An After-school Provider Laments the Crazy Rules

Hi Folks! Here’s yet another look at some insanely overprotective, unproductive rules governing anything having to do with kids. This rant/lament comes from Rick Rood, director of an on-site after-school child care program in the San Francisco Bay Area.  He has worked in the profession since 1990, and provides workshops and coaching for education professionals who work with school-age children.  He blogs at AfterschoolAnswers and is currently finishing his new book, “The Three Secret Pillars of Behavior Guidance,” even while he and his wife are raising kids aged 5, 16, and 17. This note came in response to a post about a YMCA that wouldn’t let a mom bring her 3-year-old in to use the bathroom because this was against the rules. – L

Dear Free-Range Kids:  I run an after-school program, and if that parent had come to our center, I would’ve had to tell them the same exact thing.  Our organization (we’re a string of 16 centers run by a rec and park organization) has a policy that outsiders are not allowed to use our restrooms. Why not?

One simple reason — liability.  The (very) sad fact is that the policy comes from our insurance company. I do my best to be a “Free-Range” director.  I don’t make these policies, and there are many rules and regulations with which I personally don’t agree. But it goes deeper than that.  Because of this “bubble-wrap” mentality, out-of-school-time staff have become more and more infected over the years with this insidious “worst-case scenario” type of thinking.

Some examples? Recently one of my teachers reported me to my boss for a Free-Range comment I had made.  One day, one of our children decided to sneak away from school and not come to the afterschool program.  This resourceful 8-year-old made it pretty much clear across our medium-sized town, heading to a friend’s house.  We followed our policies when he didn’t show up to our program: parents and police were called, and they tracked him down in pretty short order. After the dust had settled, I made a comment to one of our teachers (who I mistakenly figured held similar Free-Range ideas), saying that, while it was good that we found the boy, I was impressed with the boy’s resourcefulness and that maybe, as a culture, we shouldn’t call up visions of child molesters and abductors every time something doesn’t go as planned. The teacher went to my boss, and told her that he didn’t think I was very serious about protecting the children in our care.

Another policy: Kids can’t walk home on their own.  Again, liability.  How much could we be sued for if a kid breaks their leg or goes missing on the short walk home (we’re a neighborhood school),  even if the parent has given permission?  Frustrating to me because the odds that nothing bad will happen within a two-block walk are pretty astronomical, and then add to that the VERY tiny chance that their parent will pursue legal action (these are parents that we, as a rule, work together with as partners- and we have very good relationships with our parents).

Here’s a corker. Our local Little League uses the fields on our school grounds for practice and games.  Can we release the kids to just walk across the field (again on the SAME physical grounds) to practice?  Heck no… we require a “responsible adult” to come and sign them out and walk them the 100 yards to practice).  And, even better, by policy that “responsible adult” cannot be one of our staff members (even if the parents say it’s okay and we walk them every step of the way).

Finally, here’s a spot where I’ve rebelled (although quietly). At one of our “sister centers” (on the grounds of another local school)… they had a kindergartner who fell off the monkey bars while playing in the afterschool program and broke her arm.  Immediately, and with almost scary domino-like action, many of the other local centers (including the one in question) banned kindergarteners from the play structures (even though they’re labeled for use by kids 5-12 years of age).  No one ever made it an official policy, so my kindergarteners continue to enjoy play time on the play structure.

My main philosophy in afterschool care is that we exist to facilitate the emotional and social growth of children.  And if we’re going to succumb to the bubble-wrap philosophy of raising kids, then our mission is doomed from the start! At my center, kids will be allowed to play freely on the play structure, kids will be allowed to wrestle in the grass, and I will make free range choices in every area where they have not already been banned and by the regulating agencies, lawyers and insurance adjusters.  And unlike some of my fellow co-workers, I will not succumb to the “worst-first” type of thinking that stunts the social and emotional growth of the next generation. – Rick Rood

“Hunter,” a Deaf 3-Year-Old, Told Signing His Name Violates School’s Gun Policy

Hi Folks!  This is perhaps the most absurd story ever reported here — and that’s saying a lot! A reader named Rachel writes:

A Deaf child named Hunter is not allowed to use his name sign because the sign for “Hunter” (a dictionary word) uses the thumb and first two fingers in a gun shape and suggests a shooting motion. Here’s the story.

These school officials have lost their ability to reason if they believe stripping a child of his name is necessary for safety under a weapons policy. Educators who are unable to use logic and critical thinking have no business educating.

I just sent a letter to the school board expressing my outrage. Everyone else can too at  http://www.gips.org/contact_us

Thanks, Rachel 

“Today I Trusted a Complete Stranger with my Child”

Hi Readers! Here’s a lovely story from reader Deborah Halliday Mills. Remember it when you find yourself between a rock, a hard place, a child and a stranger! — L

Dear Free-Range Kids: I have always prided myself on being a common sense parent.  I don’t follow “experts,”or the latest trends or pop culture.  I believe strongly in community and that the vast majority of people are good, kindhearted and helpful.  My husband and I do what feels right in our hearts and minds.  And sometimes that means making split second decisions when it comes to safety.

Today I had to make such a decision.  My youngest of three boys, age 4, was home from preschool with a 102 fever.  I desperately needed to get to the grocery store to pick up a couple of items.  He was feeling okay for the moment, so we hopped in the car and headed out to the store.  My 15-month-old dog came along for the ride as well as she often does.

My son and I were in and out of the store in minutes while the dog waited in the minivan.  My son was hanging on to the side of the grocery cart when we got to the car.  I opened up the back of the van and within a second the dog  darted out and started running around the parking lot.  She was excited and refused to come to me, and then ran into the road.  So my dog was running in traffic and my son was standing by the car.  I was beside myself with  panic.  A woman pulled up in her car and asked if she could help.  She said she would stay by my son while I ran after the dog.  I made a split-second decision and said yes and ran after my dog.  Bringing along a sick 4-year-old while chasing a dog in traffic would have been a stupid thing to do.  So I left my son with a stranger, with my purse, phone, wallet and keys in her full view, and took off running.

My dog ran in and out of traffic and I was screaming and crying.  Numerous people stopped to help.  One man stopped traffic and ran after her with me.  It took us at least 15 minutes to catch her, running across roads, around drainage ditches, all the time me crying hysterically.  She finally conked out and laid down for a tummy rub.  (Typical dog!)  The man offered to carry her to my car for me because I was so upset.  But I declined, and mentioned that a stranger was watching my 4 -year-old son.  He smiled and said he had two sons too.  Please take care, he said,  and have a good weekend.  I thanked him profusely.

I carried my dog back to the car (a good distance away).  My son was sitting in the back of the van with this lovely “stranger,” talking about ducks and geese.  He was as happy as could be.  The “stranger” asked if I was okay, did I know where my keys were?  Was I okay to drive home?  Then she gave me a huge hug and told me what a wonderful son I had.  I couldn’t thank her enough.  I couldn’t thank both “strangers” enough for the time and efforts they had given me, my son and my dog.

I can honestly say that I not once feared for my son. We’ve never taught our kids to be afraid of people.  Instead we teach them to be kind and respectful and to use their own commonsense –- yes, even a 4-year-old.  That’s why he didn’t panic when I ran off and had a fun time talking. I’m sure there are plenty of parents that would be aghast at my decision, but I knew, thanks to you and my own common sense, that my son would be fine.

I still haven’t stopped shaking from the stress my dog caused, but I am so thankful for the strangers in my community that saw a woman in need and thought nothing of offering help.

Sincerely, Deborah, a proud, Free-Range Parent

Most strangers LIKE to help kids.

Outrage of the Week No Longer Outrageous! Lemonade Gal Gets Apology!

Hi Readers — This just in! The top elected official in Oregon’s Multnomah County apologized to Julie Murphy, age 7, who was threatened with a fine for running a lemonade stand without a permit. Here’s a breath of fresh air, common sense and just plain summer joy from OregonLive.com:

While the county inspectors were doing their job, [the county Chairman Jeff] Cogen said, the rules are meant for professional food service operators.

Inspectors need to use professional judgment, he said. “This isn’t something we need to be using our limited resources to crack down on,” he said.

What’s more, Cogen said, he can identify with Julie, noting that he ran lemonade stands as a child and so have his own kids.

When more officials use their hearts and brains instead of being zero-tolerance automatons, we will live in a land of  lemonade and honey.  — Lenore

P.S. I will be at BlogHer on Friday. Maybe I’ll see some of you there!

Throwing “What to Expect” Across the Room

Hi Readers — I just loved this comment to the “Driven Crazy by Pregnancy Perfectionists” post. And her phrase to describe the over-the-top precautions mom-to-be are advised to take — “mindless acts of pointless martyrdom”  — is so wonderful, it deserves to be embroidered on a million Baby Boppies. Voila:

Dear Free-Range Kids: I literally threw What to Expect When You’re Expecting across the room after I cracked it open for the first time to a random page and read, “We don’t have any evidence that coloring your hair harms the fetus, but we don’t have any evidence that it’s GOOD for the fetus, so sorry, Mom, but it’s just one more sacrifice you’re going to have to make.”

My blood pressure shot up so high reading that, I’m surprised I didn’t go into pre-term labor.  The only thing that saved me was knowing that the book was a hand-me-down and I hadn’t contributed to the personal fortune of its author.

So we preggos are supposed to give up everything that has not been proven to be beneficial to the baby even if there’s no evidence that it’s harmful? I refuse. The amount of love I feel for this little guy kicking my bladder is better measured by my determination to raise him to engage intellectually with the world around him than by mindless acts of pointless martyrdom.

“If we haven’t proven it’s good, you have to stop doing it” is the easily the most incredibly irrational, anti-intellectual, anti-scientific, anti-common sense rationale I have ever read for ANYTHING and yet I think that it’s the keystone philosophy for the pregnancy police.  Inherited wisdom from a society ravaged by lawsuits.  Never mind that we happily ignore the risks of things that it would it just be too damned difficult to give up, like car travel or walking.  Life is full of risk!  Brimming with risk!  Suck it up!  Put on your big girl panties (and maternity panties are indeed big) and deal.

You can babyproof your entire house top to bottom and then have it be hit by lightning two hours later.  So put the knives out of reach, install smoke detectors, and lock up the Drano when the baby starts crawling, and then just do the best you can.

I’m 26 weeks pregnant and last night I drank the first beer of this pregnancy and watched the Saints win their first ever Superbowl and my baby merrily kicked before, during, and after.  Still kicking this morning.  And I don’t feel the least bit bad about it.  Sorry, What To Expect.  By the way, if I feel like coloring my hair, I’ll do that, too.  I’ll stop short of drinking the dye if it’s any consolation.

Besides, I can’t prove that reading What To Expect is good for my baby… and the 30 seconds of elevated blood pressure it caused might actually be harmful.  I’m afraid that chucking it is just one more sacrifice that I’m going to make. — Christine

Never say dye? PHOTO CREDIT: Incurlers

Kid Streaks at Football Game, Now Could Be “Sex Offender”

Hi Readers: Yes, one of two kids who streaked at his local high school football game could now be required to register as a sex offender. Same list you’d find Jaycee Dugard’s rapist on. But, hey, it’s only for 10 years!

Only 10 years of not being allowed to live near a school or park. Only 10 years of being turned down for most jobs. Only 10 years of being seen by anyone checking the Sex Offender Registry as a guy who regularly goes around exposing  himself to minors.

These registry rules are as ridiculous and inflexible as the rule that would have sent the Cub Scout with the fork/spoon/knife off to two months of reform school for what was clearly a minor offense, if an offense at all. The over-the-top penalty was no doubt cobbled to keep kids “safe.”

They sure are safer now. All hail inflexibility! — Lenore