The Secret To Happy, Ready-to-Learn Kids (Hint: It’s Not Test Prep. Or Is it?)

Hi Readers! This is just a beyond-belief great playground idea:[youtube=]

As simple as it gets. As fun as it gets. And (if we must justify the idea of kids doing things on their own) as developmentally rich as it gets.

Watch it and weep — with joy for the kids with this kind of recess, with sadness for those who never get to do anything this free-form with THEIR friends. As the narators on the video say, “Children who are happier and engaged in play have a better experience in school.” This kind of “mixed-age, mixed gender” creative fun results in, “increased critical skills development.” Through open-ended play kids learn “team work, negotiation, risk management, conflict resolution, problem-solving.” They have fewer playground disputes because they’re busy having fun!  All of which adds up to “Happier, engaged students.”

Engaged students are GOOD students. Teachers! Principals! Superintendents! Why not substitute a bit of test prep for a bit more junkyard recess time? It’s such a SIMPLE thing that can change the school day SO MUCH! (And thanks to Tim Gill for sending it along!) — L.

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67 Responses to The Secret To Happy, Ready-to-Learn Kids (Hint: It’s Not Test Prep. Or Is it?)

  1. Nicolas Martin October 17, 2011 at 11:45 am #

    Are the kids who live in (the numerous) countries with better academic performance than the USA really less happy? By what measure? Maybe if American kids were parented more by flesh-and-blood creatures and less by electronic devices, that might be a path to more happiness.

  2. Lisa October 17, 2011 at 12:05 pm #

    Nicolas, it’s not about good academic performance vs. happiness. It’s about giving kids time to play and do things on their own, with other children, so that they discover what they are capable of. That makes for more confident and considerate people. I find that more important than high test scores, in general.

  3. Dan October 17, 2011 at 1:07 pm #

    I wish I thought of this. Fill a dumpster with junk from the nearest scrapyard. Sell it to schools for a profit. It’s educational and environmentally friendly.

  4. Jyotsna October 17, 2011 at 1:54 pm #

    That was fascinating! I wish that was here in the US!

  5. October 17, 2011 at 7:51 pm #

    This is so lovely, good old-fashioned play. It gave me some great ideas of what to put into our play scrap cupboard. Also, it reaffirms me belief that my son sometimes learns more with his roll of duct tape and a stick than a whole week of school.

  6. Selby October 17, 2011 at 8:14 pm #

    @countingfires – me too, just jotted down a few ideas. Kids love props. A box full of scrap stuff like this, along with some costume/dress-up things….they’re in Heaven.

  7. Dave October 17, 2011 at 8:20 pm #

    Could things be changing. This idea needs to spread. Children free to play and be creative. This could be the start of a revolution.

  8. Tara October 17, 2011 at 8:36 pm #

    Our kids’ school is fairly free range in their ideas. The boys are allowed to play with light sabers (in a designated area with boundaries). They are allowed to create snow forts/tunnels (which get left up and worked on all winter long). They also have a huge wooded area. Last winter someone brought in wooden pallets and tucked them in the woods. Children brought in different scraps to embellish their “snow forts” and had internal competitions as to which fort was better and why. There were at least three different recess times, each recess had two groups working on the forts. And nobody tore them down. And nobody got majorly injured on them (maybe a splinter or two???). And they survived the summer and are being played with this fall.

  9. Lollipoplover October 17, 2011 at 9:08 pm #

    I love this. My favorite was when the boys used the rubber tubes as swords and had a sword fight.
    We had a very rainy summer, and one of my kid’s top summer activities was boat races. They raided our recycling (and used duct tape and scissors) to put together a floatable boat to race down the stream in our street. All of the kids in the neighborhood were outside in the pounding rain in their wellies and raincoats for hours putting together (and retooling several times) boats and racing them down over and over.
    Who knew trash could be so much fun.

  10. Bryan October 17, 2011 at 9:39 pm #

    Forget the kids, *I* want to play there. I remember doing things like that when I was a kid, I think I learned more by playing with stuff and trying to get it to work then any other thing I did in school.

    I’m going to try and find some stuff for my kids and put it in their play room and let them have fun.

  11. BH October 17, 2011 at 9:58 pm #

    I was watching this video and my two boys (ages 7 and 9) asked why the kids were all shouting. I said, ‘what do you mean? Dont you shout at recess?’ My 9 year old said, ‘no, i just sit on the bench with my friends and talk quietly’. ‘Why’, I asked. ‘Nothing to do’, he replied. I wept inside my head.

  12. Joey Bourgoin October 17, 2011 at 10:27 pm #

    This is a great idea. I applaud the people who thought of this, But one thing strikes me is that this unfortunately would never go over well in the US. If you watch the video and listen, they are given “freerange” of the time, we have no where near that here in the States, second they are running, yes running on tar (OH MY GOD) around freely. a lot of play grounds are banning running in general on them. these kids are very free to play on their own, that just does not happen here. This is what is in essence starving our children of play/learning activities. The video shows them having fun and experimenting and team work. there is no envy over something the other child has they learn to play together, that is the golden idea here if you ask me.

  13. Diane October 17, 2011 at 10:38 pm #

    I love it! I would have loved it when I was in school too!

  14. Claudia Conway October 17, 2011 at 10:43 pm #

    My daughter starts school next year (I’m in the UK) – I think I will be lobbying whichever school she goes to to get one of those playpods!

  15. beth Nixon October 17, 2011 at 10:53 pm #

    Years ago I started the junk bag in our house. I save interesting things and we haul it out, when bored, and my kids will build and create for hours with little to no supervision. What a brilliant playground idea!

  16. Ali October 17, 2011 at 11:25 pm #

    How long are the recesses there? My kids get 25 mins a day, doesn’t seem long enough to build some of the elaborate things these kids were building. What a fantastic idea though!

  17. FrancesfromCanada October 18, 2011 at 12:52 am #

    Just for the record — this IS happening in the US. Google “play-based learning”, see what you find; a good place to start is, about a Seattle preschool. Follow the links in his blogroll, it’s refreshing. The building materials fall under the category of “loose parts” — ie bits and pieces the kids can move around and do with what they will.

    Just in reference to another post a few days ago — would we all be so appalled by a lack of swingsets (or soccer balls, for that matter) if our kids had this kind of play opportunity instead?

  18. Kim October 18, 2011 at 1:36 am #

    This is a great idea!! Not sure if it’s a good or a bad thing but my garage always resembles a scrapstore playpod.

  19. Lollipoplover October 18, 2011 at 2:10 am #

    Good point on the swingset tradeoff. I think both would be ideal. This would even be great for indoor recess when it’s pouring outside (those seem to be the best days for making forts indoors anyways).

    The thing with recess is it should be “free” play. No one should tell them what to do with their play time, but the limitations we put on them (no running, swinging, kicking) make it not free anymore. This type of activity would be a great option for those kids who don’t want to do the sports or want to take a break from it. Actually, I can’t think of any kid who wouldn’t want to play with a giant box of random stuff.

  20. Cheryl W October 18, 2011 at 2:37 am #

    The first thing that struck me in the video was the total lack of adults. No one to tell them not to do thing, be safe, don’t hit. The kids seemed to be doing fine with helping each other, stopping mutual fighting games when some one came through, and just doing things at a level they were comfortable with. I am sure that at times kids fell, got fingers pinched and such. But I am willing to bet that the vaste majority just go on playing. A few may need a bit more, but that can happen anywhere (like when my son fell in the driveway and needed stitches. He wasn’t running, he just tripped.)

    The second thing that struck me was that this was a like a larger version of the “Rube Goldberg” type of class that my son (6) took at the ALE last year. These kids were learning about inclined planes, gravity, objects in motion stay in motion, and so much more. They were experiencing with all their senses. True learning, and much more important in their future lives than much of what goes on in “the classroom.” Lots of people management skills, interpersonal relations, taking turns, following and giving directions, experimentation.

    My son thought we should have this hear at our house. I told him we do. We have the drier drum that they roll down hill inside of, stand on and roll around the yard, use as a hiding place and parts of forts. They have lots of scrap wood, mostly up in a tree at the moment. They have access to tools to do stuff with. What they don’t have is about 45 other kids to do it with most days. But when the neighbors get home from school, then they interact with more than just siblings (and boy, interacting positively with siblings can prepare you for most any interpersonal relationships that one may ever have!)

    A great idea of someone following their childhood dreams.

  21. gina October 18, 2011 at 2:46 am #

    WOW!! No swinging things at each other…climbing on untethered structures, putting dirty items in their mouths….throwing, jumping, balancing, sliding…nobody saying “Be Careful”….How did they EVER survive in one piece? OH..that’s right..that’s how WE played when we were kids…
    What a delightful, beautiful idea. Too bad it has to be confined to the schoolyard…we need to allow our kids to play outside in their neighborhoods the same way!
    Kudos for allowing kids to learn their own safety limitations and work out their own problems.

  22. molly October 18, 2011 at 3:13 am #

    Love it! Am I the only one who tears up at this?? I am so lucky that my kids DO play like this every afternoon after school, as we live on a safe dead end street with sidewalks and backyards. We made the conscious decision to buy this house based on the potential for outside play. Our trade off: a small, older kitchen, three bedrooms instead of four, one car garage not two. But it has been well worth it!

  23. Hineata October 18, 2011 at 4:04 am #

    Ali, how long is your kids’ school day? And when you say recess, is that morning tea or lunchtime? I am not in the US, but all kids at schools here get morning tea of about 20-25mins (depending on when their school day starts, a wee bit of flexibilty involved) and an hour at lunch, usually divvied into 10 minutes to eat (or the little darlings wouldn’t bother!:-)), and 50 minutes to play. Are you saying your kids get only 25 minutes to play all through the school day? Surely not…..How would the kids cope with being in the classroom? The five-year- olds I teach at the moment barely find the time they do get enough, so I often send them out for a quick run around the field between lesson ‘bits’.
    I can’t comprehend how kids could survive a 6-hour school day playing for only 25 minutes of it, so I sincerely hope you are only referring to morning tea, and your kids are getting lunchtime too.

  24. Hineata October 18, 2011 at 4:23 am #

    PS Love the container idea too, am going to show this to my principal after the holidays. Especially love the boys using the ‘swords’ – that looks like so much fun, and is so ‘not allowed’ these days. Some teachers won’t even let kids make guns out of Lego, for goodness sake…

  25. Kay October 18, 2011 at 4:44 am #

    Hineata, my son is in 4th grade in the US. He gets to school around 7:30, school starts at 7:45. They then go straight to work. He has lunch from 1:00 – 1:30, and they can have a snack before lunch, but it’s a ‘working snack’, they don’t stop, they eat and work. Sometimes after lunch they go out for 20 minutes or so. If they have had PE on that day, they do not go out, if they have not been paying attention in class or have been too noisy during lunch they do not go out, or, if they do, they don’t play, they walk laps. Oh, and during lunch they can talk quietly for 15 minutes, in 5 minute intervals – the other 15 minutes they have to be quiet and eat…no talking. 5 minutes talk quietly, 5 minutes eat, 5 minutes talk quietly..for the half hour. If they get too loud during the quiet talk time they have to be quiet for the entire lunch period. They get out of school around 2:30 and then they typically have an hours worth of homework. And yes, this is a public school.

  26. Kay October 18, 2011 at 4:47 am #

    Oh, and 20 minutes recess is when they go outside and run around a bit..they usually play tag. If it is too cold or rainy they stay inside and read or draw.

  27. K October 18, 2011 at 5:14 am #


    My first and third grade boys get to school at 7:30 and have morning work waiting for them. They get 20 minutes for lunch and (usually) a 20 minute recess. Other than that, all work and no play until 2:35.

    By the time they get home they are almost candidates for spontaneous combustion… but, hurry hurry – got to do the homework.


  28. Marie October 18, 2011 at 5:14 am #

    I love it. I just had to reassure my neighbor that the rumors that the charter school doesn’t offer recess or PE were false. The kids don’t have much playground equipment to play on, though.

  29. Jp Merzetti October 18, 2011 at 8:31 am #

    I turned the narration off, and just let the kids tell me the story themselves…just by watching.
    It’s wonderful. (and they sure know it!)

    Now, for my sarcastic self.
    Imagine every one of those wonderful scraps being deemed a “safety hazard?) Some will…………….too many, sadly.
    And if that isn’t enough – it’s scrap. Free scrap. Not corporate products sold for profit. (Do I hear the vested interests whining and growing ever jealous?) Chalk this one up for the kids.

  30. Holly M. Barringham October 18, 2011 at 9:01 am #

    In High School, before the age of easily purchased portable electronic games our mixed-gender crowd would hang out and play board games (gasp)! One memorable Saturday one of the group procured enough of the pink bakery boxes and we created an entire miniature house, cutting up pictures of magzines, putting together little pieces of furniture. If we’d had one of these pods we would have loved it.

  31. justanotherjen October 18, 2011 at 9:10 am #


    My kids’ school has a pretty liberal recess attitude and even they don’t get that much. They have 2 recesses. In the morning they go our for 15 minutes but all they have is a playground with a couple slides and climbing things and then there’s an entire playset of just monkey bars. No swings or grassy area to run around (no room because the high school sports areas–track and baseball fields butt right up to the playground).

    Then they have recess after lunch. Lunch is 15 minutes of eating and then they get 20 minutes to play outside as long as it isn’t pouring. If it’s wet (which is often because it rains here all the time) they can’t use the slides or they will be wet all day in class).

    So they get a total of 35 minutes of recess. That’s a lot for a public school in the US. Last year they had an extra afternoon recess for another 15 minutes but they got rid of it this year.

  32. Hineata October 18, 2011 at 9:26 am #

    Geez, K, I would go insane with that kind of regime, and I’m a fat and sedentery middleaged woman! Sorry, but that sounds nuts…..I just can’t imagine kids being able to sit still and work that long, or at least work productively. I wonder if that’s why some kids are failing – they don’t get enough exercise to stimulate the brain cells. It must make it hard to work out who’s actually ADHD, and who is just going nuts from too little physical activity….

    Hats off to your boy. He deserves a medal – and so do you, by the sound of it.

    (BTW, of course we have kids failing too, just probably for other reasons – maybe they spend too much time playing, LOL!)

  33. Let Your Child Fail October 18, 2011 at 10:02 am #

    Thanks so much for sharing this great video, Lenore. It’s so great to see how children are naturally born creative, experimenters, and smart. They come up with such interesting ideas all on their own. There are no adults around.

    The sad question is, when do children switch over to adults who give everything up for a boring 9-5 job defending the status quo? When do they learn to fear taking risks? When do they start shunning failure and learning from mistakes?

    I often point out that play is the child’s textbook. This video and your post proves it. Less time sitting and more time playing will do all children a lot of good.


  34. Cheryl W October 18, 2011 at 10:42 am #

    Let Your Child Fail, I suspect that perhaps you will find the answers to your questions in the book “The Underground History of American Education” by John Taylor Gatto. Our schools have been geared to take the “I can do it myself” thinking out and replace it with “I can only do what Teacher tells me” which translates very well into “I can only do what Boss tells me.”

    Schooling in America (and many other countries) is about socializing kids. Which means in short format, only preparing them to work in factories and businesses for other people. I can certainly say this was true where I went to high school. Kids were put in tracks, expected to work at Campbell Soup pulling chicken meat off of bones, or at a metal working place for the most part. The only kids in Gifted and Talented were kids whose parents were doctors, lawyers or teachers (and a token African American for each grade.) Other kids were not expected to go to college. Some were prepared to be auto mechanics or nurses. But basically, if you were black, it was the soup factory. Which shut down two years after I graduated. I knew it was bad when I was a student there, but when I went back and substituted after college, I realized how really bad it was – kids who wanted only to recite back the book, not do any higher thought or thinking. They had been prepared well, by the standards of the district by the time they were 11th grade.

    This play activity would be deemed dangerous there, among the good ole boy network (whom I got to work with too – left me feeling dirty it did!) Things could be done “for” the disadvantaged, (African Americans) but not anything that might give them “ideas”. It sucked there, and the inequality really, really got on my nerves.

  35. Nanci October 18, 2011 at 11:04 am #

    Last year for Christmas I got my kids then 8 & 7 a huge tub full of PVC piping and connectors along with several sheets. They can build forts and tunnels etc. It has been a big success! It was pretty expensive, a couple of hundred dollars at Home Depot, but so much better than a video game system 🙂 They build something and then use it, like an animal shelter, and then they bring all their stuffed animals and get out their old doctor kit.

  36. Laura October 18, 2011 at 11:12 am #

    LOVE this! Think I need to start a home school “play pod.” Right now everything in the house is fair game, but I’ve been getting rid of too much junk. Thanks for the inspiration!

  37. Leonard Ewy October 18, 2011 at 7:13 pm #

    It looks a lot like my “disorganized” play when I was a kid in the 1950s. We all got a few cuts and bruises but no one, especially our parents, thought it was a problem.

  38. wendyayn October 18, 2011 at 8:39 pm #

    This is amazing. At one person’s question, here in the US my daughter gets a 25 min lunch period at 1:00 in the afternoon. School ends at 2:30 and starts at 7:30. So she goes 6.0 hours without a break. I know she would like this SOOOO much better

  39. Rebecca Menes October 18, 2011 at 10:22 pm #

    Kids having fun – nothin’ better.

  40. Jane October 18, 2011 at 11:11 pm #

    Abolish homework in K-5 and let kids do this kind of stuff at home. In the ’50’s, that’s what kids’ lives were like. One memorable day, all the kids in my neighborhood took all kinds of stuff outdoors and made a huge obstacle course. We timed each other with a kitchen timer. Oops — there were some skinned knees and tears. Oh well.

  41. SKL October 18, 2011 at 11:40 pm #

    This past summer my kids (then 4) were playing on the construction site of a rehabbed building my business bought. It was such a nice, nostalgic moment to see them picking through the junk to see how they could play with it. My only rule was that nobody was allowed to be poked in the eye. But, I could imagine mainstream parents saying, “how could you let your kids play on a construction site!!?”

  42. Tsu Dho Nimh October 19, 2011 at 2:05 am #

    I love the idea, but it needs duct tape!

    @KAY “if they have not been paying attention in class or have been too noisy during lunch they do not go out

    And that helps them concentrate how? It’s take the little darlings out for at least 30 minutes of rowdiness if they were fidgety.

    I notice that many of the group projects involve creating physical challenges, like the obstacle courses.

    And spot the “big kids” helping the small ones through the obstacle course – ego boost!

  43. Claudia Conway October 19, 2011 at 4:01 am #

    I put this on Facebook and my mum, who is a school governor at two schools, wants to show it to the headteachers of both.

    One of the schools, by the way, has a ‘mud pit’ for its younger kids. Literally a muddy pool where the kids can dress in head to foot waterproofs, jump around in and spray one another with hoses. How fun does that sound?!

  44. Kiwimum October 19, 2011 at 5:15 am #

    What struck me was how it looked just like Kindergarten (BTW here in NZ that means part-time public play-based pre-school for 3 and 4 year olds, not first year school as in the US) or Playcentre (parent run pre-school system here in NZ). But they get to 5 and we think kids don’t need/want/benefit from this kind of thing?? Also as a science education advocate, i was struck by how much ‘science’ learning was going on – fantastic! Those kids would go back to class full of “why?” and “what if I…?” questions.

  45. Hineata October 19, 2011 at 5:51 am #

    Maybe this is off topic, but I think not, given that we are looking at what kids do in break times. Really, if your young kids are going five to six hours without a break, maybe it’s time something was done. Is it some kind of tradtion in the US? It just makes no sense. Even adults need a break every couple of hours or so to remain fully productive. When I am studying myself, I make sure to take a 5 minute break every hour, or I find I am just wasting time.

    No wonder, from reports I read that skip the parts about the lack of break times, that U.S. appears to have so many ADHD kids. Any normal kid would go nuts under a regime like that – do many of them actually have ADHD? Forget about the current financial crisis – somebody needs to advocate for your youth, or you’re not going to have a new generation capable of carrying the country forward. I know freerangers are doing their best to raise independent youth, and good on you, but really, if your kids are locked in classrooms for five to six hours a day before they get their first break, you are going to have to run them pretty ragged after school to counter-act that. I’m actually surprised that the UN, which loves to stick its nose into international business (sometimes for good, sometimes less so) is not having something to say about this – it sounds like a form of child cruelty to me. And the UN is based in New York…..isn’t it?

    No wonder so many homeschool – I am a fairly tough parent, but I just couldn’t put my kid through that. I realise I am very lucky not to be in the position where I have to.

    @Kiwimum, so true. I am trying to get more free play into my classroom, but at the moment with all the new and ridiculous formfilling, it is difficult. Am just returning to the classroom, though, so am sure after a term or two I will manage to work my way around it again, but in the meantime its the kids missing out…..

  46. Juliet Robertson October 19, 2011 at 6:31 am #

    Hi Everyone

    A few points which may be of interest

    1) The Scrapstore Playpod is an official project that did have some good evaluations from all the schools involved. You can access the report from the Play England website

    2) The process does involve a fair bit of training. Most schools tend to have the scrapstore open over lunch times where there is more time to play.

    3) There needs to be buy in from lunchtime staff who need support from school managers/team and opportunities to engage in dialogue with each other and external professionals who are providing advice and support.

    4) I’m currently working with a nearby school on a similar type of approach. We trained the Kindergarten to G2 class first. From here they drew up lists of things they enjoyed playing with and then wrote to local companies asking them to donate unwanted material. The school now has an old boat to play in too! Next week the older classes and all the lunch time staff get trained. The school has opened up areas that were previously banned and the children are allowed to climb on walls as part of their play with the materials.

    5) If you look, most of the materials are quite large. This makes them easier to tidy away. Little parts like shells and jewellery take longer to tidy up. A 5 minute warning bell helps to get children to begin tidying. Consider which materials need to be dried off and have a system for ensuring this happens. So in the school I’m working with, they are going to have two mini storage places, one wet – where stuff doesn’t need dried and one dry – where the material can be gathered and dried.

    6) The results are instant. However in terms of accountability, it’s good to get teachers to observe the children at play and note all the curriculum expectations that are being covered through free play using a Scrapstore playpod.

    Hope this helps – any more questions, please get in touch via my email or blog

  47. JenniferM October 19, 2011 at 8:58 am #

    Just wanted to shared this from the news here today….


    A missing 6-year-old girl has been located.

    Valeria Rivera was last seen around 3 p.m. Tuesday near Michael McCoy Elementary School in the 5200 block of S. Semoran Boulevard.

    She was walking home with her sister.

    Police said the girl walked away from her sister with a group of friends and ended up at a neighboring apartment complex.

    Foul play is not suspected in this incident.

  48. Steve October 19, 2011 at 1:49 pm #

    This video is wonderful. We certainly had nothing like this back when I was in school, but I wish we had.

    This should become The Gold Standard for playgrounds. At least a part of all school playgrounds should be like this – and even larger! More resource materials. It’s such a good example of WHY kids need time without adults interfering.

    Juliet Robertson, said:

    ” 4) I’m currently working with a nearby school on a similar type of approach. We trained the Kindergarten to G2 class first. From here they drew up lists of things they enjoyed playing with and then wrote to local companies asking them to donate unwanted material.”

    One thing bothers me about that:
    “… they drew up lists of things they enjoyed playing with…”

    I’m not sure “who” was being asked, but I doubt if many of those kids in the video would have ever said they liked to play with those kinds of industrial items “before” they encountered them in the school playpod.

    It also occurred to me they could have included a lot more old tires. Tires could be used to build all kinds of forts and obstacle courses. And tires are waterproof. No maintenance. They can be left out in any weather. The school could call for OLD TIRE donations and have a school yard full. What a great way to recycle them. I wonder how many kids were inspired by the materials they played with, and asked their parents to get some for home use?

  49. Juliet Robertson October 19, 2011 at 3:35 pm #

    Hi Steve

    I have a car full of open-ended loose parts which are mostly scrap. Sticks, big sheets, milk crates, tyres, an old phone, hosing, rope, etc.

    I took this into the school and the children and staff with myself had a brief chat about what we needed to remember when playing with the different objects, what to do if something got broke and any other issues.

    The children played for a good hour with my stuff and then reviewed which they played with the most, etc.

    I agree with you about the tyres. I had suggested to the school that they put tyres on their playing fields for exactly this purpose. I wrote a blog post about the use of tyres in play at schools which may be of interest (yes there’s even a worn homemade tyre swing in one public school)

    Hope this helps clarify matters.

    Best wishes

  50. Steve October 20, 2011 at 2:37 am #

    Juliet – Thanks for the clarification.

    My only concern is limiting what is put in a playpod to only items people assume will get used.

    You never know when something – neglected for weeks – might become popular AFTER a creative person uses it and everyone else sees how it can be used.

    I enjoyed your tire (tyre) photos on your blog. Seeing those and the ones in the playpod video got me to wondering why they haven’t been more widely used on all playgrounds over the years. I suspect it’s a combination of narrow mindedness of school administrators and their fear mongering combined with playground equipment manufacturers promoting their own products.

  51. Lori October 20, 2011 at 3:28 am #

    This is what kids REALLY need! When a box arrives in the mail, my eight year-old son is in heaven! We have no hand-held video games or game consoles; I HATE them!!! Every family that I know that allows them into their homes have nothing but trouble with them. Instead, we invested in building a two-story treehouse with a zipline. We have computers and he gets to play games occasionally, many of which are computer versions of arcade games my husband and I played as kids. He has a lot of books and most toys inspire imaginative play. We also home school, so we have as much recess as we want.

  52. Juliet Robertson October 20, 2011 at 3:47 am #

    Hi Steve

    This is a super comment and quite rightly a concern. The school I’m working with is great and have avoided this by the children writing and asking simply for scrap materials – they’ve not been specific – hence the unexpected arrival of a boat! In fact I’m due to blog about all this shortly! What has been gathered by the children and staff is a combo of all sorts of donations – a big plastic tube is one such example that the children can crawl in.

    I think the school staff now see that everything and anything has a play potential. I’ve suggested old keyboards from computers because I’ve seen them very well used in other projects.

    I think the other thing to remember – along with fashions of items coming and going in terms of popularity – is that with new children entering the school and the older children leaving there will be issues and ways of doing things that will need to be changed in line with the needs of the children – ongoing, meaningful dialogue is really important here.

    The other thing that I should point out is that this school is not special, unique or unusual in any way. The staff are committed and up for all sorts of things. But they are not gung-ho types or pro-risk or outdoorsy. So I think this demonstrates how this type of approach actually really can work. What has been lovely is the strong pride and ownership the youngest class feels about having made a difference to their playtimes.

    Over in America I know KaBoom have got a system which they call “Imagination Playground in a Box”. I think this is similar in many respects except the loose parts have been manufactured rather than scrap. Whilst there isn’t the enterprising aspect of bringing in scrap, I love the idea that the bits work well with sand and water

    Finally (sorry this is some length of post), about tires, the god-father of playgrounds made with tires has to be Frode Svane – a Norwegian play architect. He’s active on Facebook and I’m sure if any readers messaged him directly and asked nicely, he’d give you the link to his amazing photo collection. He also organises super study tours of European playgrounds, especially Oslo, Copenhagen and Berlin.

    Yes there’s a lot of concern about tyres – but this is slowly changing. The funniest “risk” I heard was from a local authority here in Scotland who banned tyres because they might get too hot in the summer. Pardon? Scotland? Hot? A heat wave for us is 61 degrees!!!

    Best wishes

  53. Metanoia October 20, 2011 at 7:46 am #

    Child care centres getting back to DIRT!! Complete with picture of 5 year olds making mud pies!

    or as the article is putting it “Bubble-wrap kids brought back to earth”

  54. Deborah October 20, 2011 at 11:13 am #

    Just wanted to share a link to a NZ movie with you. I think you’ll agree that the kids in this movie are truly free range – watch them ride horses.

  55. jdyanover October 21, 2011 at 12:00 am #

    Does anyone know if there’s anything similar in the United States?

  56. Steve October 21, 2011 at 6:21 am #

    Juliet, thanks for all your info. I hope you continue to follow this blog and leave comments.

    Your mention of the boat got me to thinking, “Sure! Why not a boat! Why not several?! Surely there are older boats just sitting around – too old to be repaired because of the cost – that would be wonderful additions to school playgrounds everywhere.

    Some boats could be secured in the ground so they would not tip, while others could be “rigged” to safely tip from side to side a little when the kids lean one way or the other.

    And why not get some old cars and trucks donated!

    Ever since this topic was posted, I’ve been wondering why this hasn’t been the way all playgrounds were equipped from the beginning. But then I think of all the teachers and administrators who are not “POSSIBILITY THINKERS.” In general, they do not encourage creative thinking. Instead they present information that is meant to be repeated back to the teacher for a grade. Administrators and many teachers are most comfortable with SYSTEMS – systems that repeat the same way over and over. Like team sports. Sports are not as open ended as Free Play.

  57. Juliet Robertson October 23, 2011 at 1:31 am #

    Hello Again

    1) Imagination Playground in a Box is the nearest thing I’ve seen to a Scrapstore Playpod approach – see the link above. Both approaches in the format they are in, come at a cost – considerably less than a standard playground, though.

    2) Steve – your comments have been appreciated – I have to go back to the school on Monday to continue embedding the project…! I’m about to take our curriculum documents, pull ’em apart and get the playground staff and 2 teachers to observe the children playing and see which specific aspects of the curriculum are covered through this free play approach. Some things don’t need specifically taught – kids learn through doing!

    3) Boats are easy to secure on grass and usually on asphalt take a simple frame underneath. I’ve suggested to this school that they dig up the turf, put down mulch-type matting and bark chips as the grass will be worn away within a couple of weeks. Apparently children play more imaginatively in real boats than fake ones – but I’ve yet to see the research that suggests this.

    4) A school in Manchester (England) did go for a Formula 1 approach to playground development several years ago – I’ve seen photos – used tyres were put around a mini racing track for wheeled toys. The benches made up the stadium – like a mini amphitheatre on one side. The best bit was when the school acquired an old bus – they removed the old seats, refurbished it and brought it into the school grounds beside the “race track” as an outdoor classroom/shelter.

    5) Steve – I’m a qualified teacher (and.. er should I confess to having been a school principal too) in my 20th year of teaching! OK it’s only 1 day per week but it keeps my hands dirty and my mind fresh whilst I keep plotting, planning and scheming to get children and teachers outside to learn and play, more effectively, more often! LOL!

  58. View Point October 23, 2011 at 4:51 am #

    Juliet –

    You are obviously more creative than most principals and most teachers. And you are not a principal NOW. That says a lot.

    I’m not sure how recently you found this blog, but you might be fascinated by John Taylor Gatto’s book: The Underground History of American Education. It can be read online for Free at his website: – or you can find hard copies elsewhere. Some else mentioned this book recently on this blog. I realize you’re not in the American school system, but I’ll bet you will find his book very enlightening! Gatto is quite famous in the U.S. and has written important books. Take a look at his bio at wikipedia. He taught for 30 years and was Teacher of the Year 3 times in New York City, then he quit and began promoting home-schooling and Un-schooling.

  59. Juliet Robertson October 23, 2011 at 6:09 am #

    Blush, blush, blush – thanks for the kind words and book suggestion! I vaguely remember hearing about John Taylor Gatto so I’ve bookmarked your link and will read in due course.

  60. Miss Mommy October 23, 2011 at 10:50 am #

    This is beautiful!

  61. Simone October 31, 2011 at 2:27 am #

    Just as I wanted to send the manager of our after-school care this link my children let me know they had a fantastic time at after school care: they went to the ‘zooibox’ (zooi = Dutch for trash). My eldest son built a ‘satellite’ and my youngest a marble lane (don’t know if that is the right term in English). It is organized by the community to give citykids more space to play. It was a big success!

  62. Maricruz Villalobos Zamora October 31, 2011 at 3:10 am #

    I’m amazed! All they did is give the kids a pile of junk! Admittedly is pretty cool pile of junk, but still. Seeing things like this makes me think of how easy, how simple it is.

  63. Sara November 2, 2011 at 4:26 am #

    During last year’s Big Scary State Tests, I stumbled upon a great activity to fill out the end of the day. The students were completely and totally DONE with pencil-and-paper work, but “free time” is just generally not a good idea. We gathered boxes from snacks, cleaned-out milk cartons, straws, some leftover yarn, and a few rolls of tape. I then gave them their directions: “Make something.” Some made miniature houses, some made pencil cups for their parents (oh, those lucky parents…), a few got together and tried making shoes (they looked promising), and one made a picture frame. We dubbed the box our “Junk Shoppe” and the activity just became known as “Recycling.” It was a wonderful way to engage their bodies and minds after a morning/afternoon of silent testing.

  64. Jodi-Lynn November 16, 2011 at 4:49 pm #

    We live in Israel. Here, it is perfectly acceptable for kindergarten yards to be filled with junk: old suitcases, cooking utensils, baby carriages, microwaves – basically all the old, broken junk a family normally throws out.

    When I first moved here, I was horrified. Sharp metal, broken plastics, even two story forts built out of scrap wood.

    Now, I can’t imagine why not. Childhood here isn’t filled with fear of someone getting injured. It is one of the reasons I have chosen to raise my children here rather than in the States.

  65. Juliet Robertson (@CreativeSTAR) December 24, 2011 at 4:53 am #

    I know this post is a couple of months old but I’ve finally just finished blogging about the scrap project – I did 3 posts but the final one has links to the others and is probably the most helpful.

    I’m also about to start a series of blog posts about another school who has done a wonderful school grounds/yard improvement project almost all by themselves. The highlight of this has been a huge sandpit has been built (overseen by a teacher) and all the children shovelled 32 tons of sand into it! Imagine that. The whole school can fit inside it and they’ve even held an outdoor school assembly there!

    Happy Holidays!


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