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.

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

Why Johnny Can’t Run

Hi Folks! This is my piece that ran in last week’s Wall Street Journal. Have a good week (and some “vigorous activity”). – L.

The Importance of Child’s Play

by Lenore Skenazy

A new study of how preschoolers spend their days may make you want to run around screaming, which is apparently more than the tykes themselves get to do. After interviewing child-care providers from 34 very different Cincinnati-area centers—urban to suburban, Head Start to high income—researchers found that kids spend an average of only 2% to 3% of their day in “vigorous activities.”

Can you imagine that? Children spending 97% of their day not running around? It’s like a desk job, except with cookie time. Excuse me—apple time. When you consider that three-quarters of American kids aged 3 to 5 are in some kind of preschool program and a lot of them come home only to eat, sleep and go back again, this is beyond sad—it’s bad. Bad for their bodies, their brains, their blubber. Baddest of all are the reasons behind this institutionalized atrophy: The quest for ever more safety and education.

“Injury and school readiness concerns may inhibit children’s physical activity in child care,” writes pediatrician Kristen A. Copeland, lead author on the study, which will appear in next month’s Pediatrics but is already available on the journal’s website. Let’s take a look at both these concerns, the twin fears haunting modern-day childhood.

Fear of injury: The centers, the parents and the state regulators are all so worried about injuries that they end up steering kids away from play. They do this in part by only approving playground equipment that is so safe it is completely boring to the kids. As one child-care provider told the investigators, “We used to have this climber where they could climb really high and it was really challenging. Now we have this climber that looks cute, much cuter than the old one, but it’s not as high and . . . scary.”

“Scary” equals “fun” for kids. (It equals potential lawsuit to everyone else.) Faced with this pitiful excuse for a plaything, the kids started doing things like walking up the slide. But of course, that is verboten, too, because a kid could get injured! As several child-care providers told the authors, “the [safety] guidelines had become so strict that they might actually be limiting, rather than promoting, children’s physical activity.”

Uh, “might”?

Fear #2: Falling behind. The trembling triumvirate of child-care providers, parents and regulators also worries that kids must perform at a certain level when they reach school, so play time is sacrificed for academics. Some parents specifically request that their kids not participate in outdoor activities but “read a book instead”—an attitude that spans the economic spectrum.

The funny thing is, if you are really concerned about children’s health and school-readiness, there is a very simple way to increase both. It’s called playing.

Kids learn through play. When kids play, they’re not wasting their time. They’re learning everything from motor skills to social skills and numbers. Think of all the counting that comes with hopscotch, or with making two even teams. Those activities are a lot more fun than flash cards, but they teach the same thing: math. Kids playing outside also learn things like distance, motion, the changing of the seasons—things we take for granted because we got time outside. But many of today’s kids spend all their daylight hours in child care.

Then there are the social skills. The planning (“I’ll throw the ball to you, you throw it to Jayden”) and the compromise (Jayden always wants to go first), and the ability to pay attention. These are key lessons for anyone about to go onto another 12 years of education, not to mention another 50 years of meetings after that.

And on the physical side of things, kids outside literally learn how to move. Joe Frost, a professor emeritus at the University of Texas and author of 18 books on child’s play, has been watching for decades as dwindling time outside and increasingly insipid equipment got to the point where many 21st-century kids “are unsafe on any environment, because they have not developed the strength, the flexibility, the motor skills that come with being a well-rounded child.” They don’t even know how to fall safely, which makes them more likely to hurt themselves. So much for making kids safer by limiting their playground time.

As for the biggest health risk of all: 19% of kids are showing up at kindergarten already obese. They’ve started out on a life of couch potato-dom. Some don’t even know how to skip. “We’re seeing what we used to call ‘adult’ diabetes in children as young as 3, 4, 5,” says Dr. Copeland.

In striving to make our kids super safe and super smart we have turned them into bored blobs. Fortunately, the remedy is as simple as it is joyful: Just see the playground the way kids do. Not as an academic wasteland. Not as a lawsuit waiting to happen. Just the very best place to spend a whole lot of time.

Playgrounds Getting TOO Safe?

Hi Readers — A bunch of you sent me links to this wonderful NY Times story by John Tierney yesterday, about how maybe we have been making playgrounds SO safe that they actually stunt our kids’ development. (Or at least make it too boring for anyone over 7 to want to go play.)

It’s a point I agree with so much that I wrote a piece about the same thing, last year. Here’s a link to that one, too.  Basically, both articles point out that in our desire to eliminate ALL risks, we create new ones, like the risk of kids not getting a feel for what’s safe or not, and not feeling confident about facing the world in general. And not getting exercise!

And here’s an earlier Wall Street Journal article that inspired me, “Why Safe Kids are Becoming Fat Kids.”  (Actually, it’s just a bit of the article because the Journal only gives a chunk, unless you subscribe.) The piece is by Philip K. Howard, who happens to be author of one my favorite, mindblowing books, Life Without Lawyers.

Anyway, here’s to fun on the monkey bars, and maybe some new ideas about playgrounds, too. — L

Wheeeee! This is so developmentally rich!

Fight Fat with Free-Range?

Hey Readers — Take a look at this column by Glenn Cook in The Las Vegas Review Journal, “The Obesity Cure: Free Range Kids.”

I know we are not all positive that there IS an obesity epidemic or, if there is, what its root causes are, but I think we can all agree that most kids today are less active than their parents were, for reasons ranging from Club Penguin to Nancy Grace. And even if they’re in organized sports, that’s still a different kettle of fish than coming home and riding a bike around the neighborhood till suppertime.

Yesterday my 12-year-old was out of the house all day, which seemed great. He was wandering with a group of friends, maybe six or seven of them, and I spotted them loping by a few times. It was like seeing gazelles in the wild. Loved it! But when he finally came home he started telling me about this great TV show he’d just seen for the first time.

I know, I know — a little TV is not the end of the world. And what’s the alternative — me micromanaging his day? “You VILL have outdoor fun!”  I’m just bummed that all of us — kids and adults — are up against the twin lures of air conditioning and streaming video. Those are hard for anyone to resist on a hot summer’s day.

All sorts of modern day conveniences and conventions make it hard to get our kids rollicking and frolicking as much as we’d like — or hard for me,  anyway. But when media start recognizing Free Range as a healthy way to raise kids,  that’s just good news.  Let’s hope what happens in Vegas doesn’t just stay in Vegas.– Lenore

'Sno joke! Get 'em outside!

Parents Fear Abductions More than Kids’ Actual Health

Hi Readers — Here’s a study done in England that says 30% of parents fear for their kids being kidnapped — a 1 in 1 million chance — versus the tiny number (1 in 20) who fear “severe health problems” for their kids in the future, brought on by a sedentary and possibly overweight life. A life that begins in childhood, with the kids driven to school and stowed indoors the rest of the time, out of…fear.  The article says those “severe health problems” have a 1 in 3 chance of occurring.

Slightly off-kilter fears, wouldn’t you say? — Lenore

I Weep for My City (Banning Homemade Goods At Bake Sales)

Because, as we all know, the lack of funds for library books and gym equipment doesn’t kill kids, homemade cupcakes do. Nothing like a micromanaged snack. Check this out. And bartender? Make it another milk. Straight up, no cookies. — Lenore

P.S. My husband says we can’t call it a bake sale anymore either. How about a Fake Sale? The Deli in the Gym? Or maybe Processed Food Sale. That’ll bring ’em galumphing.