My brother was once asked what his favourite subject at school was. His answer? Playtime.

Why? He disliked sitting in the classroom and doing his work. He was much happier up a tree or playing tag or exploring the bush (in fact, my brother, Sam, used to hide under the table every time he had to read aloud). It’s no surprise that when the bell went for break, lunch or the end of the day his spirits rose.

I’d imagine that Sam would have wanted to go to Swanson Primary School in Auckland. The school is one of a few that has decided to abandon rules in the playground, instead providing mudslides, tree-climbing, a junk-modelling space, and allows pupils to ride scooters. Whilst this is all happening, others are playing rugby, netball, bullrush, cricket, and skipping. There are no rules, no regulations, no teachers swarming to squeeze out every bit of fun.

And it’s working.

Commentators and teachers have expressed surprise that this hasn’t led to chaos, injury and bullying. Surely, children policing their own playtimes means that, without the guiding influence of adults, this would lead to all sorts of problems? Apparently not.

But this should come as no surprise. Children have been playing creatively since the dawn of time. Too often adults underestimate children; they want to control children in an adult way – and not allow children to be children. And all too often adults’ attempts to impose rules on children only end up limiting children’s enjoyment, creativity and safety.

For example, I’ve, embarrassingly, often tried playing four square with students. The complexity of the game is baffling and colleagues have often thought of drawing up a set of rules to avoid disputes and arguments. But children don’t want their games overseen by adults, and 99% of the time children will solve their own problems (sometimes with a bit of shouting and shoving – but isn’t that all part of growing up?).

More schools should follow Swanson Primary School’s lead. Having children take risks is making them safer; they are becoming more aware of their surroundings and of each other, working harder and behaving better. After all, no one wants to miss out by being antisocial when playing is this much fun.

Article written by Ben Egerton

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