And you thought the playground was a happy place…

Hi all! The Deputy here…I have the distinct honor of being Lenore’s guest blogger for several days because Lenore will be jetting off to Spain to promote the Free-Range Kid movement! Hopefully she’ll be sending in a few posts in between talk shows and tapas. ☺ I have been reading this blog for quite a while and am a big fan of Lenore’s message. I am also impressed with the thoughtful, compassionate, and often wonderfully funny responses from all of you. I’m rather new to the blogging world and your feedback during the next several days would be very much appreciated. Here goes:

Lenore’s trip to Spain has got me thinking. In fact it is all becoming clear to me now and I have finally figured out what has gone wrong with parenting today. I do believe it all started at the beginning of the 1980’s. When I was 20 I flew to Europe by myself (no email, no cell-phone, no atm card, no big deal). The trip was uneventful until the youngster behind me started banging the back of my seat with her feet. I turned around, peered between the backrests, and gently said, “Would you stop hitting my seat, please?” She gave me a sweet smile—a real one—and replied, “Ok!” And then before I could even take down my tray table, her father loomed over the back of my seat and the top of my head, and said, practically spitting because he was so angry, “Don’t…you…tell…my…daughter…what…to…do. I will decide if she is doing something wrong. She is MY daughter!” Weird! Scary! Creepy! However, because cute boys on Vespas and gelato on every corner awaited me I managed to forget all about it. Until now, that is. The reason that we even need a Free-Range Kids movement—that the idea of a free-range kid has to be reinvented–is because parents today see children as THEIRS. Their possessions, their projects, their private accomplishment. It’s all about “my” child which really means it’s all about “me”. The following incident, sent in to Lenore by a reader in Ontario, Canada, illustrates this perfectly. It’s a weird, scary, and creepy story about shockingly self-centered parents. After you finish reading, please post a comment so that she doesn’t feel alone…like she’s the only sane one on the plane having to deal with a psycho dad—or psycho playground moms.

From Sara in Ontario: Here is the skinny. There had been issues with older and younger kids having conflicts on the playground. When, say, the grade four kids and the grade one kids were trying to play a game of basketball or soccer together, there were multiple occasions each recess where the kids would be running to the teachers with complaints of the older kids being bossy and the younger kids following the older kids around even when the game had stopped. Understandably, the teachers on duty thought it needed to be addressed and a guideline was made that if kids were more than a grade apart, they were not to play together. This was only a guideline and only to be used as a tool for the teachers to be able to say to the kids that were complaining that they need to stop playing together because of this rule. The principal is very reluctant to designate certain areas of the yard to only certain grades. She likes that kids can intermingle, but wants a definite line that teachers can tell kids they’ve crossed if needed.

This, to me, is a symptom of the overprotective parenting so prevalent today. Had these kids (the younger and older ones) been left to defend themselves and think up solutions outside of the school, they would not have turned to the teachers so frequently to solve their problems. These are kids who are incapable of compromise because all of the compromising has been done for them. I can’t blame the teachers for becoming exasperated with it all.

Had the issue ended there, I would be ending this email on a more positive note. However, there is a group of parents who support this and want it enforced on the most strict way possible by designating an area of the yard for each grade. I had the opportunity to talk to one of these parents and her attitude scared me. She was adamant that the only reason a twelve year old would ever associate with a seven year old would be to prey on him. After I got over the shock and was able to talk again I told her about three real life occurrences at that very school: 1 – siblings have been playing together for years without incident; 2 – a grade seven soccer guru student has been giving “lessons” to his grade four brother and his brother’s friend; 3 – when my oldest was in grade two, she and her friends had a group of grade eight students help them make snowmen. This is what this group of parents are willing to sacrifice. The fact that they are perfectly willing to turn innocent TWELVE YEAR OLDS into potential predators is one of the most disturbing things I’ve ever encountered.

For me, the issue is over. I am not against the guideline for the teachers to use as needed. A note is going home to parents to explain exactly what the guideline is and how and when it will be used. I have a feeling that the issue is not over for the principal and the psycho group of parents. I will keep on top of it for sure. I have joined the Home and School Committee for the first time this year and hope to keep brining sanity to the insanity that can happen. I am happy to inform you, though, that we are planning not only a bake sale but a cake raffle. Long live the cupcake! And long live free play!

49 Responses

  1. Hi everyone…the Deputy here…this is awfully long and I should have created a link to Sara’s blog instead of posting it all here. Sorry!

  2. The grade school where my kids go (3rd and 4th grade) assigns each kid a “buddy.” The 1st and second grade kids get 4th and 5th grade buddies, and visa versa. Some of the 3rd graders get 1st grade buddies, some get 5th grade.

    It’s a wonderful system that gives younger kids an older advocate and gives older kids additional responsibility. I think it’s especially helpful t the only children who get a semi-sibling.

    I do think that things can get a little weird in middle school, when the hormones really start kicking in, but what do these parents think is going to happen in plain view on the playground? Do they think a 12 year old is going to kidnap and abuse a 6 year old?!?

    And hooray for you for talking to a child like the responsible autonomous being that she was. Hopefully her dad got over himself.

  3. I have very fond memories of first-grade lunch breaks, during which students from grades 1 to 6 would trundle out to the park across the field (together!) and play (together!). There was a large tire-swing type apparatus in on corner (four tires hanging from long chains connected to a cross bar type apparatus) that was a particular favourite. Most of the grade 6 students took it upon themselves (with nothing even resembling a suggestion from their teachers, much less orders) to give the younger kids free “rides” on the tire swings, following different patterns (eg. twisting two swings up tightly, one swing going in wide circles, etc). There were always lots of other grade 6 students hanging around making sure no one got hurt, and running off to find a teacher if anyone did manage to scrape a knee (seldom happened).

    When I was in grade 2, they banned this and only let two grades of students go together at the park at the same time. Parents had complained. Apparently we young’ns were at risk of being bullied or bossed around or something, or worse, seriously hurt by these “irresponsible” kids. Even though no one ever was. Because obviously that’s the only reason an 11 year old would want to do something *nice* for a 6 year old.

    Probably needless to say, but the sense of unity at the school greatly diminished. Year after year of grade 6 students looked down on the first graders as annoying and stupid, and year after year of wee first grader lived in fear of the big kids from the other side of the playground.

    Lessons lost: responsibility, safety, community, waiting for your turn (on the part of the 1st graders)
    Lessons learned: everyone is a big scary monster or a useless annoyance except for people who are just like you.

  4. I think even as a “guideline” not letting kids a year apart play together is ridiculous. In the neighbourhood, kids age 3-7 play together regularly. Granted, most 8 year olds and up don’t WANT to play with a 5 year old or younger kid, and they can be mean to younger kids who try to hang on their every move. But in that case, doesn’t the young kid learn not to hang around and to make other friends? It seems to me a quicker way for the teachers to handle these kind sof problems would be to say, basically, stop being a tattle tale and handle it yourself (provided no one is actually being hurt by another kid, of course).

    We have the “buddy” system at our elementary school here too – I believe it’s 5th graders who are each assigned a Kindergartener to mentor (it may be 6th graders).

  5. I agree with Sky. This kind of a guideline doesn’t make any sense. Either it’s a rule (a stupid one, imo), or it isn’t. Why can’t the teachers address each situation as it happens, because each situation is likely to be different? I think the problem here is not treating people as individuals, but only as their classification – first grader – which the school made up to begin with! Considering the year-or-more age differences within each “grade” it may be more appropriate for some kids to play with someone from a different grade. Add in the developmental differences between kids already a year apart in age, and they’re all over the map, even though they’re labeled as the same “grade.”

  6. I homeschooled my daughter for a number of years and one of the biggest advantages of homeschooling is that when you go to the park, kids of all ages play together. The strict age-segregation of schools is one of its drawbacks.

  7. @wahoofive, I was going to say the same thing. I’m not homeschooling to shelter my kids. And I couldn’t ishelter them if I tried. Because they’re out in real life all day, they meet people of all ages and backgrounds. They’re not being taught to think that the only people worth interacting with are people of their own year of birth; and they’re not learning that you have to treat adults as either alien beings or people you have to hide things from.

    One of the coolest things is to watch how the kids in one of our activities treat each other. We’ve been in the group for 7 years; we see a few of the kids in other activities as well. The kid who was in high school when my son was in kindergarten, who always went out of his way to talk to the younger kids and listen to them, is now an aeronautic engineer and pilot. He not only set a great example in how to treat littler kids that my son now emulates; he’s set a great example in his aspirations and goals. My son’s got a phobia of heights, but his friend actually took him up in his plane this summer. Was patient enough to stand while he had some very jittery moments about getting on board.

    And he’s not the only one in the group who is/was like that. It’s just the general tone. The bigger kids help the younger ones; the younger ones try hard to emulate the bigger ones.

    This is pretty common in homeschooling groups (as it was in one-room schoolhouses); but most kids only get this chance on the playground. I’m really afraid of what will happen if schools start making this policy on a wide basis. Kids will get an even lower chance for age diversity than they already have.

  8. The guideline at my son’s school is “Unless someone is being hurt, tattling is unnecessary.” Implementing that rule would have stopped a lot of the running to the teachers on duty and maybe they wouldn’t need the age-segregation.

  9. I just posted on my blog about a school that does not allow children to use their imagination during recess.

  10. What happened to being presumed innocent? Every child (or adult) interested in a younger child is instantly seen to have ulterior motives! Most kids are innocent until an (irrational) adult start pushing their own fears on them. I guess my 6 yo and 3 yo should stop playing together, bathing together and seeing each other naked because my son (6 yo) is a pervert… when will the insanity stop!?

  11. Brian, I remember the buddy program when i was a 5th grader, and I, as an older kid, loved it! My friends who didn’t have younger siblings enjoyed it and the younger kids liked having a “big kid” they could say Hi to on the playground.

    I’m a big sister and have always taken well to the older sibling/mentor role. When I was little doing community theater, I always looked up to the older kids and was so happy to be included in pool parties or lunch trips. When I was older, I remembered how important the older kids had been to me and made sure I was a good role model/”older kid” for the younger kids to look up to.

    I use this same attitude in my job now when i’m supervising interns.

    How are we ever going to learn to interact with superiors and other people in general if we keep getting cut off from more and more of the general population?

  12. It’s interesting. My wife and I were just talking about this the other day. Our older boy plays at the school playground after school most days. Whenever I see some other kids misbehaving or running up the slide when small ones are coming down I say something. Most of the time they ignore me and that’s as far as it goes. I was impressed two days ago when I saw an older kid being mean to a much younger one who of course ran to his mom(this is not what impressed me). The mother actually walked up to the older kid and explained in a very calm manner why what he did was wrong. The kid admitted he behaved badly and apologized. It was so awesome to see.

  13. Aubrey said: “Why can’t the teachers address each situation as it happens, because each situation is likely to be different? ”

    Because we’ve developed a mindset in public education that no one is permitted to exercise any independent judgment. We push decisions involving judgment every higher up the growing pyramid of administrators so that no one has to actually deal with individual behavior…just see where it fits into the massive collection of rules.

    If a teacher has the character to be in the classroom they have the ability to deal with this sort of thing; if they lack that ability they shouldn’t be allowed near the kids.

  14. I’m Canadian too, and bake sales are alive and well here too. 🙂

    I would ask that mother who believes that all 12 year olds are preditors who abused her. That is just not a rational view of the world!

    We have buddy systems here too, and in one local school that is K-12 the buddies are much farther apart in age. The highschool kids often help out in the elementary classrooms, and the little ones love it, and the big kids get a great lesson in life. It is not abusive or potentially abusive in any way!

    What a horrible thing to try and take those wonderful experiences away from kids!

  15. We have 4th and Kinder out on the playground at the same time. We were told at first we would have to divide the playground because of issues last year. When we went to talk to the kinder teachers – they said the issue was now a 1st grade parent.

    So we decided to let things run their course. The kids have divided the playground some what. We have old 1960’s swings. The tall ones with the chains. One set has become defacto for the little kids – because it is an crowded area with kids running back and forth. So the 4th graders like the other set with more room because it is easier to swing as High as you can without chancing hitting someone running by.

    There are 2 climbing toys – smaller one is left to the littler kids in part because it doesn’t challenge the older ones. The kids in the main playground area play together. If the big guys want to ditch the younger ones they go to the soccer field, blacktop, or running track. I’m not good with measurement of things like acres – but if you cloned our building including the 10 portables (700 students) you could fit 3 more on the playground area.

    Yesterday we had gully washers from early morning to 9 or so. The playground was under water, even after it stopped raining. 4th grade went to the black top. The kids invented races, played basketball with a soccer ball (we need to replace the lost basketball), jumped rope – and stood on the edge of the backtop and watch the stream of water flowing down across the playground. They had great fun spotting the fire ants holding on to each other to float to safety. They even spotted one bunch with what looked like larva or eggs (white spots). (Do need to put in a work order about the fire ants – we have some very allergic kids (epi pen allergic) and they are an invasive species)

    Up next week, if the rain holds off, crawdad catch and release in the same ditch. They always show up after a flood.

  16. “If a teacher has the character to be in the classroom they have the ability to deal with this sort of thing; if they lack that ability they shouldn’t be allowed near the kids.”

    I just want to respond to this… teachers aren’t the problem. It is the parents who think their children NEVER do anything wrong and when the teacher does get after a child at school the teacher is in the wrong. My son got into trouble in 4th grade, when I called the principal to see what his punishment was at school so I could base my home punishment off of that she was in shock. No one excepts responsiblity anymore… sad.

  17. Whatever happened to old-fashioned school houses, where children of ALL ages would learn and play together? I can’t imagine Pilgrim children being supervised to the gills like our kids are today, and they turned out pretty OK, don’t you think?

    To Bill: We teachers are forced to follow rules imposed by administrators, who live in fear of the government, who are manipulated by parents. Spend a day in our shoes before judging whether a teacher lacks “character” simply because she has her hands tied by stupid laws and helicopter parents, and can’t deal with the situation the way she would want to.

  18. peaceful guide wrote: “We teachers are forced to follow rules imposed by administrators, who live in fear of the government, who are manipulated by parents.”

    Yet, you’re part of a union that wields significant power. My grandchildren are now in a private school due to a teacher with an alcohol problem that is being protected by the union. The administrators have thrown up their hands, and say that they can do nothing.

    You’ve surrendered your power to the union, which is, in all too many areas, totally corrupt in that it (and you) fail to accept responsibility for dealing with a dysfunctional system. The public schools consume more and more money, and, as a whole, yield less and less return.

    The only real fight I see from the educational establishment is for a bigger piece of the tax pie…not for real reform and results.

  19. The school my second-grade son attends, where my husband teaches and I used to teach, is a preschool through 8th grade school. It’s not unheard of to have all the grades on the playground at once (it’s a small school!) and involved in a huge kickball game! One of the reasons we love it is because of the interaction between the different ages, and it really surprised me to hear about parents who don’t see this as an advantage.

    Maybe I heard it hear, but I once heard that children learn important lessons from friends of different ages: skills from older kids and compassion from younger kids. My son has been taught skateboarding tricks from a 16-year-old family friend and plays with 4 and 2 year olds at another family’s house. He loves doing both, and he just wouldn’t get those same experiences from only spending time with kids his own age.

  20. Bill big assumption on your part. Something like 22 of the 50 states are right to work states. I don’t know the laws in the other 21 – but in Texas that means there is no teacher union.

    There is NO tenure in Texas K-12 schools. We had a teacher that had special coffee in my hs. As soon as they could prove it they fired her. (Drug dog alerted on her.)

    My co-worker was warned she coudld lose her job over an weekend DWI. She is an idiot but her job does not involve driving kids.

  21. I am nearing 40 and I remember having a segregated playground back in grade school. One side was for the kids grade k-2 and the other was for 3-5. There was a neutral zone where the ages could intermingle. What I remember most from it was that I really wanted to spend some time w/ my little sister during the day, but she was so busy playing with her friends that she didn’t want to come near me. I can still picture sitting on the edge of no man’s land longing to go have fun with kids not that much younger than me, so lonely. The older kids didn’t have the fun playground equipment and we had some pretty wild students compared to my quiet shy self. I really wished I could choose where I played instead of having the choice made for me. What a stupid rule that was.

    As far as discipline in schools … teachers are having to deal with worse behavior problems than 20 years ago, they have their hands tied with rules that set up very carefully what they are and are not allowed to do and say, they may or may not have administrative backup, and frankly a LOT of teacher training programs sort of ignore the discipline issue. Dh graduated w/ a teaching license and left after two years in part due to an administration who refused to back him up, students who felt like they could be abusive to him with zero recourse, and a lack of training in dealing with over the top discipline issues.

    We do homeschool our kids and I do love the way the older kids interact with the younger kids. It spills over beyond our group too. A lot of the schooled kids love to hang w/ our kids because they are *accepted* for who they are. It’s been awesome to see them all interact together.

  22. That makes me so sad. When I was a kid, I was usually more comfortable with either children older or younger than me than kids my own age. I was still in day care when I was much too old for day care (was 9 or 10, old enough to be left alone, but parents thought I’d get lonely) so I helped out with the toddlers. When I got to be 10-12 I devoured Baby Sitter Club books (I know, don’t mock) and couldn’t wait to start babysitting myself. I took a class for it, learned CPR and got a “child care” merit badge. At fifteen I started working at a daycare center (I quickly realized I was out of my depth and quit) and at 17 I started volunteering at an “at risk” children’s center.


    I see little kids all the time whose faces just LIGHT UP when they see a baby, and visa versa. Navigating the social waters of peers can sometimes be stressful for kids (not bad stressful, just requiring effort). Interacting with children of other ages is simpler in many ways, and can allow kids to relax and be themselves.

    How is this something dark?

  23. Wow, so rather than teach the older kids to be kind to those smaller/younger than them, we reinforce the idea that they don’t have to get along, just separate? Oh yeah, that’s a WAYYYYY better solution than guiding them in how to be responsible and compassionate young people. What are we crazy, free-range parents thinking??

  24. Yes, the two problems you describe are both part of the same – that a culture of isolation and consumerism has been mistaken for independence and choice. It may also show the failure to identify a purpose for the sub-community called ‘school’ in the wider community. If school only has the purpose to advance specific knowledge and skill, then all other moments of the child at school not directly engaged, becomes anarchic. Some parents may believe that this is the true nature of schools. It is one reason I am not a big fan of schools.
    The solution is to increase the social engagement and utility of children and youth in their community. Classrooms should only be inhabited for about 3 hours per day per child for knowlege and skill training. The rest of the day should see the child engaged in age relevant social service eg looking after youngsters, doing chores and talking to grannies, exploring nature, learning prayer or meditation, and manufacturing (art, craft, etc); and having rest and social interaction. Adult roles should be in mentoring problem-solving, conflict resolution, and role modelling. Cross-generational interaction is important so that the child grows up as an integral, independent thinker in the community, Children who grow up in cross-generational environments are (on av) more intelligent – and there are now known scientific reasons for the increased learning capacity in such children.

  25. Hi Deputy,

    I agree with your comments and with Saras example very much.

    As an addtion on your thoughts, I believe that one of the problems parents today has as well is that they expect the world around their children to be aware of and make allowance for their “child’s special needs”, that applies to all people big and small.
    And that is where I think a lot goes wrong. Parents have forgotten or do not know that they need to prepare their children for a world that will NOT be gentle and take their “special needs” into consideration, especiall since most do not really have any.
    There are people with “special needs” that we do need to teach or children to be consideret of , but it is a minority.
    Teachers in school needs to focus on teaching knowledge and teach children to work together, but that will only work if most of the children have learned at home that they are not the center of attention, an that you do not always get what you want and how you want it.

    My oldest son is 4 and I love him very much, I think he is the best ever. One of his main driving factors is that he likes to please, witch make him a favorite one with the teachers, but when playing with other children it makes him a pushover with a tendency to self-pity, so it is my job to teach him how to deal with that, I can’t expect teachers to sit around protecting him from bullys ALL the time .

    The other day he told me that another boy has PUSHED HIM!!, I told him that that happens, and he needs to say a strong and firm NO or STOP next time and if it does not help, walk away or if needed push back.
    As mentioned my son is 4 yo, so his problems are still small, but later on in life things really does not change.

  26. hi, there, Deputy, welcome : ) I was hoping you snarked back at crazy father on plane…

    At the playground just a few days ago, with my 4 boys, ages 2-8) one of the usual kid’s older brother (maybe 12 at most) came along, with his cache of Star Wars weapons (light sabers, etc.) This older boy not only shared all of his toys, but then played with the littler kids in a very nice, gentle, and funny way. The entire playground was awash in running, laughing, light-sabering children, led by this lovely older boy, re-enacting classic Star Wars scenes and then their own original takes (on a movie most of them had not seen). It was awesome. and really fun to watch. And not a parent there would have thought to separate the littlers from the older boy.

  27. also, I am definitely in the minority when my children (or other children) run to me to tattle on their brothers (or my children.) I ask if there’s blood. If the answer is no, i say, Go work it out. Other parents often leap in, and if it’s their kid, there’s not much I can do at that point, but if it’s my kids, they’ve learned quickly – don’t tattle for little things. Figure it out.

  28. growing up in my neighborhood we had all different ages sometimes we got along and sometimes we didn’t but we certainly didn’t need our parents or teachers telling us we couldn’t play together.

    now 30 years later I see the same thing with my kids. they are 5 and 7 and they don’t just play with the 5 and 7 years old kids on our street they play with everyone.

  29. It’s awfully sad (and I’m sure frustrating for the teachers) to have kids come whining and tattling every 5 seconds because they can’t figure out how to get along. I have 4 kids myself and they do it all the time. But, unlike the school, I tell them to work it out themselves. Unless it comes to blows I stay out of it.

    As for the rule…I think it’s ridiculous. I was never one to get along with kids (especially other girls) my age so when I was 12 my best friend was 7. And we were tight. I was one of the older kids on our block so all of my friends were younger. I looked out for them, taught them things and I look back fondly on our friendships. They were like little brothers and sisters to me. 20 years later and that 7yo is still my friend. We’re about to turn 33 and 28 and our daughters (hers is 10 and my oldest is 9…with birthdays just 1 day apart) are best friends, closer then sisters…soul sisters I call them.

    One of the other boys I was friends with is now just 26 and I love to watch him with his 1yo daughter. I look at him and still see him as 5 and me babysitting for him or just sitting on the porch chatting.

    My kids, themselves, have friends of all ages on our block. In the summer it wasn’t unusual to see a pack of kids ranging in age from 12 down to 2 playing out front (including my 9, 6 and 3 year old girls and 7yo son). Boys, girls, all ages…playing, disagreeing, getting over it and carrying on. Many life lessons being learned (even hard ones, like sometimes friends do mean things and you have to forgive and move on).

    At their school they do a “buddy” thing for the younger grades. Preschoolers are paired up with 6th graders for help in church and other activities. The kindergarteners get an 8th grade buddy and do many things together including a big field trip (and I saw a picture of the graduating class…both grades in the office). The 1st graders get 7th grade pals. They meet at least once a week. Both groups learn a lot from the other.

    I’ve heard the comment, too, that there’s no reason a 12yo boy would ever want to play with a 7yo unless he had devious motives. How said to paint all adolescent boys as potential pedophiles. I just can’t look at the 13yo boy down the street, someone I’ve known since he was 5, the older brother of my son’s best friend and see him as anything but a kid playing with other kids on the block. I don’t bat an eye. There used to be a boy across the street (12 at the time) and every time he saw me out with my youngest he would run over. She was 1-2 years old at the time and he was totally in love with her…in that sweet, older brother kind of way. he would sit on the step and “chat” with her, color with the chalks, push her on her toys. He was a nice boy but others would see the scene and think I was insane for letting him near my child, my daughter no less, assuming as soon as I turned my back he would try to molest her. What a sad society we live in…I’d hate to be a kid in today’s age. It has to be boring and lonely.

  30. This is pretty crazy. At my daughters Montessori School they do have two separate playgrounds. One for the kids 5 and under and one for the kids 6-14. According to this policy whole school system of multi-age classes (1st-3rd grade), (4th-6th grade), (age 3-K) who not be allowed since they regularly play, work and learn together — the whole idea is that the older kids mentor and guide the younger kids.

  31. What annoys me is the adult intervention factor. Even when the intention is good, like this bike bus which some guy and a bunch of kids in Canada. These kids bike to school together under the guidance of an adult (can’t make out if he’s a teacher, a parent or a volunteer).

    My problem is, why does it need to be *organised* and why does it has to be a club under the guiding eye of an adult. Look, for instance at this video. The first few minutes are of a route near a bridge where a lot of bicycle commuters pass (including lots of kids on bikes). A few kids were waiting at the bridge. Why? Because they were waiting for their friends to join them on the route to school. This is not an organised ‘bike bus’ , and certainly not done for safetyreasons, but simply because it’s a long way to school (a lot of these kids ride 20 km roundtrips to and from school on a daily basis – sun or rain or snow) and it’s more fun to ride with friends.
    This is what riding or walking to school should be; kids spontaniously forming groups, having friends, argueing with friends, breaking off friendships, patching friendships, all without the interference of adults.

  32. That is craaaazy. I’m in Ontario, too, but fortunately my school district hasn’t yet drunk that kool-aid — my daughter’s school has JK through Grade 6, and sometimes through Grade 8, out on the playground at the same time, and although they don’t have an organized buddy system the way my elementary school did (largely for keeping track of the littlies on field trips and making sure they were wrapped up warm in the winter — I’m from Calgary :D), my daughter (who’s in Grade 2) has a particular friend in Grade 8, a girl who thought she was the cutest thing ever when she was in SK and has kind of big-sistered her at school ever since.

    I think kids of different ages playing together is a fairly regular occurrence, too; my daughter has a and I will be out somewhere and see, say, a gaggle of junior-high-age boys on their bikes, and she’ll wave at them and tell me she knows them from school.

    This school is fairly small (just over 300 kids in 10 grades) and has several mixed-grade classrooms: all the kindy classes are mixed JK and SK; there are mixed 1/2, 2/3, 3/4, 5/6, and 7/8 classes, as well as single-grade rooms in each grade. They also have the older kids help out as “reading buddies” in the primary classrooms.

    Also, I have actually seen the kids playing hopscotch and jumping rope, as well as playing complicated running and chasing and climbing games of their own invention.

    Of course, the kids still take a lot more of their interpersonal conflicts to the teachers than my friends and I would have at that age. I’m not sure how I feel about this: on the one hand, having been relentlessly bullied for many years myself, and having never told an adult about any of it because you just didn’t do that, I think it’s good that everyone is being more open and making it clearer that bullying is A Bad Thing; on the other hand, yeah, kids need to learn to work stuff out for themselves.

  33. Wow! Just another example of parents trying to make the world “perfect” for their children, instead of letting them learn strategies to deal with “imperfection.” Also a good example of why the appropriate response to tattling is, “I’m very sorry that is happening. You need to find a way to work it out together. If you can’t work it out today, find something else to do.” Bullying is different than simply being annoying or bossy. The more adults get involved in small conflicts, the less kids know how to solve their own problems.

  34. That’s just sad.

    My daughter’s old school had the buddy system as some other people have mentioned. She loved having a buddy and looked forward to being one when she got older. We’ve moved since, but hope that we’ll be able to go back in a year or so.

    Both that school and her current one do the routine of breaking up recess and lunch times by grade, a couple levels at a time. It does help with making it easier for everyone who wants to have a chance on the playground equipment, but I miss seeing so many ages play together.

  35. We serve hot meals to our students so having all 700+ eating at the same time in a 10 table cafeteria is impossible. Our principal has blocked out the time for most grades specials (45 min), recess (30 min), and lunch (30 min) are bunched together (not always in that order).

    This principal
    a. doubled recess at our school

    b. strongly discourages the taking away of recess as punishment because it might be the 1 time our kids are outside that day.

    c. Forbid classroom teachers from removing children from art, music, or PE for tutoring.

    d. Backed teachers on a series of grants that replaced a awful looking, overrun with weeds courtyard with a beautiful butterfly garden outdoor classroom. We are currently adding a solar greenhouse that will allow classes go grow vegetables and even some fruit.

  36. A word of caution here. While children should be encouraged to come up with their own solutions, there is a point where adults need to step in, and that is bullying. Studies have shown that children look to adults to see how far they can push the bullying line. In places where children know that teachers will look the other way, bullies are less likely to think twice before harassing another student.

  37. Our school also has a buddy program, where kids in older grades buddy up with kids from lower grades for various activities and projects.

    The lunch and recess situation is grade by grade (i.e., all the second graders eat/go to recess together, then all the 3rd grades, etc.) This happens because our school has close to 800 kids in it – it’s the only way to get everyone through lunch and recess in a timely manner. But I don’t sense that they do this to ‘protect’ the little kids from the big kids.

  38. The Nerd: Definitely agreed about bullying, with the proviso that bullying doesn’t get redefined as “anything one kid does that makes another kid uncomfortable” as some overly touchy-feely types seem wont to do. True bullying, as I hope we should all know, isn’t the result of the bully having “poor conflict resolution skills”; rather, the bully deliberately creates conflict just for the fun of it, and creates the type of conflict in which he’s practically guaranteed to prevail because of advantages in size or number of followers. Kids who are allowed to get away with that sort of behavior get worse over time and are likely to engage in antisocial behavior as adults. Bullies often come from borderline (or worse) abusive environments and sometimes have no real clues as to how to behave properly.

    It’s also important to realize that bullying isn’t a purely male activity and that the solution to it isn’t to try to get boys to look to girls as role models. Bullying manifests itself differently in boys and girls, with the manifestations in girls being less obvious to outside observers. The essential part is the same, though: one person is using an advantage over another to treat the latter as if he/she exists solely to meet the bully’s wants.

  39. To babelbabe..

    I do the same thing with my kids too.. If they are squabbling over things and one runs to tell tales the standard answer now is “Go sort it out yourself”. I used to mediate between them but realised that by doing that I wasn’t helping the situation at all.. Instead of learning to sort out things for themselves they were learning that someone else would always sort out their problems for them, and how the heck would that help them later in life?

    I’m glad I’ve made the choice to give my kids a free range upbringing.. My daughter has now been elected as Head Girl at her junior school. She had to apply for the job with an application letter and attend an interview for the role and when I saw the Head Teacher last week she told me my daughter was the obvious choice.. Apparently she comes across as poised, confidant, polite and sure of herself and she is just 10 years old 🙂

    I’m pretty sure that she wouldn’t be like that if I had hovered over her every move since she was born..

  40. That parent is completely psycho. I’ll say to Sara what I said to the guy walking next to me in the National Equality March a few weeks ago when we passed a counter protester “How sad it must be to live your life that way.”

    In my experience kids play with whomever is available; largely regardless of age. On a sunny day on my street you frequently see a large group of kids ranging from age 5 or so up to about 13 roaming around playing an just hanging out (the high schoolers do tend to self segregate). The same goes for my sister’s street a few blocks away, the street some of our good friends live on, and the neighborhood I grew up in.

  41. I did not read all the comments, but I do not think you are crazy, and sadly, the craziness of yr parent-community is all too pervasive. I have heard people say out loud & unselfconsciously that they would be concerned if an older child wanted to play with their younger one. Words can never express how delighted my kids were at 4-6 to play with the slightly-older, more-adept 8-11 crowd with their good ideas & bruter strength. And the older kids got to feel like rock stars. Good times.

  42. When I was a kid, we had a little neighborhood group that hung out together. The youngest was 4 or 5, the oldest was 12. No one seemed to think it was odd. Today, I am a mother of 27 month-old twin boys. One of their favorite things to do is go to a local park where the “big kids” hang out in the soccer field. The older kids range in age from 4-11 and they love it when the younger kids come to watch and play with them. Inevitably, everyone ends up on the field together, and I can’t say I’ve seen a single instance of bullying yet.

  43. I meant to comment here a lot sooner than this but kids have a way of being so demanding. Plus my husband planned a Windows 7 launch party (yes, you read that right – it involved some free stuff so w00t!) and gave me two days notice. YIKES!

    Anyway, I am the one who wrote about the situation. I still stand by my statement that I don’t care about the guideline. It’s basically a way of telling kids if they can’t get along they can’t play together. I am hoping that once it is enforced a few times, kids will learn to resolve their own issues. I do see the need to address the issue because, as much as I want to tell teachers that it’s their job to deal with it, I can understand the frustration of having to deal with it multiple times each recess. Had these kids been taught how to resolve their own issues, I don’t think the guideline would have been needed. But, we live in a world where parents make all of the decisions for their kids and kids don’t learn how to deal with these things. As a result, you get dependant whiny kids. (Is this a good time to mention my 19 year old nephew who lives in my basement? He’s going to school and was on Welfare before he got his current job but his mom had to fill out his forms for him and take them in to the office because he couldn’t do it on his own. He has had all of his decisions made for him until he moved in. It’s been… interesting.)

    I would much prefer if teachers would just tell kids to figure it out for themselves, but I also see demanding parents who would be mad that their little precious was left out of a game because the older kids didn’t want him to play. So, it’s a crappy situation, to be sure, but the principal and teachers are really in a hard place when it comes to these kinds of issues.

  44. at a friend of mines middle school they assign every eighth grader a kindergartener (they have an attached elementary school) to take to the lunch room and to the bus stop and things.its awesome, but sometimes there will be some parent who doesn’t want a boy taking little jimmy to the toilet (??) so they have to rearrange.thankfully that only happened once.

  45. that I’ve heard of anyway.

  46. and i forgot to mention, sometimes on birthdays they let the eight graders take the little ones across the street with them to get lunch with the big kids.=]

  47. nice blog i really enjoyed reading this blog lot’s of good info … keep up the good work…

  48. My daughter is in pre-kindergarten at a private school because Kansas has practically no public schools for pre-k. Her school goes up to the eighth grade and there are two aspects to her school (well thanks to state licensing rules) that are totally contradictory. Pre-k’ers are not allowed onto the playground when children from other grades are out. The school also offers aftercare to the parents who work, but again, the pre-k’ers have to be separated from the bigger kids. What I do like about her school is that it teaches the older kids how to interact with the younger kids by having them be book buddies to them. The 4th graders are book buddies to the pre-k’ers, 5th graders to kidergartners, etc. So once a month the book buddies will take them to the library and read them books and will also do things with them for special occassions (eat with their book buddies for a day before Thanksgiving feast and help their book buddies make a wish list at the book fair). The book buddy system has taught the older kids to respect the younger kids and the younger kids have learned that they can trust the older students. My daughter will see her book buddy in the hall and run up to her and give her a hug, which is another thing that I like about her school–they don’t disallow hugging which has started to be considered sexual harrassment in certain public school districts.

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