No Rules on the School Playground

no rules playgroundRemember climbing trees? Getting up there was the easy part. You’d get some scratches and your pants would be pretty much ruined. Then you looked down. The level of fear you felt helped you determine whether you were going higher or climbing back down.

Remember exploring nature? You’d wander off until your parents or your house looked miniature. If that was a bit too scary, you’d head back closer to home. Or, you’d risk getting lost for the sake of adventure. Inevitably you’d realize you went too far and have a minor panic attack as you headed back in the direction you thought you came from and when you saw the first glimpse of familiarity you’d have to choke back the tears of relief.

We took risks as kids because we had the freedom to take risks. Healthy fear and common sense were the voices of reason. Experience was our teacher of life’s lessons. With each experience we became better at analyzing risk and knowing when to push on and when to hold back. This freedom didn’t just happen outside of school hours. We had the freedom to take risks on the school playground, too.

My school playground had monkey bars and a swinging bridge. We had a tire wall so high we could see over the school. We had a huge fort with a fireman’s pole that you could slide down so quickly it felt like your hands were on fire. We were allowed to underduck on the swings and then we’d jump off and go flying through the air until we landed hard into the dirt. Sometimes we’d get hurt, but only a little.

The only rule on the school playground of my youth: No Fighting. I think those were better days. We were allowed to take risks. We were allowed to be curious, to be kids. We were never bored because we were too busy playing and exploring. Across the pond there is a school administrator who is proving in real time and in real life that what kids really need are less rules, more freedom. Just like when he was a kid.

Principal Bruce McLachlan of Swanson School in Auckland, New Zealand decided to go back to his roots and get rid of school playground rules. It was a very bold move, a huge risk you might say. The results have been overwhelmingly positive. We often talk about how everything was better when we were young. This time, we might actually be right.

For specific details on the successes of a no rules playground, read McLachlan’s feature in the National Post.

Principal McLachlan’s story was also featured on The Richard Fowler Show:


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About James Hudyma

Dad. Husband. Teacher. Canadian. Guitar Picker. Songwriter.

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  1. I’m pretty sure the tire playground at my elementary school would be condemned by all the government agencies these days. Thinking back on the dirty pools of water that were always at the bottom of the vertical standing tires, to the rusty chains that connected the tire bridges, to the fact the 8ft jump from the top of one tire tower to the next was mandatory risk taking for boys that age, I can’t believe they allowed that thing to exist for more than a month. Yet, we all grew from those experiences and learned a lot about ourselves and our friends. Great post, spot on.

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