by Brittany P.
Every time I walk by a playground lately parents seem to be hovering behind their child. If they aren’t right there, you can almost always spot them sitting nearby on a bench, calling out the occasional “be careful” or “don’t do that, you might get hurt.” Lori Freeman, a frequent contributor to Active for Life’s online database of articles, is a self-proclaimed helicopter parent. She admits to being one of those parents and, as consequence, has noticed a level of cautiousness in her daughter some of the other children do not possess. She realized this one day while hiking with friends and has since made an effort to stop cautioning her child and encourage exploration. While that was a difficult decision for a concerned mother to make, the article notes how her daughter has gone on to take chances and she has become more curious and active.
This phenomenon of fear of injury has even gone so far that a Toronto area school banned the use of any hard balls (including soccer balls, dodgeballs and basketballs among others) in their playground area for a brief period in 2011. The principal of this small school claimed children were coming to her, injured and frightened, while one parent claimed she developed a concussion following an accidental hit from a soccer ball.
A second school in New York has taken this ban one step further, banning not only balls but also CARTWHEELS and TAG! The reasoning behind this middle schools decision to institute this ban was to protect their students; however students were not in favour of the restrictions. Sadly this school is not the only with these restrictions in place, a Queensland Australia school has also banned cartwheels, handstands and other gymnastics moves without the supervision of a coach or physical education instructor.
It was the backlash of a society so afraid of risk that the principal of a New Zealand school feared when he adopted a no rules playground. Even I was a little skeptical when I started to read this article, but the results of his experiment were incredible. Now that children were able to climb trees, create structures from left over building materials and play, as children are meant to play, they are more attentive in the classroom, bullying has decreased and injuries have actually decreased.
Which approach is best for our children? Looking at principles of youth development, we can see how many children could be deprived of these fundamental skills in the first few settings presented. Principles such as, developing a wide range of knowledge, skills and behaviours, as well as developing youth capabilities, require challenge and decision making, something kids may be lacking in if we continue to protect them from all risk. In a playground setting, if they are permitted to climb, and swing and jump, they will learn what they can do safely, and what may cause harm. The calculated decisions they make there can transfer to other parts of their lives.
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