A world free of bullying might just begin in the very playground where the bullying starts.
I don’t think there is a parent whose child hasn’t endured some form of bullying. Nearly every week you see, hear and read about the rise of bullying, the effect on the bullied and the reasons for the bullying. While we all desperately scramble for a solution, our kiwi cousins might just have the answer.
When Principal Bruce McLachlan from Swanson Primary School in Auckland signed up to a study by AUT and Otago University just over two years ago, he had no idea the result would be astonishing. With the aim of encouraging active play, the study was intended to cover obesity issues but it ended up almost ridding the school of its bullying.
The school took the experiment a step further by abandoning the rules completely. At first the teachers were tentative, and McLachlan took the risk of not informing the parents that the lunchtime rulebook had been thrown out the window. He didn’t need to, because not long after the experiment started the kids started going home and telling their parents they were having so much fun. “Why would they complain?” Principal McLachlan says when we chat about the precarious tact he took.
Mudslides, bikes, scooters and tree climbing kept the children so occupied the school no longer needed a timeout area or as many teachers on patrol. Similar to how the keepers of the polar bears at Sea World scatter bits and bobs around the enclosure to relieve monotony, the school even added a ‘loose parts pit’ which contained junk such as wood, tyres and an old fire hose. “I’ve watched them build seesaws, rocket ships and even cubbies, their imaginations run wild,” he says with pride over the success of the scheme.
The other motivation to continue is learning.
“The kids are so knackered after lunch time they are ready to settle, sit quietly and listen and learn,” he says.
It was a gradual process. They didn’t abandon everything overnight nor add everything over night, but pretty soon the kids were asking the teachers if they could hoon down hills and build imaginary boats and the answer was always go for it!
According to the Auckland school they are too busy to bully…..That would make a great slogan wouldn’t it.
Too busy to bully, too tired to tease, too motivated to be mean.
I could go on and on but you get the idea, and you can’t help but love it. It’s nice to see a principal pushing the boundary and improving the lives of the next generation … Let that sink in a bit.
But enough of the jokes. Sadly this isn’t a playtime revolution, it’s just a return to the days before health and safety policies came to rule. The kind of childhood I remember. A childhood with scrapes and bumps and breaks and strains. Don’t get me wrong – there was the occasional fight, nasty name calling or even a ball thrown at my head. It never lasted long and the effects didn’t linger because there was too much other fun stuff going on in the playground to bother with the bullies, and with no one caring the bullies buggered off!
What do you think of throwing out the rule book?