School Inspectors Say: Trees Too Dangerous!

Hi Readers — This is a column I wrote for Creators, my syndicate. (Feel free to ask your local paper to carry me every week!) Anyway, I wanted to make sure you saw this one, so here it is. Happy weekend! — L.

NO CHILD LEFT OUTSIDE

For almost a half-century, kids at the farm-based Moorestown Children’s School in New Jersey have spent a lot of their time stomping in the mud, running through the meadow and visiting the barn, blissfully oblivious to the danger in their midst.

Trees.

Oh, the child care inspectors don’t use that term. They call it “overgrown vegetation” — the tree branches that dip down to the ground, weeping willow-style. These must be chopped off — every last branch, until inspectors can see 7 feet of bare trunk on every tree — or the school will be cited for safety violations.

“But they play with the trees!” school director Sue Maloney recalls telling the inspection crew. The children “touch the trees! They shake the leaves. It’s what they do.”

Not anymore. Not if she wants to keep her license. This is the story of what happens when two different ideas of childhood collide.

The Moorestown school, which was started by Maloney’s mom, does not look like a typical child care center, Maloney confesses. “We believe in clutter. Leaves, twigs, pine cones, stuff, projects, papier-mâché, things that you don’t put away at the end of an hour” — that’s what the indoor space is filled with. And a cat. More about her later.

Outside, even as suburbia encroaches, the school’s 11 acres remain rural. There’s another cat, and all those trees. Years ago, there was a stream, too, but that has since been fenced off for safety reasons. There were also several fat logs cut into stumps. Kids could place them in a circle for story time or line them up and hop from stump to stump.

But, by regulation, any “play equipment” must be permanently affixed to the ground over safety surfacing. And because the kids played with the logs, these technically were “play equipment,” so now they’re gone, too. Maloney didn’t buck the system. The school opened in 1981 and was never in danger of closing. Till now.

The problem started last year when an inspector visited the school and smelled something foul. This turned out to be an egg a boy had stuffed into his boot for safekeeping (and forgotten!). It made a bad impression on the inspector, who returned with more inspectors, who in turn found more things objectionable.

The 10-year-old tabby sleeping in a basket, for instance. From now on, she had to be leashed or caged or evicted. Then there’s the fact that some of the 15 students, ages infant to 8, were padding around inside in stocking feet. By law, they are required to wear shoes. And there were some other concerns Maloney was happy to fix: a patch of uneven surface on the playground, some mildew in a storage building. Finally, as it said on the Dec. 20 “Inspection/Violation” report, the center had to “cut back low-hanging tree branches.”

That’s where Maloney drew the line. She called me to explain why. “This is a country environment! I grew up here. Honestly, that’s what I wrestle with: Do we even want to remain a child care center if we have to eliminate all the parts we love?” Do away with the cat, the stream, the logs, the bare feet and the branches — what’s left?

Almost absolute safety.

And almost nothing else. — Lenore

Caution! Tree ahead!

129 Responses

  1. I think these inspectors need to be investigated. Manditory drug testing and mental evaluation. Cuz you either have to be high on crack or mentally disturbed to come up with that lame reason to cut down branches of a TREE. A tree is dangerous? A log is a “play equipment”? What are they going to say next, the grass is a narcotic, that children can pick them and smoke it? Or maybe the sun is too bright and can cause temporary blindness or skin burns, so they need to take down the sun. What a bunch of door knobs.

  2. I’d definitely consider reviewing the laws and regulations (and perhaps petitioning to have them changed, if they exist).

    I assume it’s a state thing, but here in Ohio, the child care center I took my son to for a while didn’t allow “street” shoes in the infant areas. You had to either put booties on (like what the utility guys use when they have to come in your house so they don’t track stuff in), take off your shoes and walk around in socks, or wear “indoor” shoes (the teachers did this one, since they were on their feet most of the day). This includes adults as well as children. There’s no law saying people have to wear shoes there, and as far as I know, there’s no law saying they can’t. It’s left up to the center.

    A law requiring shoes seems odd enough that I’d look it up and see if the inspectors don’t just have an axe to grind (I won’t even get to the tree issue).

    I hope they don’t have to close, but cheers to them for being willing to close rather than bend to idiot guidelines. Perhaps the situation will spur the kids’ parents to put pressure on these inspectors, too.

  3. Glad to see this story get picked up! I spoke with Sue about this a month or so ago and could not believe what I was hearing. Sometimes inspectors that have just taken safety courses go overboard and over-apply standards that aren’t relevant. Just because children play on sidewalks, park benches, and raised planter boxes does NOT mean that they are “play equipment” – otherwise I’m sure every park and school in New Jersey would have to be shut down. I mentioned to Sue that she may want to start referring to those areas as natural learning environments (although, then she’d probably get in trouble for not having proper seating and desks for a learning environment). Very sad to see, but I’m happy that the word is getting out.

    It’s incredible that a parent who wants to send their children to a place where they have an opportunity to interact with nature, be in the country, and sit on logs cannot because of an over-applied day care law.

  4. what do you get when you take away all the stuff that kids play on for the sake of safety? Bored kids.

    What do bored kids do when they are constantly surrounded by safety? Do even more unsafe things.

  5. Yup, unfortunately these kind of things are all to familiar to me. They are also the reason I’ve pretty much had it with working in a preschool. I love kids and am good with them, but these types of regulations are just way too much for me.

    At the last place I worked we had a BEAUTIFUL old tree that was HUGE. On one of the evaluations we had we were told it wasn’t safe as the roots stuck up out of the ground and were a tripping hazard. Now these were the roots at the base of the tree, not a random root sticking up in the middle of the grass.

    I’m also quite well acquainted with the shoes on rule. The reasoning I’ve heard is that it is a fire hazard, if there is a fire and they need to get out, they can’t be standing around outside without shoes on. So they have to wear shoes all day long, even during nap time.

    Another one of my favorite rules was kids aren’t allowed to sleep with blankets over their head. Never mind if that is the only way they would go to sleep. Never mind if they pulled their blanket over their own head. We were supposed to go around uncovering them all.

    It really is frustrating that child care in general has come to this. I’m all for having quality child care and there are plenty of rules that have closed down some rather “sketchy” centers, but at this point it has gone way over board and they are running out quality, committed, and caring people, like this director and myself.

  6. This is an interesting situation. In Europe, natural objects generally aren’t regarded as play equipment and therefore not subjected to the same regulations as fixed play equipment.

    I hope the school can receive some free legal advice on this matter.

    Also what do the parents of the school think? I’m sure they are quite happy. Perhaps, there is a way through this, via the rights of children and the rights of parents.

  7. Oh and for more information see the Earthplay discussion on Facebook about this matter

    http://www.facebook.com/topic.php?uid=49113582529&topic=17090

  8. Are these inspectors enforcing some state mandated set of regulations?
    If so, who came up with such nonsense?
    If not, then they ought to be fired.

  9. Couldn’t she apply for a variance, or privatize the school?

  10. Sad very very sad. It’s also very very normal for child care and preschool regulations. I feel for this woman and hope she is able to find a way around the regulations and the people making them.

  11. Ugh,

    Sick. And devastating. I really hope the parents raise a stink about this. The school sounds beautiful.

  12. I think that there should be some mandatory safety rules for child care centers (e.g. fire exits, smoke alarms, fire extinguishers, staff trained in CPR, etc), and other safety recommendations with reasons attached.

    The recommendations would to be disclosed to all parents, and posted in very visible locations for parents to see. Then if the parents don’t want their kids in a shoeless environment where the little ones might get hurt by a tree branch, they can find another center. Also, the centers that allowed those things could advertise that they “failed” those recommended safety codes.

    Interestingly, there are many cultures that require removing shoes when you come in the house. What do those people’s children do?

  13. Every time I read about some State weenie pulling something like this in the name of name of ‘safety’, I try to imagine what these twerps WANT children’s play to be like.

    I’m afraid I keep thinking of the creepy mass calisthenics sequences that turn up in propaganda films about fascist countries.

  14. I think someone should tell them to come shut down Germany. At least that might distract them from shutting down this lovely-sounding school.

  15. @Floyd – part of the problem is there are so many different organizations making rules for child care centers, licensing, the health dept, the fire codes, rating groups, and accreditation were all the groups I had to think about at my last place.

    You can choose to ignore some of these (rating groups, accreditation, licensing depending on where you are) and still be open, others(health dept, fire code, licensing depending on where you are) will close you if you don’t follow the rules.

    And even the ones you can choose to ignore, it may not make good business sense. In pretty much any article on how to choose a good place for your kid, one of the first things you are supposed to look for is an accredited center and the ratings many states are adopting. If you don’t have these, people may automatically write you off as a “bad” center.

    Maybe what needs to happen is more centers need to choose not to follow some of the rules and be vocal about it that way there can be high quality centers without things like accreditation.

  16. one of my sisters poked her eye at school with a stick, that was part of a low lying branch.
    After going off to hospital, getting it all checked out, mum just told her to be more careful.
    She has some permanant damage in that eye.

    Two years later the same thing happens with another child. This parent demands action.
    All the playground’s old trees are cut down.

    There were the only two eye related injuries in the 15years my family was involved with the school.

    Even I, as an ‘oh so grown up’ teen was saddened by the ‘Forest’ in the playground being cut down.

  17. also, who sleeps with shoes on? Even at work on call I have my boots off for sleeping.

  18. This is why I’m glad we had a private sitter, not a “state approved” licensed daycare facility. No worrying about what the state is okay with, what’s approved, lawsuits, licensing requirements etc. Just 2 adults, the relevant child, & freedom to do it all as you please.

    That, honestly, is the only way to do it in my opinion.

    LRH
    Palm Pre Plus AT&T

  19. The “must wear shoes” thing gets me. This week at preschool, my daughter came home with a band-aid on her finger. Why? Because another student stepped on her finger while wearing…………….shoes!

  20. No more trees??? That is ridiculous. That is all.

  21. This is so very sad.:( With every tree branch that is cut down and every stump that is removed, a little bit of these childrens’ “scope for imagination” is removed. And the poor cat!!!

  22. Well, if you don’t want to just sit there and say “tsk-tsk,” you can always write or call members of the town council and let them know how foolish they look.

    Township Council

    * John Button, Mayor
    * Greg Gallo, Deputy Mayor
    * Christopher Chiacchio
    * Stacey F. Jordan
    * Michael Testa

    Town Hall
    2 Executive Drive, Suite 9
    Moorestown, New Jersey 08057
    (856) 235-0912

  23. This makes me cry…
    for all the children who will not get the joy of interacting with that old cat
    for all the children who will not be able to feel the brush of leaves on their face as they commune with the trees
    for all of the confined toes and uncomrfortable feet
    for all the morons who impose stupid, unreasoning rules in the name of “safety”

    My daughter’s pre-school was just cited by state licensing because they were not forcing the 5 year old Kindergarteners to actually lay down to take a nap. Since none of the kids nap at that age, they were having a quiet rest time where the kids could “read” picture books or color or meditate. Nope, licensing says that kids in a “Preschool” MUST nap – laying down on a cot for at least 30 minutes…no exceptions! Interestingly, it was one of the parents who reported the “violation” even though her kid is one of the ones that does not want to nap.

    WHAT IS WRONG WITH PEOPLE?!?!?!

  24. For two weeks, sometimes a full month, every summer my sister and I and all of my cousins would go stay with my grand parents. They had a farm of sorts – only 5 acres, so not huge, but to us it was freedom. We rode on the tractor, played in the chicken pen, chased goats and got tangled up in the electric fence more times than I can count. We worked the garden, played in the pond down the hill (and out of sight of the house), and rode horses – bare back. We climbed the treehouse and battled the wasps that liked to nest in it. We tunneled under the back deck and made our own cave (and lots of mud pies from the dirt we tunneled out). We would walk down the road and pick blackberries that my grandmother would use to make pies and pancakes while we were visiting. We cooked in the fireplace, slept on the floor, and told ghost stories. And, then there were the treacherous stairs into the basement – no handrail. GASP! But not to worry, there was a large sawdust pile at the bottom if you fell (or jumped). We helped make jigsaw puzzles from scrap wood in the basement using of all things – a jigsaw. We learned to can using a pressure cooker – those things can and do explode. We all survived. I would give anything for my daughter to have been able to go to a daycare that was like going to my grandma’s. It’s sad that the government gets so involved in things.

  25. So concrete the whole place, nail down some padded fabric… get every kid a special outfit that keeps them all bound up all day… and then tell them to play… better yet not just play, they must grow up to be intelligent, creative adults with absolutely no hang-ups!!! Laughable yes but also tragic because this is more than a trend…

  26. @Andy. I’d be very surprised if the Town Council had anything to do with the regulations that are being applied to this preschool. Most rules and regs for childcare centers are state or county rules and regs OR part of independent criteria from an accreditation group. It might be fun to yell at the town council, but my guess would be they did not create this situation and can’t resolve it.

  27. Following on Andy’s suggestion, their email is
    towncouncil@moorestown.nj.us

    a few civil letters from around the world couldn’t hurt.

  28. If these inspectors saw where I grew up they would have a coniption fit lol. I grew up on 2 acres in the middle of bloody nowhere surrounded by miles of forest and river (our backyard was/is a national park). I only got lost once, and that’s because I was with a friend and we were talking so I wasn’t paying attention to my surroundings *facepalm*. Hell, I even broke my tailbone out there. We had just had a nasty storm so I was running through the woods to look at the damage and everything. Once again, I didn’t look where I was going and stepped on a wet exposed tress root. So down I fell, cracking my tailbone in the process. What happened? I went home crying to mom and dad, they hugged me, gave me some advil, and told me to not be so stupid next time. And you know what? I wasn’t so stupid after that.
    Hell at the elementary school we went to there was a protected stream/wetland right behind the playground. Technically, we were banned from going there, but if you were a 5th grader they might look the other way 9 times out of 10. And right next to the playground was a barbed wire fence lined with dirt and rocks. I remember playing in the dirt and making little houses out of rocks and sticks.
    I feel so sorry for these kids because it sounds like an amazing playground and learning enviornment. I really hope she can get her way in the end and get to keep the trees and other things.

  29. I’ll bet they would have hated the daycare I went to. Had a tree we could climb, and plenty of kids in it regularly.

  30. We are intent on raising a nation of Stepford Kids. They don’t fall down, don’t get hurt, don’t get upset, don’t get sick, don’t get messy, don’t touch, don’t explore, don’t question….don’t do anything but absorb content, nap lying down, perform well on state tests, and interact with other stepford children under sterile, sanitized, safety-approved, parentally-arranged and government sanctioned conditions.

    But oh dear…why are the Stepford kids growing up to engage in casual sex and rampant drug use as they buckle under the stress of being thrown out of the Stepford bubble with no critical thinking skills? Oh dear, what happened?

    Well at least we know it wasn’t the trees…

  31. Send the town counsel copies of Free Range Kids and Warwick Cairns “How to live Dangerously.”

    Lenore, this story would be great to profile on a TV show. I could see you talking to a few “older people” who grew up on farms, etc. telling you about all the dangerous things they did for fun as kids – Have those clips between those of a tour and talk with the people running the school.

  32. Oh.my. This is sad. Very sad indeed. Do the inspectors have any common sense? Did they have a childhood??? What is more quintessential childhood than bare feet running around a house? Now I realize it is a daycare, and I suppose there may be some rules that are different than being at home. But really… stocking feet are out? Low tree branches to swing on and climb? No CATS?

    Something is very very wrong.

  33. Okay, leashing or caging the cat requires a call to the SPCA. I know one family where the bureaucrats demanded that they declaw a kitten and the mom sicced the SPCA on the worker for demanding that they perform an act of cruelty against their pet. Leashing or caging a cat would be cruelty.

  34. Shoes? Really? I know where I worked we mistakenly believed that it was state law that the kids wore shoes. Then I got a class of toddlers where half of them spent all their time taking their shoes off. We looked into it, and it turned out that there was no such law. We put any shoes that got removed into our emergency backpack so that if we did have to evacuate we’d have the shoes with us. The carpet stayed much cleaner and the kids could get back to business.

    Where I work we also have logs. We teach the kids how not to hurt themselves or others. Oh, we have tree roots sticking up, too. And lots of other “dangers.”

  35. BRAVO ANDY!
    Every post of this type on this blog needs a list of names and contact information like that. Local and State officials, school board members, Insurance company if you can determine it…especially the insurance rep. It’s time those folks started explaining why they know how to run everyone’s business except their own – the payment of legitimate claims.
    Yeah, I know, that would require a bit of work on their part but isn’t that what I and you have been sending all those monthly premiums to them for?
    I remember watching “Banacek”, looked like a fun job.

  36. Since it said that state inspectors are harassing her, we need to contact the state of NJ through their website and tell them to back off!

    http://education.state.nj.us/

  37. Is this a public or private school? If it’s private, does the state have the authority to regulate it?

  38. @kcs: true. But they would have more clout than the woman who runs the school. And some of those inspectors have some sort of autonomy when it comes to laying down fines and warnings. This particular inspector sounds like he’s got the power tripping syndrome. And left unchecked, can cause more problems than solutions. The mayor or head of the town counsel can get that ball rolling a lot easier than the teacher.

  39. I don’t know about New Jersey, but in California child care laws are set by the state agency of Community Care Licensing – certainly not by a town council. And they regulate ALL child care situations where more than two families are taking part, so it’s not like you can just choose not to follow the rules and not be accredited or something. They will shut you down without a second thought if you are violating the regulations.

    Ugh.

  40. OK, I’m reminded of Mike Rowe’s crusade along similar lines: http://www.mikeroweworks.com/2009/11/safety-do-i-hear-1-2-3/

    This ‘safety first insanity’ isn’t just about kids. It’s every where. Common sense, in many circles, is dead. Though I do believe there are good people who still have some, a lot of them.

  41. Wow. Is there really anything else you can say?! Really…trees are disliked now?! Ha!

    Much love,
    Future Mama
    http://expectingablessing.blogspot.com/

  42. My 4th graders take off their shoes at their desks most of the time. I have a bunch of tappers. They were driving me nuts all tapping their feet at different rhythms, so we problem solved. Result they can take their shoes off at their desks, but must put them on moving around.

  43. […] School Inspectors Say: Trees Too Dangerous! Hi Readers — This is a column I wrote for Creators, my syndicate. (Feel free to ask your local paper to carry me every […] […]

  44. Here schools and daycares require the children to wear indoor shoes in case of fire.

  45. That wasn’t a Charlie Brown-style Kite Eating Tree was it? Because I’d probably get rid of that.

    But seriously, this is just awful.

  46. On the side of the road where the suburb i live in ends and the bushland begins there are signs saying “CAUTION! Undeveloped private land!”, as if it is somehow horribly deadly to leave civilisation.

    Fair enough there are snakes and all that, but come on!

  47. At my pre school we can fail inspection if the children take off their jackets and put them in their cubbies before washing their hands unless we sanitize all of the cubbies afterwards. The resoning being that their dirty hands would contaminate the cubbies but those kids were just rolling in the grass in their jackets that they just toched with their now clean hands to put away inside their cubbies. Also if a child is playing in the sand box he must wash his hands (in the on exsistant outdoor sink) before they can touch a bike or ball.
    Also children must be directly supervised at all times even while using the bathroom at one center i worked at we’d send the kids in alone or in pairs from the play ground to use the bathroom which we could see from the playground but at the school i am currently in we wouldn’t dare.

  48. @ Swain– Wow. Really well said.

  49. Oh my goodness! I’ve been dreaming of a different kind of school where kids can get dirty and play in trees or bamboo, and *be kids.* My neighbors have a bamboo grove and I thought it would be a brilliant addition to all school yards. Of course, I realize that schools could not let kids saw the bamboo themselves (sad about this too) but thought they could build forts and climb bamboos… I have to say this story is so disheartening. Here we have a woman willing to provide this to children and the parents must love her school. Our world has gone crazy, Lenore. I love your column but it makes me sad too.

  50. I would love to interview Maloney!!!
    We should wrap the kids in bubble wrap and put them in an empty room so they won’t get hurt!

  51. As someone who fell from a tree and broke his leg at age 9, all I can say is, Inspector, go the hell away.

    Severing the limbs only severs us further away from who we are.

  52. Maybe after we cut the trees down we can rewrite one of my favorite kids book “The giving tree” and take out the parts about swinging from branches and climbing. We wouldn’t want the kids to get any ideas or know they are missing out on anything. Safety first right?

  53. You know, it sounds to me like the inspectors came across a place that was a little different than what they are used to, and they felt the need to just *do something* for no better reason than to have *done something*.

  54. In all fairness, trees can be quite dangerous. Or, more specifically, falling out of trees can be quite dangerous. When I was primary school age, I had quite a few friends/classmates/acquaintances who had broken limbs falling out of trees (my own brother included). I think it would actually make sense to lop off all limbs below 7ft, making them impossible for the kids to climb and subsequently hurt themselves.

    All of those other changes sound.. horrible. Seems to me like a lot of laws need to be changed, removed, or loosened.

  55. You know what sold me on our kids’ school? They leave their shoes outside the classroom. They play in the snow and make snow tunnels and snow forts. They have two sand pits, one of which is surrounded by log stumps and in the sand are various marbles and shells – treasures to dig up. There’s way more to the school – way, way more – that makes it so kickass, but letting (and encouraging!) children play naturally in nature was a huge selling point. Also, this is somewhat minor but also big, they refer to the children as “the children”, not “the students”. They get that children are children and they’re down with that. And I love them for it.

  56. Sera,

    Yes kids have been known to get hurt falling out of tress, including many I knew, and many of my friends now tell stories about their own misadventures…

    The thing is, most of them tell it with some pride and a lot of amusement. Some of them laugh about having to learn to climb one-handed while still wearing a cast. Growing up, we had Banyan trees to play in. These grow large enough that the brave among us could get good enough to run along the branches. We built tree forts of dubious structural integrity, climbed up and swung from the hanging shoots, and used the huge exposed roots as balance beams. Really, the thing we were more cautious about was watching where we put our hands, as the trees were also home to carpenter ants (and those things were HUGE).

    A lot of childhood games/adventures have a risk of injury. It happens. But I and my peers would have been *very* upset if anyone had tried to ban tree climbing or any other of the risky things that are (or should be) a normal part of childhood. For every child that fell out of a tree and broke a limb, there are *many* more who didn’t. (I fell my fair share of times, I just got away with scrapes, bruises and a bit of battering to my pride.)

    Besides all that, the children in this case are younger. They are more likely to do just as the post says: touch, play and shake the branches and leaves. They are learning about the natural world through touch and exploration, and not in an isolated classroom environment. I remember being young and swinging on larger low-hanging branches, and I watch the kids in my neighborhood start out doing that same thing. Learning the strength of the branches and how to get a good grip is what led to better tree climbing skills later!

    It is a sad time, these days, with fewer kids climbing trees because of the idea that children should never risk injury. It is even sadder that it is becoming policy that the natural world should be kept out of reach from young children who are supposed to be exploring their world and learning about it.

  57. KLY – Kids getting theirselves hurt is a part of life.

    It should not be part of the lives of their temporary carers who risk having their asses sued off if said kids sustain injuries under their care.

    Even if the parents in question don’t want to sue the daycare/school/etc, reprocussions for such things have a way of turning up.

    With that in mind, I’d say that daycare centers should be childproofed to a reasonable level, not so that children never sustain any sort of injury, but so that the people running them don’t get slapped with some sort of hideous lawsuit whenever one does.

    Everything else can stay as it is, however. My brother broke his arm in my parents’ backyard. Nobody could get in trouble over that sort of thing.

  58. To updated Joyce Kilmer:

    I think that I shall never see
    A danger , lurid as a tree

    A tree that doesn’t offer shade,
    But somber dark where fears are made.

    Though she may look at God all day,
    She’s not designed for children’s play.

    And in summer she may robins wear,
    But don’t be fooled: They also scare.

    If on her bosom, snow has lain,
    That’s nothing viz imagined pain.

    Poems are made by fools like me.
    But we’re well-advised to fear a tree!

  59. I read the posts and was intriqued by the notion of government overreach. However, I did not want to assume that these posts were correct so I contacted the State agency that oversees these situations as I am involved in these things all of the time. Upon checking the facts, I learned that what is more disturbing than the information presented here as ridiculous actually served as a red herring to try and hide from the real issues. I learned that there are instances of mold, exposed electrical wires, animal fesces and urine and damaged play areas. The site conditions overall were not consistent with a safe and quality learning environment for children. I further understand the owners have been given direction on how to remediate and in an expedited time frame. I’m happy I did not just jump to conclusions and did more research. I fully support the entity and its goals but they must provide a clean and safe environment for children. Nothing can excuse them from this. Yes, let kids be kids but do so in safe and legal manner.

  60. I thought, wouldn’t it be MORE dangerous to cut all the limbs off to 7 ft, I mean, what if a kid still manages to climb to the lowest limb? The lowest would be a minimum of 7 ft and if you would leave the lower branch on it would be safer to fall from 3 ft than 7, would it not?

  61. We haf seed the emeny and it is – trees! yikes!

    When a tender 9 years old, I had the good fortune to attend a school that had a grove of mature old growth pine trees in the west end of the schoolyard. Long tall guys, 80 feet high maybe.
    What us kids loved about those trees, was that the branches grew so perfectly spaced, amost like a spiral ladder up the trunk.
    So up we’d go, all the way to the little skinny bit ten feet from the top, thin enough to wrap your arms all the way ’round the trunk and hold on real tight.
    …….and then let the wind sway you, eyes closed.
    There was no feeling better than that.

    A year or so later, we discovered a new tree game, we called “Parachute”. This game required skinny poplar trees, about 15-20 feet high. We’d scout them for the perfect size and height.
    The trick was to climb almost to the top, throw yourself out sideways, holding on to the trunk. The tree would bend over, and slowly drop you down to about 2 or 3 feet off the ground…drifting down just like a parachute. Then you’d let go, and find another tree. (We only did a tree once at a time, to let the pore thing recover.)
    Trees.
    Trees are poetry.
    If you can ever truly hug a tree, you had to have loved it, as a child.

  62. @Dr. Jones – Did the agency give you information as to the location(s) of the instances of mold. The column already mentioned there was “mildew in a storage building.” The column also noted a “patch of uneven surface on the playground”, is this the agency’s “damaged play area”? We also were informed about a cat, so it’s safe to assume it’s urinating and defecating somewhere. Did the the agency tell you where it was? In a litter box, outside, or scattered around classroom? From Lenore’s column we didn’t hear about the electrical wiring issue – maybe because the owners of the preschool have no objections to the government checking for it and requiring they fix it.

    I appreciate that you checked the facts with the agency in charge. The internet swarms with enough half-truths that I sometimes doubt it’s really worth it.

    But it seems you still missed the point. The point was: requiring private schools to cut all tree limbs within seven feet of the ground (so that the children cannot touch the branches or play in the trees, i.e. for safety reasons) is government overreach. This specific regulation is as issue. We don’t think that level of “safety” is good for society.

    Considering that was the point, and most of the commenters have been sticking to it, I see more red herrings in your comment than in the column.

  63. […] Hi Readers — This is a column I wrote for Creators, my syndicate. (Feel free to ask your local paper to carry me every week!) Anyway, I wanted to make sure you saw this one, so here it is. Happy weekend! — L. NO CHILD LEFT OUTSIDE For almost a half-century, kids at the farm-based Moorestown Children's School in New Jersey have spent a lot of their time stomping in the mud, running through the meadow and visiting the barn, blissfully oblivious t … Read More […]

  64. Sounds like a dream school

  65. This is INSANITY pure and simple. That’s all I have to say about that.

  66. Do these inspectors think it would be a good idea to take children away from country-based homes, fearing the parents are violating the safety of the children? I grew up on six acres of land, four of which were thick forest. The low branches were there to teach you what being tall was like, because if you didn’t learn to duck under them, you hit your head on the much harder (and higher) branches when you grew up.

    But if that’s what the inspectors say then we must comply. Wait! No! They didn’t go far enough! Every child is surrounded by danger and must be protected! For instance, those dangerous fingers they’re born with (most of them). Children could stick those fingers in their own eye sockets, or accidentally penetrate their ear drum if they shoved them in too far, or brain their damage by picking their nose too hard. And those sharp teeth: they could chew off a scab or bite the inside of their mouth, or remove a finger (those fingers again!). Their arms, as well, could be swung into doors, walls, or even other children. Those feet are obviously not suited to keeping them upright, they fall over all the time and keep stubbing toes or scraping knees! In fact, until we remove the entirety of the child’s body the child itself will never be safe!

    Or maybe we could acknowledge that children (much like adults) are never completely safe and that hurting themselves is a part of the learning process. After all, if we were to stop people from hurting themselves all the time we’d never have football games or hilarious soap opera relationships at work (“Girl, you know he’s happily married, why you do that to yourself?”).

  67. Hi out of state folks; i happen to live down the street from this cute school and property. I jog past it frequently- i live in the town. FYI the town council here has no involvement or accountabilty for these issues. its the county health department and the state agency that licenses schools- so point your rhetoric to the folks that actually are in charge. i will say this though, if your child got sick from mold, shocked/burnt by exposed wires.. or worse- including if the tree is untended- you’d all be the first lining up to sue! We’ve had bad winters two years in a row and tree branches are torn, bent twisted everywhere- maybe they should do some pruning- my yard is strewn with branches that if they fell on a tot (heck an adult) they’d have seriouse injury. It looks like a nice place for kids and they should have access to country-rustic ways of life…but not at the expense of their safety. rustic doesnt equal mold- and even farms trim tree branches — so that the strong ones are left for the kids to climb on!

  68. I think we should close the federal deficit by levying a steeply progressive tax on jackasses. Hell, we would be able to pay off the national debt in five years if we just taxed people who acted like arseholes.

  69. […] School Inspectors Say: Trees Too Dangerous!   […]

  70. Wow. That makes me sick. How pathetic. Cut the trees?! Evict the cat?! Absurd.

  71. Insane news story. Things keep getting worse.

    It’s abuse to never allow a child to climb or touch a tree and government inspectors with that attitude are sick sick people.

    It’s gotten to the point where if you are not planning to emigrate out of the US, you probably are crazy.

  72. “you’d all be the first lining up to sue!”

    This is not correct at all.

    You say you live down the street from there and jog past it. From your comment it sounds like you don’t like some things about the way the school is run. Could you tell us more about the problems you feel they have?

  73. […] For Children To Be Around Published on February 12th, 2011 Posted by Uncle Dave in school For almost a half-century, kids at the farm-based Moorestown Children’s School in New Jersey have spent a lot of their time […]

  74. Fighting government regulations can destroy people,but in this case accepting the regulations puts your kids at increased risk. There is accepted wisdom that risk awareness improves with age and experience. If the risks are low during the developmental stage, playing with a stick – chances of survival are high. Unfortunately for some kids their first taste of risky behaviour in Australia is the introduction of alcohol and their drivers licence. Chances of survival much lower. I have a farm of 22 acres and love playing “throwing stones” with young visitors – have not poked out a single eye to date.

  75. I’m thinking that there are rather too many of these underemployed safety inspectors cluttering up our society. Now death is an obvious option for them but I’m mindful that these days even our revolutions are largely violence free, as the Egyptians are proving. (Bar the 300 odd victims accidentally killed by the police). So I’m thinking that we could usefully redeploy these surplus people in a different occupation. I’m sure they will take no time at all finding something something that actually contributes to society.

  76. If I may, the thing about the inspectors is that they become responsible when they certify. All you need is one thing to go wrong and one parent to become upset and file a complaint to trigger an investigation of the inspector. And if the parent sues, they can name the state in the suit.
    Let’s take the stumps. Let’s say a kid is jumping from stump to stump and it falls over when she lands on it, and she hits her head on it, gets a concussion. The parents or caregivers take her to the hospital. There’s some bleeding inside the skull and she requires an operation, but she turns out fine. Later her insurance company won’t pay the bill because they say the child care center was negligent. The company advises the parents to sue. The center says they complied with the law and show the certification. The same inspector who now seems so over the top is now being deposed before losing his livelihood.
    And for this to happen, no one has to be a jerk, just everybody being reasonable, but it comes down to he didn’t do his job.
    I’m with you guys, but the problem is with the rules, and behind most of these rules, I’ll bet was a harmed child and an angry parent. Parents get upset when their children are in pain and will usually do whatever they think it takes to protect them. It may not always be rational, but it is natural.

  77. [more of the ridiculous: in sydney australia, a small “treehouse” is to be demolished by council…… now this treehouse has stairs with a railing to reach the platform a few feet from the ground…. hardly dangerous you’d think… but a few compliants from nieghbours about bugs in the wood?! and the “noise” of children playing, started this all off….]

    this is the story:
    http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/nanny-state-ruling-puts-neighbours-at-loggerheads-20110210-1aokt.html

    ”HOLDEN and Leila’s treehouse. No grown-ups at any time.”

    The writing is in coloured felt pen on the treehouse in Narelle Street, North Bondi, but Holden and Leila don’t play there any more. They moved away and the treehouse has been a place for the children in the street to hang out for at least six years.

    Now it is the centre of an increasingly bitter neighbourhood dispute as Waverley Council is set to demolish the treehouse in a move some say is the nanny state gone mad. Children are being encouraged to turn off their computers and go outdoors but, when they do, concerns of noise, supervision and public liability have become a thorny issue.

    Made by a builder, the Bondi cubby has attracted complaints ranging from the suggestion that vagrants have moved in, that people come from other neighbourhoods and spoil the quiet of the street, that the structure is unsafe, that the tree harbours spiders, and that children are left to play unsupervised.

    Those against the treehouse are mostly concerned on safety grounds. Sylvia Grosslight, who has been in the neighbourhood for about 30 years, said: ”I don’t think it’s safe at all. I don’t know how well the wood has been treated and there are bugs in it.”

    Those battling for its rescue are parents of children who find the controversy hard to fathom.

    Nicola Bird has a small backyard and is delighted for her children Kiera, five, and Ethan, four, to have an outdoor haven. ”Once they pull it down the kids will play anyway,” she said.

    The council’s position is that the treehouse is a liability and the sooner potential litigation can be staved off the better.

    ”’We got an independent person to go in and have a look at it to see whether or not it could remain and their recommendation was that it needed to be removed because it didn’t conform to safety standards,” a council spokeswoman said.

    The council has offered to build a compliant treehouse in a nearby park.

    Chris McGillivray has started a petition to save the cubby, and has set up a Facebook page. She says she has offered, unsuccessfully, to address compliance issues to save the treehouse where her children Tessa, two, and Finley, five, play.

    ”The issue is that the council is happy to provide a place for our kids with a nice little square block of foam to play with so they don’t hurt themselves and no one gets sued,” she said.

    http://www.facebook.com/pages/Save-Narelle-Street-Tree-House/126463520757127#/pages/Save-Narelle-Street-Tree-House/126463520757127

  78. This breaks my heart. This sounded like a place I would love for my children to be, heck, it sounded like a place I would love to be. Why do we insist on institutionalizing our children?

  79. Well, all I can say is that I am glad that my husband and I made it priority for us to be with the kids so that we did not have to have them in day cares other than a handful of times.

    They had plenty of fun at home with the yard full of goat heads and broken glass that was over 60 years old, from back in the day when they buried their trash. (Goat heads are a nasty thorny seed that will puncture any bike tire.) Granted, I am glad that we are no longer in that rental, but if we hadn’t lived there, my youngest would not have his pickle jar full of glass that is his glass collection that he started when he was three.

    And, we learned that gophers play a vital part in turning up the soil, so that all that glass, and a variety of toys, come up to the surface. When we did a lesson on archeology, all we had to do was go out to our yard and start digging to find shards of past civilizations!

    Not to put down people who NEED daycare, just that I am glad that we didn’t and don’t have to put up with all the BS.

  80. Gardenstater, you’re saying things that nobody said. Can you point to one person who said it was unreasonable to regulate that they fix the mold issue? Or that exposed wires are a-okay? We are talking, as has been stated, about exactly ONE thing – whether or not it’s reasonable to ask that they cut their low-hanging tree branches. There is some side discussion about the cat and about the stumps that the children played on, but nobody is saying that the mold or the wires are not a legitimate safety hazard, so please do not pretend that we are saying such a thing in an attempt to discredit this entire discussion.

    You are also making accusations that you cannot know to be true. “You’d be the first to sue!” Why do you assume that? Do you know any of us? No, you don’t. You’re making that statement, again, as an attempt to discredit the entire discussion and to make us look like fools. It’s illogical and it has nothing to do with the topic at hand – whether or not the tree branches are an inherent safety hazard.

    If you have nothing intelligent to contribute to *that* discussion without muddying the waters with things that aren’t part of the discussion at all, maybe you should sit this one out.

  81. I would love to have had a school like this for my children. I would have loved this school myself. I spent all of my free time when I was young climbing trees, playing in the creek and riding my horse bareback. I developed my muscles as well as my judgement and a strong sense of self-preservation. I will be sending the county inspector a letter.

  82. If y’all put this much time and energy into things that really matter in this country, things wouldn’t be as bad as they are. You know what they say you can’t fix stupid and you can’t get stupid to do anything but make excuses. Not one of you has any first hand knowledge of what is or isn’t going on but you are all bloviating about tree limbs and acting like experts on the subject and various laws/agencies involved. Do some fact checking before you chime in. Heck, what’s a little cat pee on your clothes or mold in your lungs if you can hang on a branch in the wild yonder of Jersey. I’ll try and remember this discussion next time someone offers me free range chicken and I say, I’ll have the pasta.

  83. Everyone here is pointing the finger at the wrong people. I think the finger needs to be pointed right back at the parents and our sue happy society at large. Parents really like the idea of their child “communing” with nature until their child gets hurt bad enough to need a trip to the doctor then the school gets complaints, or sued, or has to under go further inspections, or otherwise good teachers get fired or placed under stressful and unnecessary scrutiny all because a kid did what kids tend to do … get hurt. I’m a pre-k teacher and every day I have to constantly worry about covering my own ass when a child get so much as a small bruise or a paper cut and kissing the ass of the next parent who walks in the door with a minor complaint about a minor injury when I’d much rather be focusing on the children and what projects or exploration we are going to do next. It has to start with the parents… parents please give your child’s teachers a break and stop fussing over every tiny injury and these insane laws wouldn’t need to be enacted in the first place.

  84. It does sound like a dream school and what’s really sad is the thought that the reason most of us can’t find such dream schools may well be because similarly-minded people have already had their impact (either directly through advice to existing schools or indirectly toward influencing common assumptions about school.

  85. […] Stoopidity roolz to make our kids dumber. Watching TV or surfing all day don’t make our kids dumber, or at least not more than, apparently, going to school does. […]

  86. dude,
    you misread my point- I think the place looks great and live in this semi-rural suburbia so my kids have trees, and creeks to explore- my point was that you can have that and have common sense safety- mold/wiring may be indicative of unintentional other risks. i a no fan of intrusive government

  87. An historic elementary school here in Columbia Missouri was forced to cut down 100+ year old oak trees in the school yard for the same reason. Disgusting and sad.

  88. garden stater…… you are wrong about the suing.I know I can’t speak for everyone but I wouldn’t be suing. Most of the people I know wouldn’t be suing. I know there are people out there that would, but they probably wouldn’t have picked a preschool like this in the first place. They’d have picked a much more sterile and “safe”center where there wasn’t any climbing or running or anything involving any type of dangerous activities like cooking or exposure to non-caged animals, for their children.

    If I were a parent of a child in preschool, I’d be actively checking out the property on a regular basis so mold, wires and tree branches would be no surprise to me, just like at home. I’d actually be thrilled if my kids came home from preschool with a knot on the head from a tree branch instead of another color in the lines worksheet. It would mean my child was actually playing and exploring and had the places to do it during the day, just like home. I suspect that’s why a lot of people chose this type of preschool

    Most centers get cited for mold/mildew, loose wires, things needing repair and so on. Having spent 10 years in childcare and preschools I’ve seen places written up for all kinds of minor things but they look horrendous on the paper. They were always fixed. I’ve never seen a center pass inspection without being written up for something.

    Once a center I was worrying at was written up for feces on the tooth brushes. Why this happened was that the toothbrushes, which were kept in the bathroom, had no covers on them. The covers were required by the state, as were the tooth brushes. There wasn’t actually feces on the toothbrushes but the inspector felt there was a possibility because they were exposed in an area with toilets. Each toothbrush had a cover but it was right after lunch in a toddler room and they hadn’t been put on them yet. Solution, be more proactive in getting the covers on. The director simply had to put that in writing to the state and they rook her word for it. Six months later another inspection wrote up the whole center for mold on the toothbrushes. Why? they all had covers on them, which the state had just recently changed it’s rules about because a study had shown that the covers promoted mold growth. None of the toothbrushes had actual mold but they had the potential for it according to brand new state regs so again we were written up. the solution was to throw away all the covers.

    My point is on paper these violations look like the center must have been nasty. Feces and then mold on tooth brushes??? In reality it wasn’t even close to that way. If people had relied on just the inspectors reports to decide if the center was good or not it wouldn’t have had any children!

    I have serious doubts that what was put on paper, for the violations, is anywhere close to what actually was found. Exposed wired could have been as simply as the plastic tubing lots of people put around a group of wires was cracked or a wiring box wasn’t padlocked. Mold/mildew in an outside shed, who’d have thought i possible. Well probably anybody that has an outside shed and has seen what weather elements can do to it. Not to mention how often are the kids actually exposed to an outside shed? Mold happens, it happens often and can catch you by surprise. You treat it and go on. Animal feces, uhm yeah there are animals on the property a few from the sounds of it. I imagine animals are going to poop somewhere. Nothing has said where the feces was found. Was it in a litter box? Was it bird poop on the tree stumps?

    The steps the state has taken to make this a “safe” place in their eyes are sad. Very sad. It’s going to make it a place that the parents aren’t any more happy with than the owner is. The steps seem over the top and more inline with someones opinion of safe rather than any actual facts of it not being safe. Safety inspections should be factual not opinion based. I know the reality is that they aren’t, a my story above shows, but I still think it should be.

    Without clearer explanations all of these things can sound horrible but they, generally, really aren’t.

  89. Hi;
    This blog post appeared on BoingBoing today and reminded me of your wonderful ‘9-year-old son on subway’ article that started it all. You are my hero. I have always been a devotee of “extreme parenting” (sheltered them from media when they were young, cut ’em loose when they were ready) and I love the term ‘free-range parenting’. I sometimes set my kids up for things I know may cause them a bit of struggle, because otherwise they’ll never figure stuff out. Let them get a little lost, a little stuck, and let them sort it out. Whether it’s a grocery visit or navigating the bus routes, they are smarter than we realize. And the world a safer place.
    As a college prof, I see first-hand the results of helpless students, raised by parents who did it all. It’s a cripping strategy.

  90. […] State: The kids can’t touch the trees TweetShareFor almost a half-century, kids at the farm-based Moorestown Children’s School in New Jersey have spent a lot of their time […]

  91. I bet the parents send their kids there because of all the stuff the inspectors are removing. Is it possible for parents to sign a release saying they are declining the heavy handed protecting of their kids by non-guardians? Bah!

    The description of the school reminds me of the school in the woods I got to do hearing screenings for in Austin, Texas. They back up to a state preserve and basically spend the entire day outside on their grounds and at the park!

  92. There is a reason why regulations like these exist and are gleefully enforced by bean counters and pencil pushers. It’s called litigation. As long as people are allowed to sue for even the slightest accident, facilities like schools and day care centers are going to be regulated to death. If you want things like this to go away, you have to push for tort reform in your state legislatures. Make personal responsibility a requirement for citizenship.

  93. would need more information on the mould. I mean, here in Queensland everything moulds up incredibly quickly, so it is almost like a certain amount of it is expected. Some mildew on a shed, especially if not used frequently, probably wouldnt even be noted.
    I also am not one for suing willy nilly, but with our health system there is less of a need to.

    Also, I do have a story of how climbing trees in the school playground actually helped me as an adult.
    I was five and perched up on a branch. I think it would have been about 5feet from the ground? Anyway, branch broke and I went tumbling down. I had minor injuries (sort of like gravel rash, but from hitting sticks and dirt from height) and was of course shocked and promptly started crying.
    I was comforted by some year 5s that were in the vicinity – they picked me up and hugged me etc – and one of them pointed out the branch, although thick and seemingly safe, was rotten. I hadnt tested it before climbing out onto it.

    I must admit, since then I do tend to test where I step when it might be dodgy. It has become second nature.
    Which proved useful in the recent Queensland floods. We were going into houses that had been completely submerged (now, you want to talk about mould? Thats mouldy), and every step I took I tested. I was one of the of the few to never go through the floorboards in our team. My partner did twice, because it wasnt second nature for him to check.

  94. While this may be state-specific, in Alabama church-operated daycare facilities are not subject to state regulation and oversight.

    Does New Jersey offer the same exemption? If yes, maybe there is a non-denominational (ecumenical) religious organization that would be willing to serve as the official provide or sponsor.

  95. Is this a jOAK? Why can’t they just LEAF enough alone? Of course they are BARKing up the wrong TREE here. I just hope this doesn’t BRANCH out into something more. We must PRUNE such thinking and get to the ROOT of the problem. I’m PINEing for a logical solution.

  96. […] somewhere, so it must be banned. My favorite free-range Mom, Lenore Skenazy, has noted that even trees are considered a threat to children. For almost a half-century, kids at the farm-based Moorestown Children’s School in New Jersey […]

  97. […] somewhere, so it must be banned. My favorite free-range Mom, Lenore Skenazy, has noted that even trees are considered a threat to children. For almost a half-century, kids at the farm-based Moorestown Children’s School in New Jersey […]

  98. Really, oncefallen? You HAD to go there? My eyes, they are bleeding!

  99. Uly: Yes I went there, and I WOOD go there again if I had to.

  100. Hi I’m the owner of the school Lenore wrote about. Thanks for all the input – from the tree/play supporters, the shoe-ditchers, the cat lovers and even the counterpoint offered by the “fact-checkers”.

    @Andy, @Gary, @ Silver Fang Thanks, but as kcs surmised, our town council isn’t the agency. This is a state level childcare center inspection process. The agency is a Division of the Department of Children and Families – an agency which we’ve enjoyed a great relationship for decades prior to this!

    I know our township is not against us – please don’t mistreat them😉 . Our town actually has a long-standing support for green, natural spaces, safety and playgrounds! Just down the road from us is the Esther Yanai Preserve. I was a high school student when she began to work toward the goal of preserving green space, and I was fortunate to learn a great deal from her. Moorestown was unusually proactive on this issue. We’re happy to be a little bit of country at the edge of a neat little town.

    @BrianJ, @Floyd, @Karen
    We’re all for safety and following our Manual of Requirements, and all the subcodes etc. listed within. We direct all of our prospective parents to the Manual of Requirements our state puts out for Childcare centers. It is sometimes due to differences in the reading and interpreting of the “rules” that we find ourselves between opinions and interpretations. Sometimes, an inspector who has never been here welcomes a discussion of how we meet the requirements although our center is atypical. Of course, when the expectation is that an inspector’s “guidance” should be followed without the opportunity for clarity, we begin to question whether we are actually in violation or experiencing a difference of perspective about caring for kids and the qualities of childhood. Important to know, as long as we hold that parents may choose among equally safe and quality alternatives, and that the actual intent of the standard is what is being enforced. Several certified playground safety inspectors have weighed in that trees are not equipment, and are not what the Public Playground Safety Handbook rules had intended to be considered as such. I am grateful to those who have spoken to this issue on Rusty Keeler’s (www.Earthplay.net) yahoo group and Facebook pages.

    The trouble with stated “facts” is that they are so often nearly-fact and half assumption! And let’s not forget that sometimes, citations and allegations can perhaps unwittingly become the tools of intimidation and destruction.

    Let’s start with the ones that I would imagine could be truly scary to even the nature lovers and freerangers:

    @ Dr. Robert Jones, PhD says, “instances of mold, exposed electrical wires, animal fesces and urine and damaged play areas. I’m happy I did not just jump to conclusions and did more research.”

    Therefore, I am certain that Dr. Jones will want to read on to get to know the rest!

    @garden stater – thank you for the nod, and for your level-headed responses. I agree. I hope you will read on also, so that the most sensational of Dr. Jones’ “facts/research” can take its place among the “nearly facts and assumptions”.

    We will need the fully informed to speak about us, so that those who would otherwise never choose to spread false statements will not be lead to do so by partial knowledge and sensational claims. Stop in later this week and see the actual citations and also the electrician’s and industrial hygienist’s reports.

    Mold – We had an “industrial hygienist” come in to assess the mold that was spotted (outside of the school areas). He was so helpful! Our classrooms and outdoors tested free of any “elevated levels” of any molds. He explained that mold is everywhere – you will always find mold spores when you test, even when you see none. There are “common” types and potentially dangerous types. There are usual and unusual “elevated” levels. The place where mold was noticed is not used by kids or staff, and had apparently recently gotten wet, maybe from some storm damage. We’re happy to have it professionally cleared and any leaks or other problem will be repaired.

    Exposed electrical wires – we were asked to box wires that had been capped by licensed electricians thirty years previously. One set of such wires were in a cabinet under a sink, in a ‘no-kids” kitchen. Another was behind the water heater in the utility room. This was low-voltage wiring that the newly called in licensed electrician documented did not need a box. We asked them to do it anyway to satisfy the now-official citation. An outdoor outlet used in summertime for water play equipment (but shut off at the panel in the other seasons) needed a replacement cap. Done!

    “animal fesces and urine” (sic) Not even cited. Who would have passed this non-allegation along to Dr. Robert Jones? Unless they are talking about the horse manure in the fields, there were no reports of feces and only an odor that the inspector decided was urine! It started with an odor, remember? The inspector smelled a smell, saw a cat, and I assume made the leap. That leap was not backed up by actual inspection. Our own black-light examination of the entire school and bathrooms found only a few tiny errant spots on the toddler’s toilet tank. The cats are female, fixed, and don’t pee in the school. They were able to come and go from the school area to the residence, where there are litter boxes that only they (and the owners) have access to!

    Foxes, opossums and skunks and raccoons do move around at night and on rare occasion have sprayed/urinated outside of the building. That can drift through even a closed window for a bit into the next day, but we have some remedies for that. It is a farm. We are sided by woods. Farm or not, if the inside of the school smelled of cat urine, who among the twenty or so parents that arrive everyday wouldn’t tell us? You’d have to know them – they know us.

    “Damaged play areas”. The safety surfacing that is extremely generous around and under our climbers had a roughed-up patch in the open area away from the climber. This was considered a trip hazard. Depth: to the first colored line on the eraser-end band of a new #2 pencil, at the deepest part of this patch! The edge of plywood on the side of a rocking toy frequently needs filling and painting. We replaced it with a new piece. Also banned: The little tykes rocking fish, same company’s elephant slide. A rotted stump the kids were carving into a castle cited as dangerous fell apart under the weight of a staffer’s foot.

    Dr. Jones continues “The site conditions overall were not consistent with a safe and quality learning environment for children.”
    That’s what the discussion is about, isn’t it– what is “safe” and what is a “quality learning environment?” Or a quality childhood?
    “I’m happy I did not just jump to conclusions and did more research.”
    And that’s why I am sure you will be glad to read the rest to flesh out that research.

    “I further understand the owners have been given direction on how to remediate and in an expedited time frame.”
    And of course, first we documented with our own inspections, reports, etc. And among those directions is to cut the trees. I have been told that we could fence around one and let the children go in to use it for science activities, while the teachers are inside the fence so that they can supervise. Um, we are outside with them, inside the fences, supervising. If we just followed orders, I would not have much of the knowledge that my sincere inquiry has brought: Trees are not playground equipment.
    Mold happens but it isn’t all dangerous. Electrical wiring practices and codes change with time, and sometimes if you go looking, you can find things that are out of date. Cool heads do not always reign. Almost everyone is afraid that if one person says they did something wrong then the facts will never matter.

    To all those who long to kick off their shoes…
    We started changing from outside shoes to inside shoes and slippers in the interest in keeping the indoor environment clean. Some families wanted shoes on, some were delighted when they saw that their kids could choose something softer. Some were just as happy to have that be socks. The kids know what each is to have on. Of course, on our indoor climbing mats, in dance/movement class and karate classes, kids have been barefoot or in other footgear. Kids here have a lot of footgear – water-shoes, puddle boots, snow boots, ballet slippers, riding boots, etc. Some of our kids have sensory issues and are totally distracted by the seams, bindings and heat of shoes. We encourage kids to keep the shoes on or nearby, but really hate to have this be the defining issue of their day!

    Falling out of trees: The officials are actually worried about children touching the tips of the branches that hang down. Our trees are not climbing trees. There are some photos on our Moorestown Children’s School Facebook page.

    It has been a pleasure and an honor to meet so many thoughtful people. I’d be delighted to let you know how this progresses.
    Sue

  101. sometimes i feel like we are headed toward a return to the victorian era. where children were strapped to a back straightener that partially immobilized them and restrained their arms. they sure couldn’t go around playing with dangerous things like old cats or sticks or streams.

    http://www.objectlessons.org/index.php?mod=PageMod.showComponent&section_id=5&category_id=21&component_id=25&component_type=

  102. If we allow it to, our govt we regulate all of us into normalcy. Good lawyers, and weak judges, have allowed the greedy public to legally steal our individuality. When we all do the same thing, the same way, in the same sterile environment, what do you get??????????????????????????? Everyone takes the pill, for one persons headache?????

  103. […] Gotta love the web site – Free Range Kids […]

  104. 7 ft isn’t high enough to keep kids from climbing trees. We had a tree in our front yard where the lowest branch was almost ten feet off the ground. I would prop my bike against it to give me height, stand on the seat, no one holding it, and shimmy up the rest of the way to reach that first branch. Getting down was a little rougher, but I never broke anything. I also remember another tree I loved to climb in our front yard and a neighbor riding by with his son yelling at me to get down. I was about 9, and I remember thinking, what’s he yelling about? It’s perfectly safe up here, and my second thought was, I’ll just go higher, that’ll show him, even though I was already at my normal comfort level for how high the tree was. Luckily, I didn’t do anything stupid, but the more we try to shelter our kids, the more they’ll act out.

  105. […] picked up this story from Free Range Kids over the weekend and it’s […]

  106. About the no shoes rule – that’s just weird.

    At my son’s daycare, we’re required to take our shoes and boots off at the door. All the kids go around in socks or slippers when they’re inside. Boots and shoes are for going outside on the playground – and this time of year, that means lots of wet snow and icy mud. Which is why they take their boots off at the door. It’s the only wise thing to do in MN in February. 🙂

  107. After using the contact information for the town council I received this reply from the Deputy Mayor.

    “Thanks for your note as we were not aware of this issue. In our town’s form of government we do not have jurisdiction of schools. The matters mentioned in the blog are based on the County of Burlington Health inspector and the state level education department. Our town only gets involved if there are building code violations. It is my understanding that as part of a normal fire code inspection certain items of concern were identified which triggered the county health dept engaging. We’ve asked our township mgr to look into the matter to see if there is anything that we can do to help. It is improper for anyone to assume that there are bad laws on the books at this point as it relates to this school….though I do agree that governments over reach…which is why I got involved.”

    Kind regards,

    Greg Gallo

  108. Thanks Skyfire! I had to share that one!:)

  109. Sue,
    Regarding the “barefoot” part of the compliant you might find this helpful.
    http://www.barefooters.org/health-dept/NJ2002.html

    Your school sound wonderful

    Good Luck.

  110. […] Hi Readers — This is a column I wrote for Creators, my syndicate. (Feel free to ask your local paper to carry me every week!) Anyway, I wanted to make sure you saw this one, so here it is. Happy weekend! — L. NO CHILD LEFT OUTSIDE For almost a half-century, kids at the farm-based Moorestown Children's School in New Jersey have spent a lot of their time stomping in the mud, running through the meadow and visiting the barn, blissfully oblivious t … Read More […]

  111. I will be most unwelcome, I think, but we’ve reached a tipping point – and if I’m willing to say something, I’ll bet many more are willing to, as well.
    Here’s my say: Invite the inspectors back to tell them what has happened. Provide tea, lemonade, coffee, with sweeteners.
    All sweeteners should be made from purified Ethylene Glycol (Poisonous, found in antifreeze, windshield washer fluid, etc.)

    After a few fatalities, provided by someone who has no connection to any of this, maybe the Government will learn it is unwise to oppress the citizens.

    But I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting. I’ll just dance on these ‘s graves.

    “Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit upon his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats.” – H.L. Mencken

    As long as well allow the veil of civility to be bandied about, to be a permissive curtain these evils may hide behind, we shall always be sheep, or lambs fed for slaughter.

    And THAT is the intent of such deviants – to remove from the human soul any life, originality, or thought.

    “Give us the child for 8 years and it will be a Bolshevik forever.” Vladimir Lenin
    Or rephrased, give us the young mind to mold and twist, and it will do what we have told it is right even though it involve drowning infants, drinking blood, or using a person as Thanksgiving Turkey.

    And this is not just happening at this level, but across the scope of our society – right to bear arms, freedom of speech, racism, capitalism, “rights” provided to criminals, sexism, classism, statism, federalism. all used to balkanize us and keep us in separated social groups, the young not learning from the old, two incomes necessary for survival (We live in NJ), children terrified (vs. Afraid, rightly so) of guns, little boys being drugged for acting like, well BOYS, etc, etc, etc.

    “When they came for me,
    there was no one left to speak out.” -Martin Niemöller (Part of a longer piece – look for the original)

    We are only bound by a contract – ANY contract – as long as both parties abide by that contract. This includes the tacit (unspoken) “Social Contract”, in fact may be most relevant here. I give up the right to set fires wherever I wish, so we can both live near each other without fear of burning to death. Also, weapons, fighting, murder, etc.
    If you come at me with intent to kill me, I am more than justified in using any force at my disposal to defend myself. YOU abrogated the contract, I cannot abide by it as a consequence. If I allow you to do as you will even as you do me harm, I may have the moral high ground, but I most definitely will be damaged or killed, and you MAY WELL DO THE SAME TO OTHERS – so my meeting the social contract with respect to others REQUIRES me to stop you.

    So it is now with the Government. And Has Been, for some time. Longer than I have been alive.

    Think about that… (I’m mid-30s.)

  112. What??

    Okay, I don’t get the shoe thing *at all.* It is cleaner, and therefore theoretically safer, not to wear shoes indoors. Wearing shoes indoors is a weird Western idea and it just tracks in dirt and various other nefarious evildoing things. Do the inspectors think that the kids are going to… step on a nail, or something? Indoors? Arg!!

    I can’t even talk about the trees or the logs or the stream… it’s too upsetting.

  113. “Give us the child for 8 years and it will be a Bolshevik forever.” Vladimir Lenin

    Are you sure that was Lenin? I thought it was the Jesuits.

  114. […] we even want to remain a child care center if we have to eliminate all the parts we love?” [Free-Range Kids] Lawsuit fears tame a Frederick, Md. ice playground […]

  115. That is the saddest thing I ever heard. They can’t play with logs? They can’t play in the stream? It sounds like a wonderful place. That’s actually right near where I grew up.

  116. @Jean: Huh. I didn’t know they’d let Jared Loughner have internet access in jail…

  117. You might want to ask IJ.org for help. One of their “four pillars” is the right to earn an honest living (without overregulation).

    Government has no business being overprotective. That’s parents’ job.

  118. Density Duck,
    Apt name. 😉

    Please think in terms of just HOW MUCH has been done behind the curtain. As an analogy, the Wizard doesn’t want you looking behind the curtain…
    Subsidies so people WON’T Grow “X”, for example; now look at how expensive food (and soon clothing – check the price of cotton) has become.

    There doesn’t have to be a “conspiracy” beyond basic greed. Money gains one power, power allows corruption, which in turn can create more greed… The “Elites” are usually the most corrupt and venial (Clinton, Bush, Kennedy, as quick examples).

    The rules are different for “Alphas”, it’s been that way throughout history. Cesar, Attilla the Hun, the Pharoahs, etc, etc, etc.

    I know I sound deranged to you – you need to put down the Kool-Aid, pull the wool off your eyes. It doesn’t require intent (key element of conspiracy), it merely requires a few small things – “control” of media (convince the media they are elites, done), wealth (another group of Elites), and then a lot of people to not look beyond the curtain, or look too closely at what few details get through the distortions, lies, half-truths.

    An example, look at any election and what is told about the candidates (most notably, look at a Republican, such as McC*nt before/after the primary). Before, the discussion is controlled, and “X” (Say McCain) is the best possible for reasons A, B, C. After winning the nomination, he’s the worst possible choice for the country because A, B, C. These can be the EXACT SAME A, B, and C.

    If you have a fixed frame of reference – as an example, think of a blind person, and you as a sighted person need to explain colors. Red is hot, right? So use a hot piece of metal, their fingers sense the heat. Yet the hottest part of the flame is the BLUE (look closely at a candle or a torch). The yellow on the candle hurts; the red burns; the blue melts the flesh off the bones. Your frame of reference is the yellow – the lessons of a pubic school education, perhaps, or the fear of what lies behind that curtain. It BURNS to peel that away, I KNOW. You want to get it over with quickly, go read Roissy in DC. (http://roissy.wordpress.com/) Believe me, if you think of women as wonderful, unique, even loving – you’ll be scarred when you find out what works to attract them, versus what you were taught to do. Anywhere in the Algosphere, and as far as attraction, across cultures in many ways.

    The banks, the government, your teachers, your parents, the media, SPCA, FDA, FCC, ADA… The whole alphabet will show up eventually, and each one of them can restrict you in ways you NEVER IMAGINED. As another example – an “endangered” (might be a healthy population, but it’s on the EPA’s list) animal takes up residence on a farm; now the farmer is not permitted to farm, as it would disrupt the creature’s habitat. He is still taxed on the land, mind, even though he cannot use it. He cannot sell it, either, that would be disruptive. How do you get around this double-bind?

    How about in divorce? A man paying alimony (We’ll assume reasonable for him; earned income gross is 1.2 mil, he pays $250K/year. Post taxes, he’s seeing ~$700K/year; even post $500K of alimony/child support and malpractice, he can live moderately well, even in Jersey, USA.) However, whatever the reason – say a stroke disables him, so he cannot work as a surgeon any more – his income drops to 0, plus he has medical costs. When he goes to court to get the alimony/CS reduced, he can’t get it changed – no, he’s a SURGEON, he could work if he WANTED to, he’s just being a deadbeat. Mind, he’s not even able to walk! Let alone hold a scalpel to operate.

    Shatteredmen,com, false rape society, Hawaiian libertarian, Roissy… There are TOO MANY people saying the same thing in too many fields. Think of it like the pictures made up of other pictures, there’s a problem there, and it’s source is dissipated, yet universal: Human nature, plain and simple. Put yourself in different possible life scenarios, think of how you got there (IE, a trust fund baby is different from a self-made millionaire due to inheritance vs building wealth). Think of what your strengths are, and what your self-interest is, and you’ll see you would act differently – it’s just the frame of reference. If you grow up in Hollywood with billionaires, you think Gucci is a household name. You’re half-right, some people would like to afford such a thing, ONCE in their life – it’s not a household word as in, which Gucci (purse) do I use today? That waiter at lunch? Busting @$$ to try and join those elites, envies the holder of that gucci purse, wants the fame, wants the recognition. Doesn’t yet know what to do with it, nor how it will change his life (Spears, Lohan, Jackson, Cruise, etc; even Bonaducci!), nor what problems come with it. How would YOU deal with the paparazzi?

    The Eskimos in Alaska have over 30 words for Snow. How many do you know? In Hawaii, you probably know it exists; in Newark, NJ, it’s grey; in the midwest, white. Get the differences? How about the wind whipping it around? Hawaii, no clue. Nebraska, ice blades in the air. Newark, cold, but the grey stuff stays on the ground… Seeps into your shoes, doesn’t lance into your face. 😉

    See the difference your frame of reference makes?
    IT can be even more basic – women don’t understand men, and vice versa, though they might think they do. Even transsexuals don’t get BOTH sides of that divide, and they’d be most qualified to “get it”.

    It’s like a horse with blinders – there’s nothing there but what is in front, even though your eyes point to the sides.

    This article is only one head of the hydra, there are a billion more…

  119. […] School Inspectors Say: Trees Too Dangerous! […]

  120. […] they play with the trees!” school director Sue Maloney says. “[They] touch the trees! They shake the leaves. It’s what they […]

  121. Man, do I feel lucky to live and work in NC right now. We don’t wear shoes in our school either- helps keep down the amount of red clay we bring in. Every child has a permission slip to play outside the fenced in area- we go on walks in the woods down to our creek just about every day. Heck, we planted willows on our playspaces, how’s that for low hanging branches? Now, our health inspector did freak out when she saw actual raw (gasp) chicken being prepared in our kitchen instead of frozen nuggets, but we’ve gotten through it!

  122. That child care center sounds so lovely (or at least, the description of it before it was made idiot-proof did).

  123. For kids, the NV Energy company has a “Find the Hidden Dangers” game among other electrical safety resources. One of the hazardous situations illustrated in the game is kids climbing in tree branches near to overhead power lines. For avoiding the danger, one of the possible choices is “Never climb trees.” This choice, however, is not the correct answer, and the game specifies this as “No. Climbing trees is fun! Just stay away from trees near power lines.” (The correct answer is “Only climb trees that are far from overhead lines.”) Given that it might not be surprising for someone to say something like “Climbing in trees (even away from power lines) is dangerous and can result in serious injury; climbing is best left to gyms and public playgrounds,” recommendations about climbing trees but in a safe manner may be an appealing change.

  124. […] Readers! Well, I was miffed a while back about the rules against BRANCHES at the school in New Jersey. But the rules at THIS pre-k make […]

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