A New Zealand school made headlines a few years back when it introduced a No Rules Recess policy. They did away with all the don'ts at recess (except for the basic human don't: don't deliberately hurt anyone) and let kids climb trees, build things, fall down and get up again. Almost as if that were normal. Which we often forget: It is.
What does a No Rules Recess look like?
Watch the video, and you'll see kids zooming around a playground on bikes and scooters, seemingly at random. Others climb trees and fences to astonishing heights, or wrestle and turn cartwheels. A big pile of wood and construction materials has become a life-size set of building blocks. In every shot, kids are active and cooperative. No one has a phone, or even a book. They're all working off the normal energy that comes from being a kid.
For this school, No Rules Recess means exactly that. The only time teachers will step in is if a child asks for help. Kids play like no one's watching. They work out their own problems, create their own games, fill their own time. And when the bell rings, they all return to class, where teachers say they're much more focused on learning.
What are the risks and benefits?
Of course there's a risk of injury with No Rules Recess, but as any teacher can attest, there's no way to keep kids from hurting themselves anyway. Playground injuries are common everywhere. In fact, the video features one boy who broke his arm falling off a scooter on the playground. His father's reaction? "As a parent, I was happy he fell off... and learned his lesson." New Zealand is a less litigious society, so the risks of the school being sued are minimal. And the country's nationalized healthcare plan means every kid can get the treatment they need if they get hurt.
The culture and healthcare worries in other countries might make this a harder sell for other schools. But don't be quick to think it can't work. The principal of this New Zealand school says injuries are actually down under the new policy. And kids thrive under it. The kids in the video work together, protect and help each other, and learn to accept and weigh risk as part of life.
How can my school try a No Rules Recess?
This 12-minute piece may inspire you so much, you'll want your own school to try something similar. One place to start is the Let Grow Free Play Club. This program is all about after-school mixed-age free play for all -- with no adult intervention.
Your kids can get this kind of Vitamin R, too.
The R is for recreation, of course.