Calling All Teachers!

Hey Teachers (and everyone else, of course): I’m going to be talking to a few teachers groups in the near future and would love to hear tips from any of you who have figured out how to incorporate some Free-Range ideas into your classrooms.

Is there a way you’ve figured out to add free time or encourage independence? Do yo have any great thoughts on making homework shorter and/or recess longer? Or, if you’re teaching older students, any smart ways of helping them to feel and act more grown-up (in a good way)? Any special tips for those teaching special ed or gifted classes? How about tips for dealing with parents who are particularly intrusive or hovering? (And administrators, too.)

I’ve got some great talks I give to parents and conventions and the general public (see the “Speaking Engagments” tag, above). But I’d love to have some real-world insights about school to share with teachers eager for new ideas. Thanks for any help you can give. And thanks for being a teacher!  (Enjoy your weekend!) — Lenore

Lunch Time 451

Hi Readers — Thought you might enjoy this peek at the lunchtime shenanigans at one American school. (Well, perhaps “enjoy” is not quite the right word, but anyway.) A reader writes:

At the beginning of the school year we got a list that forbade nuts and nut products, which is pretty standard these days.  My daughter started coming home from school complaining that she was told her apples should have been “without the skin” and that oranges were “dangerous,” because there is a kid in the school who is allergic.

I contacted the school and asked them to explain the policy. They told me that even though there is no “formal” list, they do not encourage skin on fruit because it could be a choking hazard.  A few mothers and I ignored them and continued to send the kids to school with the normal fruit, skin on, and not cut up. The lunch mothers make the kids feel bad by constantly telling them that this is not allowed, even though there is no formal rule.

The “no processed lunch meat” is another story altogether.  A few of the PTA mothers decided that it was unhealthy, again constantly harassing the kids during lunch by saying so.  Again, the school has no formal policy not allowing processed foods ( you should only see what they serve as a school lunch)!  This whole effort is spearheaded by a few helicopter PTA moms who have nothing better to do.

This is the same school that outlawed tag and does not allow kids out for recess in below 50F weather.  My son attended the same school a few years back and none of these practices were in place.  The school and the principal go along with this hovering because this PTA does raise a lot of money for the school.

In my community, as a full-time working mother, I am in the minority.  Since I and the few others like me can rarely attend PTA meetings (these are not held in a the hours a working mother can make), we have a very weak voice.  Every time we do speak up, we are reminded that while we are out at work, there are mothers who truly care for their children by staying home and being “involved.” They act like good, old-fashioned school-yard bullies.

Honestly, it is not worth the effort to fight with them.  I laugh them off and continue to send my daughter to school with whole apples and salami sandwiches.  I let her play tag all she wants on our street ( thank God, we live in a small development where almost all parents believe in the Free-Range concept).  She is allowed to go out in all kinds of weather and go to her friends’ houses by herself.

She will be out of that school in a year or two… and off to middle-school where my son is now.  That school allows apples and salami, but they have taken other things to absurdity.  One of these days I will post on the concept of “punishment should fit the crime.”  I think that in some of our schools the zero tolerance for violence policy is taken to absurdity, but that is another topic entirely.

Yes it is. Can’t wait! Meanwhile, thanks for this glimpse into the black hole of lunchtime. — Lenore

What foods are permissable in the lunchroom? Photo by Shinyai

Principal Declares Recess is NOT “Free Time”

Hi Readers! Sometimes I think our society has come so far from darkness to enlightenment (no more Inquisition, for instance; no more Scarlet A’s) that we have come full circle and are now back to being idiots. A case in point? This principal’s letter to parents about why she doesn’t want kids to consider recess  “free time.”

“[Our school is working to] change the perception of recess from free time away from learning to a valuable learning experience that will teach them and will help them cope in all social settings and environments. When children view recess as “free time” they have a tendency to act in a less responsible manner and push the limits of irresponsible behavior. In order to change the perception of recess, children must see that its content is respected and valued.”

Principal Mumbo-Jumbo is so into respecting “content” (whatever the heck that means) that she has outlawed tag! I guess by NOT running around, and NOT having carefree fun, and by thinking long and hard about LEARNING every single second of the day, these kids are going to turn into marvels of responsibility.

If they don’t tie her to the flag pole  first.

Anyway, this isn’t my school, it’s the school that one of our readers sends her kids to, and here is her pleasantly profane blog post about the whole situation. Meantime, she is meeting with the principal this Friday to try to talk about the no tag/no freedom recess situation. She’s looking for moral support and some blow-that-bloviator-away arguments. Go for it! — Lenore

Photo Credit: Visual Dichotomy

Remember, kids: Just because it’s “free time” doesn’t mean it’s free time!

A Note to the Pregnancy Police

Hi Readers — Here’s a great comment that came in response to the blog post, Driven Crazy by Pregnancy Perfectionists. It reminds us of a truth we’ve been encouraged to forget in our “blame the parents” society: We are not in total control, ever. Not of what happens to us, and certainly not of what happens to our children.  A reader writes:

Sorry, there are no guarantees in life.  I followed the rules for the most part, though not to any extreme — probably didn’t eat enough vegetables or get enough exercise (still don’t). But I did have every prenatal test to make sure everything was fine.  It all came out normal.  I felt fine, the pregnancy progressed fine, the birth came early but was otherwise fine –and then my daughter was born with a birth defect.  One that would have killed her in an earlier age; fortunately we’re not in an earlier age, and they fixed it and she is TOTALLY fine now.

And for a while I blamed myself — what did I do??  Was it that glass of wine I had before I knew I was pregnant? Was it one too many baby back ribs from Chili’s?  Was it my shocking avoidance of pregnancy yoga?!?  Then I realized — it was nothing.  It was a misfire during the building process.  A dropped stitch.  No process is foolproof or perfect.  This was a universal truth we all understood a few generations ago.  But we’ve become so accustomed to the illusion of control that modern life gives us that we’ve become responsible for EVERYTHING that happens to us, and that’s just ridiculous.  Little of what’s going on in there is in your hands.  So you may as well relax. — Dahlia

School Bans Dictionary

Hi Readers — As many of you have pointed out today, a grammar school in California has banned the Merriam Webster Collegiate Dictionary because it contains a definition of “oral sex.” I guess the parents who complained would much rather their kid get his sex information from the geniuses on the monkey bars.

Here’s the local story. And here’s the one in the Guardian, which points out:

The Merriam Webster dictionary joins an illustrious set of books that have been banned or challenged in the US, including Nobel prize winner Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon, which last year was suspended from and then reinstated to the curriculum at a Michigan school after complaints from parents about its coverage of graphic sex and violence, and titles by Khaled Hosseini and Philip Pullman, included in the American Library Association’s list of books that inspired most complaints last year.

When I was growing up there was a movement to ban Huck Finn, and I’ve heard of pushes to ban Harry Potter, too. Doesn’t seem to have hurt their popularity. All I know about the dictionary scandal is that there is one term all those California kids are going to be buzzing about tomorrow. — Lenore

“Dangerism” — How A Society Decides What’s Dangerous

Hi Readers! Many of you are already familiar with Gever Tulley, the guy who runs the Tinkering School and did the famous TED speech on the “5 Dangerous Things You Should Let Your Kids Do.” (Recently expanded into a book, “Fifty Dangerous Things You Should Let Your Children Do.”)

Now he’s come up with a very cool new term, “Dangerism,” which is the idea of looking at the things a particular society at a particular time considers dangerous. He gives some great examples of, for instance, a mom who lets her kids spend the day roaming the countryside behind her house with rifles, because, “There’s a lot less trouble to get into out there in the woods than there is at the mall.” Another example: Many American kids won’t own a knife until they get their first apartment. But Inuit kids start using knives at age three, because they’re expected to learn how to cut themselves some blubber.

So I started making a list in my own mind of things we have newly decided are dangerous — many of them documented on this blog: Recess when it’s cold out. Running on the playground. Walking to school. Waiting at the bus stop. Crawling. (Hence, baby knee-pads.) Boy Scouts whittling with knives. Girl Scouts toasting marshmallows without first putting one knee on the ground. (Yes, that’s the rule now: One knee on the ground or the dangers of keeling into the fire are far too great.)

I’d love to expand this list — or maybe make two: One list of the things that our culture is “dangerizing.” And maybe another of the things that are NOT considered overly dangerous in other, less scaredy- cat cultures. Got some ideas? Add ’em! Thanks! — Lenore

Put Down that Calculus Book & Come to the Bathroom with Mommy

Oh, Readers: Here’s one from Glasgow, Scotland: By law, any time anyone under the age of 16 is in a “licensed premise” — i.e., a pub, or a restaurant that serves liquor, it seems — he cannot be out of his parents’ sight. Even in the loo. Even if it’s a young man with his “mum,” or a lass with her dad.

As nutters as that sounds — don’t the Scots deal with enough under-the-kilt jokes already? — the bathroom angle isn’t even the most disturbing part of this story. No, I’m appalled by the way this local law treats 15-year-olds the same as toddlers simply because there are no legal provisions for distinguishing them.

So make some!

And yet, here in America, we have the same problem on a different front: The consumer protection laws passed after the lead-in-toys-from-China scandal insist that every item sold to children under 12 be tested for trace amounts of lead, in case the child puts it in his mouth.

Now, I can understand testing a doll or even a baby shoe. Kids’ll gum them. But my 11-year-old is not going to chew the buttons on his shirt. Nonetheless, those buttons have to be sent for testing same as a pacifier, as if they pose the exact same threat.

There is a huge difference between babies, school children and older kids. Lumping them together makes babies of them all. Come to think of it, it makes babies of us adults, too: too helpless to do anything when faced with legal overkill but roll over.  — Lenore

These Kids Have Balls!

Or at least they want them: Two Ottawa fifth graders have started a petition to be allowed to PLAY WITH BALLS ON THE PLAYGROUND.

The principal banned balls during the winter, because, she told the CBC , “They’ve  got snow stuck to them, they’re frozen, often there’s pebbles on them and they’re flying through the air.”

Balls flying through the air? My, my. Maybe the principal likes balls, but only when they’re sitting quietly in the corner, or rolling to the library to bounce ever so gently near the books.

The kids, meanwhile, have collected more than 250 signatures begging for the ball ban to be bonked on the head. Why? As one of the kids put it, “It’s really fun with the balls.”

Now who said kids were supposed to have fun in the winter? Tsk, tsk. Next thing you know, they’ll want to play outside after school instead of running home to turn on the TV. — Lenore

SUVs Go Home! School Allows Only Bikers and Walkers

Hey Readers: Here’s a nice story from our friends up north! No — not another igloo. A Canadian school that really wants kids to get there on their own. Listen to this:

… P.L. Robertson elementary in Milton, which opened this week, has been designated a “walking-only school,” where students will be strongly encouraged to use their feet – or bikes or any other active way – to get there.

It is part of a broader initiative at the Halton District School Board to stop traffic jams around schools and get students moving.

Gridlock in the parking lot and surrounding streets is an all-too common problem for schools in the Greater Toronto Area, thanks to parents who insist on driving their children, even if they don’t live all that far away.

At other schools, Joyce Jermyn has watched parents who live close by drive their kids, cramming their cars in between buses, then idling as the youngsters make their way inside, even though staff is out there helping kids get to class.

“For me, exercise has always been a part of who I am and what I do,” says Jermyn, vice-principal at P.L. Robertson. “There are too many kids who don’t want to go outside because they never play outside.”

Let’s hope other schools follow in these footsteps. Literally. — Lenore

The Lion, The Witch and the Car Seat

Hey Readers ! Let’s have a little fun. (Or a lot — up to you.) After reading the post below this one, regarding the kids left home alone in “The Cat In The Hat,” a grad student named Aaron Mulvaney wrote:

Don’t forget, “And To Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street!” The poor kid has to walk home by himself on, like, the sidewalk.

Of course, “And To Think I Saw It Out of the Backseat Window of My Mom’s Minivan on The Way to Soccer Practice!” doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.

Which got me thinking: Why don’t we come up with the names of some classic, Free-Ranging kids books re-written for these modern, cautious times? Things like, “Alice and Her Caregiver’s Adventures in Wonderland.” And,  “Are You There, Mom? It’s Me, Margaret. Text Me.” And the indoor adventure of a boy and his dog,  “Lassie, Stay Home.”

You get the idea. Pile on!