Schoolboys thrive on risk at recess

October 21, 2011


On a Razor’s edge … students show their scooter skills at Tudor House. Photo: Brendan Esposito

FOR generations children have complained that school can be cruel and unusual punishment. Now it seems some headmasters are listening, introducing more breaks during the school day and explicitly recognising the value of running wild.

John Stewart, the headmaster of Tudor House, a private boys’ school at Moss Vale, is adding an extra recess to the day with classroom doors locked to push boys to push the limits.

”For boys to be sitting in a classroom, contained behind a desk for hours on end, just skilling and drilling that can help you improve in a test score, is not only archaic, it is cruel. We felt boys needed more time to play and that social and emotional learning is just as important as reading and writing skills.”


Rough and tumble … boys are encouraged to learn through physical play at Tudor House. Photo: Brendan Esposito

Children at the kindergarten to year 6 school are encouraged to ride bikes, skateboards, fly kites, build bases and climb trees during recess and lunchtime. Electronic games, computers and mobile phones are banned.

Angus Macdonald, 12, says the risk still ”depends if the teachers are there or not”, but loves the opportunity for adventure. Some boys get hurt ”but only occasionally”.

”You’re always going to have an accident at school, someone’s always going to get hurt,” he said.

Mr Stewart fears risk has become a dirty word. ”Our risk assessment is all based on the risk of injury and we have to rethink that … and consider the risk of the loss of a learning or leadership opportunity,” he said. ”If we continually ban cartwheels and ban soccer we’re taking away a whole element of social and emotional growth.”

His concerns are echoed by Jim Cooper, the president of the NSW Primary Principals Association, who says a ”bubble wrap” syndrome is affecting the development of children.

”I see it as absolutely vital that boys in particular have the chance to blow off a bit of steam at recess, lunchtime and in breaks,” Mr Cooper said. His school, Albion Park Public, is one of many to introduce a ”munch and crunch” fruit break during the first two-hour block of the day.

But it’s not just time out of the classroom but what children can do in it that is important. At some schools young students, who are confined to asphalt areas during breaks, are essentially not allowed to run. Monkey bars can only used under adult supervision. Ball games are restricted.

”There’s got to be a little bit of risk-taking for kids otherwise they learn nothing,” said Mr Cooper, who has no doubt principals are responding to community pressure, and the risk of legal action. ”The pressure is not coming from schools. Schools are being forced into doing this because of the expectations of helicopter parents.”

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