Two Quebec Schools Experiment With 'Rough Play' Zones for Kids

Public Domain. MaxPixel – Kids should be allowed to play roughly, as long as they're all enjoying it.

Finally, energetic kids have a safe space in which to wrestle and play-fight without being chastised for it.

Two elementary schools in Quebec, Canada, are breaking the status quo and allowing children to engage in 'rough play' at recess. Quatre-Vents Elementary School in Saint-Apollinaire and Cheval-Blanc school in Gatineau have both announced that their playgrounds will have special zones in which children can play more roughly than they're normally allowed to.

The zone is marked off by cones, and participation must be voluntary. All children must back off immediately if a playmate says stop; but the kids are allowed to "grab each others’ coats and make their opponents fall [and] pile up, to grab each other, to roll on the ground together," as long as they do not kick, hit, bite, or throw objects.

Global News quotes Quatre-Vents' principal, Sherley Bernier:

"There are certain students for whom it isn’t enough to simply go run in the schoolyard. They need a little more to get out their energy."

It's unclear how long the pilot project has been running at Quatre-Vents, but so far there are about 15 kids who use the rough play zone on a regular basis. Bernier said, "We see in class that those children are calmer, and they’re more focused."

Cheval-Blanc's trial, though only a week in, also calls it a success. Their rough play zone is geared toward grade 3 students and will last throughout the winter with similar rules.

As a mother of boys, this is happy news. My sons frequently come home from school frustrated by playground rules that they perceive as unnecessarily cautious. They are not allowed to wrestle or shove playfully or pile up in the way that they instinctively do at home. My oldest son explained,

"If a teacher sees someone roughhousing, they get sent to the wall. If you were punching or kicking or hitting someone with snowballs, you'd stay for the rest of the recess and maybe get your whole first recess taken away the next day. If you're not as rough, like if you throw one snowball below the chest, the teacher will probably give you five minutes on the wall."

My younger son put it more succinctly: "They take away so much of the fun."

It is refreshing to think that at least two schools acknowledge that rough play is a natural part of child development, particularly male, and that denying it could actually be harmful. To quote Lenore Skenazy, whose work at Let Grow and Free Range Kids I admire greatly: "To act like that is automatically aggressive and evil and cruel is to misinterpret a basic stage of childhood."

I'll be following these schools' pilot projects to see how they go, and I do hope that they'll have stellar results that can become a model for other schools across the nation. Goodness knows we need it.