Monday, January 27, 2014

"They Have To Get Out There"

We're currently in the midst of enrolling our Pre-3's, 3's, and 4-5's classes for next year. We're not expensive or exclusive, but we do require that every new parent tour the school. One of the primary reasons for this, especially with the oldest class, is to observe how we play outdoors. We don't have a lot of "safety" rules out there and there are plenty of opportunities for children to get hurt: concrete slopes, swings, rocks, sticks, trees, hammers, saws, drills, lumber.

The truth is that kids don't really get hurt that often at Woodland Park, but it can often look harrowing to adults. Sure we get our share of bumps and bruises like any preschool, but I can't remember the last time I went into the first aid kit for anything other than a bandaid. A couple years ago, I was told that we file the fewest number of what are called "accident reports" than any other school in the North Seattle Community College system of preschools. I like to say this is because we trust young children and hold them competent.

Our experiences at Woodland Park have been confirmed recently in a study conducted at schools in Auckland, New Zealand:

Ripping up the playground rulebook is having incredible effects on children at an Auckland school. Chaos may reign at Swanson Primary School with children climbing trees, riding skateboards and playing bullrush during playtime, but surprisingly the students don't cause bedlam, the principal says. The school is actually seeing a drop in bullying, serious injuries and vandalism, while concentration levels in class are increasing . . . "When you look at our playground it looks chaotic. From an adult's perspective, it looks like kids might get hurt, but they don't."

Those of us working in play-based schools have been saying this all along, but it's nice to have another academic study supporting our observations.

AUT professor of public health Grant Schofield, who worked on the research project, said there are too many rules in modern playgrounds. "The great paradox of cotton-woolling children is it's more dangerous in the long-run." Society's obsession with protecting children ignores the benefits of risk-taking, he said. Children develop the frontal lobe of their brain when taking risks, meaning they work out consequences. "You can't teach them that. They have to learn risk on their own terms. It doesn't develop by watching TV, they have to get out there."

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RobynHeud said...

I just encountered this last weekend when I took my kids to the park. They're two and four and completely uninterested in the play structure that's designed "for their age". My two-year-old was giving other parents anxiety as he climbed the caterpillar bar to a platform 8-10 ft high. I explained that firstly, he can do it, and if he couldn't, as evidenced by his first attempts, he would get back down. Also, when my four-year-old busted his lip, he came to me and I pressed a rag against it till it stopped bleeding and then he ran back to play. Another adult asked if he had hurt his lip and he said no, I was just playing.

Laura said...

My kids are a little older now 8/10/21 but we practice this type of parenting freely--our kids cause people to GASP when they rip it up in our own driveway on their bikes w/o helmets--I think to myself well if they wreck it's only gravel and dirt and a learning moment--go off the jump and turn your wheel you will crash big time

Unknown said...

I love this! As a parent, I have always tried to let my kids just try things...admittedly I have been guilty of over protecting them sometimes ( thankfully I catch myself and remember they learn through play). I run a home based daycare and reading your blog is reminding me of what my role truly is. Also, reading this post made me smile and gave me hope. Our schools are becoming so fearful of injuries and lawsuits that they are eliminating so many energetic outlets that the kids naturally have. In the same breath the media tells us our kids need to play more...Do you know the straw for me was when my brother told me that his daughters school in Toronto, Ontario...has NO play structure. Liability issue. .... really? :(
All that to say...I love your blog :)

Linda Gretton-Hunt said...

It's wonderful when parents understand and support this philosophy. As a parent and, now, grandparent I fully support this very liberating stance. But as the (now retired) headteacher of primary schools (in the UK) the alacrity with which parents blamed and/or sued when their child suffered the inevitable bumps, bruises and minor injuries was beyond stressful. Of course, it could be argued that our failing was in not communicating our philosophy effectively. But in socially and economically deprived areas where parents don't truly have a choice about educational provision (because of transport or social constraints) this can be detrimental to quality provision.

Anonymous said...

As a teacher at a private, play-based preschool it is refreshing to see an outdoor play philosophy so different from our own given that we embrace the same general philosophy.

In our outdoor play space we have a lot of specific rules to ensure safety-- for example, "no throwing sand in the sand box." This is because I and my fellow teachers have personally had to wash eyes out many a time, and I have had one child get a corneal scratch from sandbox play.

I have to wonder if part of your school's ability to let go of this type of rule is because of the many daily parent volunteers monitoring the children. Our ratio is roughly 1-to-8, and there are rarely more than 2 teachers in our outdoor space with as many as 20 children. Without our specific rules, like the sandbox rule, I am certain that injuries would increase.

I do love the idea of letting children explore and take risks more than we do while maintaining safety. Perhaps re-visiting each rule with the children, talking the rules over, and seeing if we all agree on them. Then perhaps letting the children play more of a role in enforcing safety rather than immediate teacher intervention? Tough question but one I look forward to exploring!