People love this story. I awoke this morning to a full email inbox and an unusual number of tweets and Facebook shares, most of them in reference to the same article: “School Ditches Rules and Loses Bullies.” The article has been shared more than 30,000 times since it was posted on Sunday. People love this story because it reinforces our growing suspicion that we are coddling and over-protecting our children. It provides evidence to show that kids should be allowed to be kids, that we need to back off and allow our children to play, unsupervised and untethered to lists of rules and regulations.
Despite the evidence and the growing public tolerance for the idea—if not the reality—of exposing children to risk, many American school administrators do not feel they have the freedom to eliminate playtime rules the way Swanson did. And they certainly don’t see it as a zero-cost game. Parents drive our nation’s tendency toward more restrictive playground rules because parents are the ones who sue schools when their children get hurt.
I’ve worked at five different schools, both public and private. While I loved watching my students frolic on the playground, I did not love having to intervene every time an elbow was thrown or a first-grader jumped off a moving swing. But I felt I had no choice. Our playground rules were clear. Children were to be watched constantly and closely in order to prevent injuries, and history had shown that when an injury did occur despite these precautions, teachers and administrators were often to blame for failing to intervene earlier.
I asked Schofield if he thought his study would translate to the U.S. and he said, “probably not.” He, does, however, point to our last good chance for change: adults who remember a childhood spent in free play. He told me,
Surely there are still a few “last children in the woods” in the U.S.? You also have adults that were children themselves and I haven’t met an ex-child yet who does not fondly remember adventure on their own terms. I’d say at last in New Zealand we are reaching a point where this is actually getting traction. You will in the U.S., too.
I’ve spent the past year writing a book about why parents need to let their children fail, to give them the freedom to take physical and emotional risks. I have piles of quotes and questions from parents who would enthusiastically support the efforts of Swanson Primary School to de-regulate recess—as long as those efforts remain in New Zealand. These parents feed viral frenzies by sharing articles like this and “Why Parents Need to Let Their Children Fail,” accompanied by enthusiastic “Likes” and “YES! FINALLY!” comments such as the 331 already posted to the New Zealand article. But when it comes to allowing their children to fail, or to wrestle with another kid on the playground with the risk of bruised limbs and egos hovering over recess like a black cloud, they are resistant.