Building resilience in students. It's simpler, easier and cheaper than you think.
Primary school teachers! Here’s a simple way to measure if your students are actually becoming more resilient.
There are now a lot of ‘resilience’ programs out there for schools to purchase. Some are quite expensive.
But children do not become resilient by answering questions in a workbook, talking about it and being reminded to “be resilient”. Resilience is the outcome or by-product of something else: which is, taking risks, lots of them.
Some government school in WA now allow students to ride bikes, play with junk, climb trees, draw on walls and do somersaults on trampolines - and they have noticed a decline in the number of ‘precious petals’ reporting to the office for an ice pack and sympathy.
Now, that is an easy-to-collect form of hard data to provide as evidence for improved resilience in your students! (I can just imagine the graph in the school annual report :)
My advice? For results, remove posters in the school that say ‘be resilient’ and replace them with a program that promotes risk taking in daily unstructured play.
I highly recommend this program - designed especially for primary schools by Anita Bundy of Sydney University - and it’s free!
You can download it from here: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/8791mvsp4cl86ee/AACigIlhiqQUnbTNaxuBVv7Ka?dl=0
And (sigh of relief) tell your principal it does include a risk assessment and safety procedures.
Read the full story below...
The anti-cottonwool schools where kids stare down risk in favour of nature play
Far from wrapping children in cotton wool, a growing number of WA public schools are doing the opposite, giving their students the opportunity to race around on rollerblades, fly off ramps in crates and slide down trees.
They are setting aside injury concerns to help children build resilience and squeeze in much-needed physical activity, in an age where screen time dominates and where one in four children is either overweight or obese.
Schools that have adopted the so-called "anti-cotton wool" approach cite a long list of benefits to the approach, which result in happier and healthier students able to play more creatively and cooperatively.
They say the children are more switched on in class after exhausting all of their energy in the playground.
Newly-opened Honeywood Primary School, in Perth's southern suburbs, has "Wheels on Wednesday" every week, where students are encouraged to bring their bikes, scooters and inline skates to school.
So long as they are wearing a helmet and have signed permission, they can zip around the school grounds during recess and lunch to their heart's delight.
From training wheels to classroom feels
Principal Maria Cook said the program was a huge hit with students and parents alike.
Despite a few falls and collisions early on, the children were quick to get the hang of it.
"[They are] super excited. They just love Wednesdays," she said.
"We've had kids who hadn't been able to progress past their trainer wheels suddenly being able to go without training wheels, because they get lots of practise just riding around this one-way track.
"I think kids need to learn how to manage a little bit of risk.
"If we cocoon them too much then they never know what's a safe risk and what's an unsafe risk. It's been really positive."
Students are also encouraged to use trampolines at the school.
They are allowed to do somersaults — the only rule is no more than two children on the trampoline at a time.
"They're keeping active, their bike skills are improving, their rollerblading skills are improving, they're having fun with their friends, [and] they're going back into class ready to learn because they've expended all this energy," Ms Cook said.
Nature play of the DIY sort
West Greenwood Primary School, in the northern Perth suburbs, is another that has removed the cotton wool.
The school introduced "Loose Parts" last term — areas where students can get creative with items more likely to be put out for front verge collections. These include milk crates, giant wooden spools and timber to slide down.
"Nature play seems to be a big thing that's taking off, but we wanted to do something slightly different and more cost-effective," principal Niel Smith said.
"We encourage students to be creative, to take risks, to analyse those risks. We've got kids building pulley systems, climbing trees, making swings, see-saws.
"We tell them, if you're going to build something you need to calculate that risk, you need to analyse whether that's going to be safe or not, and you decide whether you're going to do that or not.
"It's paid really good dividends.
"In terms of the senior students, we've certainly seen an increase in their cooperative skills, teamwork, sharing, negotiation."
Injury complaints have reduced: principal
Mr Smith said whereas students would previously come to the office complaining of injury, they are now too busy to make a fuss.
"No one has come to the office for ice packs, for sprains, for strains, for bumping their head on anything, and they're really doing some quite out-there things.
"Students are becoming more resilient and getting on with it."
The school has just three rules — no stacking milk crates, no walking on the large wooden spools and no tying rope to yourself.
The school is also catering for students with a more artistic bent, freeing up space on a mural wall for them to create their own works of art with chalk.
"It's had really good results for some of our students with disabilities. We've got one or two students who frequent that area almost every day who have autism and ordinarily they wouldn't engage with the other students as much as they do now," Mr Smith said.
School activity vital as screens take over
UWA researcher Karen Martin, who has studied physical activity and obesity in schools for more than a decade, said the trend away from wrapping children in cotton wool was welcome.
"For a while as a society we became a little bit over-protective of children," Dr Martin said.
"There were quite a few things schools were doing to try and protect children from harm, and some of that came from the parents' fear.
"I think what's happened is we've started to realise that wrapping kids up in cotton wool isn't beneficial for them at all.
"For children who are particularly sedentary at home, then being active at school is really important."
She said more research was needed to find out whether childhood obesity had worsened as a result of increased screen time.
The last substantial research was more than a decade ago, which found one in four primary school-aged children was overweight or obese.
"The rates of overweight and obesity in children are still quite concerning," she said.
"I think this is where schools can play a role … to try and optimise and maximise the amount of physical activity children can do in the school setting where they're away from screens."