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The Learning Conference 2003

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Presentation Details


The Changing Face of Play in Australian Schoolyards: How is School Policy Impacting on Children and their Play in the School Playground?

Barbara Chancellor.

This study of the changing face of play in Australian schoolyards is a work in progress.
An unpleasant image of Australian schoolyards is emerging with The Insurance Council of Australia advising schools to lock up play equipment immediately if it doesn't comply with rigid safety standards; damages awarded for playground injury cases have soared-pushing up premiums for schools (The Australian, 17/08/2002, p37).

Other reactions from schools include restricted playtimes or in extreme cases no outdoor play at all. This study is looking closely at the extent to which this reduction in play equipment is affecting children's development. The importance of this issue is highlighted by current research, "in the middle and late childhood, important developmental changes occur in the skeletal system, the muscular sysem and motor skills... They need to be engaged in active rather than passive activities." (Sanrock, 2001, Pp58-9). Another closely linked area of concern is the increasing number of school age children being diagnosed as obese. Australians are being warned by their Federal Health Minister that the issue of overweight children is now on the national agenda (The Age, 16/09/2002, p.8). Infact, the NSW State Government commissioned a Childhood Obesity Summit in September this year. Combine this with the tightening of playground rules to exclude many running, chasing and ball games traditionally played by children and the result may well be detrimental. Hughs (1999) discusses the importance of "games with rules" as an instrument to teach children how to obey rules and follow moral order. Meckley (1995) draws on Vygotsky, Mead and other social theorists to make sense of the roles and rules of children's play and describes it as a zone for the promotion of mental development.
Another question addressed in this study is whether less appealing and less stimulating playgrounds are one of the factors contributing to the prevalence of bullying. An article on school bullying recently published, (The Age, 26/06/2002, p43), begins with the comment that "many modern school playgrounds have become so dull and restrictive for children that they may be causing bored students to resort to teasing and bullying." Finally this study acknowledges that historically children were able to play safely outdoors out of school hours. For what percentage of children today is school outdoor playtime the only opportunity they have to freely socialize, learn and play traditional and invented games; to climb, swing, jump and run in their day?


Barbara Chancellor  (Australia)
Sessional Lecturer
School and Early Childhood Education
Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology

Barbara Chancellor is currently working at Rmit University in the School and Early Childhood Education Department. She has over 20 years experience in teaching, working in both Primary and Early Childhood education. She researched the area of Transition to School for her MEd Degree and is currently undertaking research in the area of the changing face play in school playgrounds as her PHd thesis.

  • Outdoor play
  • School playgrounds
  • Schools and Oublic Liability
  • Child development
  • School outdoor policy

(30 min Conference Paper, English)