To Keep Kids “Injury-Free” School Substitutes Wii for Recess

Hi Folks! This story comes to us by way of Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, which loves when kids make up their own games rather than them simply playing something pre-programmed. At this particular school, the superintendent is quoted as saying a desire to keep kids “out of trouble” and “injury-free” prompted the decision to give kids Wii time as opposed to FREE time for recess, once or twice a week. As I watched the video, I despaired about three  things.

1 – The fact that Wii is seen as the same thing as making up a game, even though there is no imagination or organization required.

2 – The fact that it is now DE RIGUEUR that we not show any children’s faces in a video. As if somehow that is damaging to them or us or someone somehow somewhere.

3 – The fact that the hopscotch game at this school is a pre-fab mat, placed on the ground.

I’m sure I am a little too sensitive to all these issues, but come on: Let kids run around! Let them use chalk. Let them make up their own games. Let them get away from the screen. And PLEASE quit worrying that every non-scripted moment outside = an injury waiting to spring. – L.

ParentsTrailing the School Bus (and Other Back-to-School Excesses)

Hi Folks! I have a piece in today’s Wall Street Journal:“When Separation Anxiety Goes Overboard.” It’s about the way the advice-o-sphere manages to turn the first day of school into a super-dramatic, super-traumatic event that requires the kind of preparation once associated with storming the beaches:

“Practice how you will say goodbye,” urges one of the zillion or so websites featuring first-day-of-school tips.

“Goodbye!” Hmm. That just doesn’t seem very difficult to me. Maybe I’m heartless. In fact, I know I’m heartless, because I never bought a “Nesting Heart.” That’s a toy made by a company called Kimochis that is meant to “help ease the separation” when you drop your kid off at school.

How does it work? “Your child can take the inner Heart to school and you can keep the outer heart at home,” says a Kimochis news release. “Create a playful ritual for separating the hearts at drop-off and putting your hearts back together at pickup. Reassure your child (and yourself!) that the Nesting Heart keeps you connected even when you are apart.”

Oh yes, how incredibly reassuring it must be as junior watches you—playfully!—break your heart in two. But at least this psycho-toy lays it on the line: Mommy is incomplete whenever she’s not with you, and you are incomplete without mommy. Got that? Now go have a great first day!

One of the things driving parents, and of course kids, crazy is the way every childhood event has been elevated into a difficulty only to be surmounted with products, classes and heaps of expert advice. Back-to-school now proudly takes its place in that pantheon, alongside babyproofing the living room and the Decameron that is packing for camp. – L

P.S. I know the link only gives you a few paragraphs, at least for the first 30 days. But if you’re a subscriber, you can read the whole thing. Very sorry it’s not visible to all!

Yes, some parents actually follow the bus to school, to make (telepathically?) sure their kids are safe.

“Only Bad Parents Make Their Kids WALK to School”

Hi Folks! I read this over at RixaRixa and asked if the blogger was game to let me reprint the whole thing. Yes! So here it is, in all its infuriating bureaucrat-brained fullness!

We’ve been walking Zari to and from kindergarten. It seemed the most logical of our three options (walk, ride the bus, or drive) since we only live 1 km away. If Zari rode the bus, she’d have to leave the house almost an hour earlier, and she’d get home 1 to 1 1/2 hours later. That adds up to over 2 hours on the bus per day. Driving was out of the question; why drive when our legs are perfectly capable of getting us there?
So far we’ve enjoyed our twice daily walks. Eric and I switch off walking duty depending on who is teaching that day. We get time with Zari and we get extra exercise. Sounds like the perfect scenario, right?

Yes, except that we have to cross a Death Trap road on the way. It’s a state highway that runs through town, and there are no stop signs or stoplights in probably a mile either direction. There’s a flashing light that goes on during school hours. This means that cars are supposed to slow down to 25 mph, but no one does. Every time we cross the street, it’s like we’re inside a giant game of Frogger (this totally dates me!).

I first contacted the school transportation department to inquire about crossing guards. After all, the road where we’re crossing is the main entrance into the elementary school and to the county fairgrounds. The reply? They used to supply a crossing guard at that intersection, but not any more. They told me to talk to the police department.

So I met with the chief of police and explained my concerns–that the school no longer provided a crossing guard and that I was having real troubles getting us safely across the street, especially during the morning rush. He sympathized with my situation and said he’d send some patrol cars out in the morning, but otherwise he coudln’t do much else. He suggested talking to someone in the state transportation department, since traffic signs on that road are regulated by the state, not by the city.

This morning I spoke to a woman at the state transportation department. I explained our difficulties crossing the road and asked if they would consider doing a traffic survey to put in either stop signs or a stop light. I told her I’d already met with the school transportation coordinator and the police chief, and they both told me they couldn’t do much else to help me. Her response:

“You really should have your daughter ride the bus.”

I explained that this option made no sense in our situation. We live close to the school, and riding the bus would take an extra 2+ hours out of my daughter’s day. Her reply:

“Well, you’re the one who’s choosing to put your daughter in danger. You’re choosing your convenience over her safety. She has a safe option, and that’s to ride the bus.” 

Excuse me?! When did walking your child to school mean that you’re a bad, selfish parent? I abandoned any niceties and dropped my polite tone. I said that it was not just a choice between convenience and safety. After all, we’re facing major obesity and pollution crises in this country. I feel very strongly that it’s an irresponsible choice to put my child on a bus for 2 hours a day, or to drive her to school (as many parents at this school do), when we’re perfectly capable of walking. The solution isn’t just to put my daughter on a bus; it’s to help us find a way to safely cross the street.

Her reply:

“In my town, I have several friends who live across the street from an elementary school, and they all have their children ride the bus because it’s safer than crossing the street.”

The then told me that she likely couldn’t do anything to help me, and to talk to the school and the police again.

Can anyone else see what’s wrong with this picture? Is there anything else I can do? (I do have something really subversive up my sleeve…more on that later!)

Lenore here: I like the sound of ‘something subversive.’ Please keep us looped in! – L

School Outrage of the Week: No Cartwheels Unless “Trained Gymnastics Teacher” Supervising

Hi Readers! If you send your kids to the Drummoyne publics grammar school in Sydney, kindly instruct them to stay upright their whole day, as cartwheels, head- and handstands are no longer allowed unless  “under the supervision of a trained gymnastics teacher and with correct equipment,”‘  according to the Local West Courrier.

The ruling comes from the principal who is worried abut (all together now) INJURIES and LIABILITY, the twin Dementors driving schools crazy with fear and dread. The fact that the school just re-surfaced its playground with soft stuff to make falls even safer plays no role. Or perhaps it plays it usual PERVERSE role: The safer things get, the more safety we demand.

Rebecca Chown, the mother of Estelle, 10, an unrepentent cartwheel enthusiast, started a pro-fun petition that already has s250 signatures. According to The Telegraph:

Ms Chown first heard about the ban when her daughter Estelle, 10, came home on August 17 and said children had been told they couldn’t do anything that had them “upside-down”.

Estelle said: “It’s really frustrating because they ban everything and there is not much else for us to do.”

While Ms Chown said she understood the risks, children were playing, not training to be gymnasts.

Instead, we’re training kids to sit and blob out, all in the name of safety. Oh, and don’t be joyous either, kids. For your own sake. — L

AND HERE’S A DRAMATIC 38-SECOND RE-ENACTMENT OF THE BAN, STARRING THE GIRLS OF ROSMARINS BUNGALOW COLONY

2 College Presidents Beg Parents to Hover…in a New Way

Hi Folks — Just reading an early copy of an oped to be published in tomorrow’s Washington Post by the president of Northwestern University,Morty Schapiro, and the president of Lewis & Clark College,Barry Glassner, who is author of the book (turned phrase) The Culture of Fear.

Instead of merely telling parents to quit helicoptering when they drop their kids off at college — a tactic that they admit does not work — the dynamic duo do something I call “yuppie jujitsu.” They flip the parents’ own need for hovering into a way for them to let go. In this case, they tell parents that rather than swooping in to help their kids get something “better” —  be it a room, roommate or  grade — they should swoop in to remind their kids, “You can handle this! A little discomfort is good! You’re stretching!” As the presidents write:

…parents can help by gently pushing their children to embrace complexity and diversity and to stretch the limits of their comfort zones. Some of the most important learning we provide is uncomfortable learning — where students take classes in subjects they find intimidating, and live, study and play with classmates from backgrounds very different from their own.

This is so brilliant because it gives parents who, God bless ’em, only want to help, something constructive to do. It makes backing off into an ACTIVE way to HELP their kids. That is pure genius! I’m going to use it myself! The authors conclude with the kind of encouraging praise the parents have perfected themselves:

Having raised smart and accomplished kids, most parents are able, with a little guidance, to recognize the difference between being a constructive partner in their child’s educational journey and being a counterproductive, infantilizing, control freak.

The goal here at Free-Range Kids is to help them realize this before their kids are 18. But it’s great to know that, should we fail, the message awaits at college.

Hey Parents! Drop your kids off and then…

The Flashcard Backlash!

Hi Readers — Lovely article by Tara Parker-Pope in today’s New York Times about how we have been led astray by the flashcard mentality that says the more we DRILL our littlest students the SMARTER they become.

On the surface of it, the drilling idea makes sense: Why not efficiently shove info into our kids? Here’s the info, kids: Shove it!

But all the research (not to mention a million years of human development BEFORE flashcards) is suggesting that the way kids really learn is through PLAY. Even a game like Simon Says — or a variation that’s “Do the Opposite of What Simon Says” — can give a lot more developmental boost than another afternoon of  learning “F is for Foot.”

While the game may sound simple, it actually requires a high level of cognitive function for a preschooler, including focus and attention, working memory to remember rules, mental flexibility (to do the opposite) and self-control.

“We tend to equate learning with the content of learning, with what information children have, rather than the how of learning,” says Ellen Galinsky, a child-development researcher and author of “Mind in the Making: The Seven Essential Life Skills Every Child Needs.” “But focusing on the how of learning, on executive functions, gives you the skills to learn new information, which is why they tend to be so predictive of long-term success.”

You probably know that I dislike having to endorse a Free-Range approach because it is actually a “long-term success” incubator. But, hey, if you’re talking to parents who really believe LESS playtime means their kids will be MORE triumphant, it’s not bad to have a little ammo. – L.

Flashcards are fine…but not at the expense of play!

Kids & Kittens & Keeping Them Inside

Readers — This is such a fantastic example of the way our society is going: Better not to experience ANYTHING than to be exposed to a single ounce of RISK. It comes to us from Julie Saxon, a university lecturer turned stay-at-mom of two in San Jose, CA. –  L.

Dear Free-Range Kids: Just wanted to share this story that happened yesterday. My family has decided it’s time to adopt a pet, and we’d like a cat or kitten.  My husband and I both grew up with cats in the household and we both had indoor/outdoor cats. I know there’s a lot of controversy about what’s best, but we both believe that it is better for the cat’s well-being to allowed outside sometimes.  (Plus no litter box is awesome!)

So we set out to a local pet store yesterday that was holding an adoption fair. It was being put on by a local cat rescue that had very specific requirements of the homes in which the cats are to be placed, and one — written into a contract — is that the kitten will be kept indoors only. So, obviously, this wasn’t the rescue for us. But what was really interesting was the rhetoric the volunteer used in trying to convince us that cats are better as indoor only. It mirrored almost exactly what the media is telling us about children!  Some of the things she told me:

* We all used to have outdoor cats when we were kids. Everyone did. But things are different now.
* The cats’ biggest problem is PREDATORS. We think it’s cars, but it’s not. It’s predators. She then began to speak about COYOTES, despite the fact that I live in the suburbs of a fairly big city and have never–NOT ONCE in the 16 years I’ve lived here–seen a coyote. Off-leash dogs, yes. Raccoons and possums, yes. Coyotes, not so much.
* Kittens should never be outside, and these in particular because they’ve never been outside. They don’t know how to be outside. (As if I’m going to toss the kitten in the front yard and let it fend for itself.)
*Indoor only cats live longer.
*Besides, they don’t know what they’re missing.

Whether you believe the same way as this volunteer regarding cats and kittens isn’t my point. But I was shocked at how closely animal rescue folks mimic helicopter parents or possibly vice versa. Have we reduced our children to the state of 4-month-old bottle-fed baby kittens? We have to keep them inside because they’ve never been outside and they would instantly become prey to wild predators? Training them isn’t even considered? Besides, depriving them of what comes naturally is fine because they will live longer and they don’t know any different anyway? Wow! –  Julie

Who needs nature? We’re learning our numbers!