More Risk, Challenge on School Playgrounds Linked to Happier Children

HealthDay News — Children from schools with greater risk and challenge in the playground environment report being happier at school and playing with more children, according to a study published online April 24 in Pediatrics.

Victoria L. Farmer, PhD, from the University of Otago in New Zealand, and colleagues conducted a 2-year cluster-randomized controlled trial in which 8 control schools were asked to not change their play environment, while 8 intervention schools increased opportunities for risk and challenge (eg, rough-and-tumble play), reduced rules, and added loose parts (eg, tires). At baseline, 1 year, and 2 years, 840 children, 635 parents, and 90 teachers completed bullying questionnaires.

The researchers found that intervention children reported higher odds of being happy at school (at 2 years, odds ratio [OR], 1.64) and playing with more children (at 1 year, OR, 1.66) than control children. While intervention children reported they were pushed/shoved more (OR, 1.33), they were less likely to tell a teacher (OR, 0.69) at 2-year follow-up. There were no significant group differences in parents reporting whether children had “ever” been bullied at school (1 year, P =.23; 2 years, P =.07). Teachers at intervention schools noticed more bullying at 1 year (P =.009), but there was no corresponding increase in children reporting bullying to teachers (both time points, P ≥.26).

“Few negative outcomes were reported by children or parents, except for greater pushing/shoving in intervention schools. Whether this indicates increased resilience as indicated by lower reporting of bullying to teachers may be an unanticipated benefit,” wrote the authors.

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Farmer VL, Williams SM, Mann JI, Schofield G, McPhee JC, Taylor RW. Change of school playground environment on bullying: a randomized controlled trail [published online April 24, 2017]. Pediatrics. doi:10.1542/peds.2016-3072