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Why experts say schools shouldn’t shy away from a little physicality during recess

CBC News with Mariana Brussoni 27 February 2019

As an elementary school in Quebec experiments with a new “roughhousing” zone for students during recess, one child development expert says schools need to shake off a tendency towards over-protection.

Schools “really base their policies around their own fears and anxieties … rather than putting the child at the centre of their decision-making,” said Mariana Brussoni, a developmental child psychologist and associate professor at the University of British Columbia.

Over time, a fear of liability has led schools to impose greater rules about what children get up to in the playground, she told The Current’s Anna Maria Tremonti.

“The kinds of things that they’re worrying about are pretty minor injuries,” she said.

“I think if you do some work with the parents … you can head off some of those fears around the liability.”

Earlier this month, a school board announced plans to allow Grade 3 students at L’école du Cheval-Blanc in Gatineau, Que., to enjoy some rough-and-tumble outdoors, with teacher supervision. One parent who supports the idea said it will incentivize her boys to go to school, and allow them to expel energy so they can focus more in class.

It’s not the only school re-imagining student play time. Another school near Edmonton has introduced four recesses a day, with the goal of boosting students’ academic productivity.

Unstructured learning

“Recess is really about this reset,” said Tracy Vaillancourt, a psychology professor and Canada research chair in school-based mental health at the University of Ottawa.

“It’s really good for emotional self-regulation. Kids learn about the politics of the playground. They learn about how to get along with each other in an unstructured way.”

She warns that if we eliminate physical risk in the schoolyard completely, we ignore the educational and social risks that come with that — risks such as bullying.

“In a sense, we’ve overreacted to the point where now we’re not thinking about the other side of that equation,” she told The Current’s Anna Maria Tremonti.

Vaillancourt agrees with the idea of giving kids more recess time, because being active is important for learning, she said.

It can also help deal with some bad behaviour.

“When we ask kids why they bully others, one of the number-one reasons is because they’re bored,” she said.