tolerance policy, which includes hugs and handholding.
So how has McLachlan’s new approached worked? Surprisingly (or unsurprising, depending on who you ask) his ‘ no rules on the playground ‘ approach has students flourishing. Bullying, a huge issue across the world for children, has gone significantly, reports of vandalism have dropped off the map and students are focusing better in class.
Students on the Kiwi playground began taking wood and metal, found from the dismantled remains from a larger playground structure, and began building their own toys. While some of the staff and teachers worried, McLachlan found the creativity energized the students. The principal found that parents were an easy sell for his unorthodox approach, but teachers were much harder to convince.
“I told them, ‘If this child gets seriously hurt, I’m the one that gets blamed,’” he said. “Some of them said ‘right.’”
The results are amazing. In fact, the reports of injuries have gone down on the playground, and all that busy, physical energy spending gets students back in the classroom calm and ready to learn. Students are motivated, not annoyed and McLauchlan believes the rules were there to pacify the adults, not the students.