When Kids Have to Play Tag on the Low-Down

Hi Folks! Just got this disturbing little note from reader Jeff Johnson who, I am happy to say, is writing a book about the importance of play. — L.

Dear Free-Range Kids: Just wondering how much you’re hearing about the death of games like tag on school playgrounds.

I volunteer in a local kindergarten once a week. Last Thursday I had this exchange with some students during recess:

Me: Let’s play some freeze tag!

Kindergartner #1: We aren’t sposed to play tag.

Kindergartner #2: Yeah, you want to get us in trouble or something?

Me: What The Fu…n-killing kind of rule is that? Why can’t you play tag?

Kindergartner #3: ‘Cus it’s The Rule.

Kindergartner #4 (Whispering, as if the playground is bugged ): We still play sometimes in secret when the teachers are just talking.

I emailed the principal–she says it is just “too dangerous” with so many kids on the playground.

In a year, this school will merge with another into a shiny new building (which looks kind of like a perky prison) with over 700 elementary students. I’m afraid to think about what will classified as too dangerous then. — J.J.

Johnson then wrote another note to report:

UPDATE: Today at recess I learned that the kids are not allowed to play in and/or with snow on the playground. The kids are restricted to the cleared asphalt area of the playground. I also saw two great looking perfect-for-play sticks taken away from children and put in protective custody.

I shudder to think what would happen to a child caught playing tag in the snow while holding a stick. — J.J.

Kids having fun at recess? This must stop!!

Fun and Games — Literally

Hi Readers — One of you just sent in the link to this amazing site: Streetplay.com, where you can find the basic rules for a ton of old-fashioned games, from jacks to marbles to the one that I always heard about but never knew what it was: Ringoleavio, which sounds like Hide & Go Seek meets The Green Berets. I’m psyched to show my kids this site and hope that they’ll go try the games out,  even though, even here, this will require some prying them away from their electronics. — Lenore

Outrage of The Week: Recess Gets Programmed

Hi Readers! Here’s what’s up at a grammar school outside of Chicago where the kids have apparently been getting it all wrong during recess. A local source writes:

 This past weekend I went over to visit a friend of mine who is a first grade teacher. When I walked in, she was watching a video demonstrating different outdoor games to teach children, like 4-square, tag, etc. I asked why she was watching and she said, “We are figuring out which games are appropriate to teach the kids at recess.”

 When I followed up I learned that during the past year, there were too many fights and “wandering” children during recess, so the school has decided that recess should be structured with the children being given the choice of playing any of three or four pre-taught games.

So now, at the beginning of the 20-minute recess, there will be 3-4 activities set up. Kids will be required to pick one and stick with it. Says our source, “They are toying around with rotating the kids through the activities or giving them the chance to switch halfway through recess, but 20 minutes just isn’t that long!”

 It sure isn’t. And neither is childhood, which is why this is just wrong.

If children need to learn the basics of some classic games, by all means: Teach them! That’s a great idea! But then – it is time to back off.

The whole idea of free play is FREE PLAY. That means the freedom to run around. To make up games. To CHANGE the game. One of the happiest days of my son’s life was when he came back from the park where he and his friends invented “7-square.” It was like they’d invented cold fusion — a brilliant idea the world had been dying for.

 Kids have structured time the rest of the day. From what I’ve seen, a lot of it will probably be spent preparing for standardized tests. Recess shouldn’t be the same as the rest of the day. It should be…what’s that word again?

 Oh yeah! A recess. – Lenore