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

More Outrage! 5th Graders Can No Longer Play Outside “Alone”

Hi Readers! The other day my brother-in-law asked me if I ever got really “down” about our culture. I told him that usually I don’t — I get so mad about ridiculous rules and outlandish fears that I just blog in a blind fury and feel better.

But this story, sent by the folks at Kaboom, actually feels like lead in my soul. It’s about how yet another long-standing, joyous tradition — 100 unsupervised fifth graders frolicking outside on Friday afternoons — has suddenly been axed. Why? Oh, the usual, spanking new “safety” concerns. Sort of like the coffee ban discussed in the post below this one. Sort of like when Amtrak suddenly upped the age kids can travel solo from 8 to 13, not because of any incidents, but out of an “abudance of concern.”

If this is concern, I’ll take neglect. – L.

Once upon a time, an elementary school in Davidson, N.C. had a lovely tradition. On Friday afternoons, fifth graders with parental permission left the confines of their classroom to play on the Village Green. And the best part? They did it all by themselves!

But the school has decided to ban on the longtime tradition—even with an OK from mom and dad, students can no longer walk to the Green from school. Instead, they must ride home on the school bus or get picked up by their parents.

Read the rest of it here. And weep wherever you’d like. And then sign this Change.org petition. — L.

Where Have All The Jungle Gyms Gone? Long Time Passing…

Hi Folks! Here’s a great article from the L.A. Times about one of our recurring themes: The dumbing down of playgrounds to the point where they are, well, pointless. The writer, Gale Holland, reports:

Last fall as state inspector strode into Great Beginnings preschool and declared the tree house and climbing structure too high. They would have to come down or be surrounded by extra padding.

The metal ladder to the playhouse, which had been there 30 years, could pinch the children, said Beverly Wright-Chrystal, a state child care licensing representative. Also, a log worn smooth by generations of boys and girls playing horsy and hide-and-go-seek would have to be sanded and painted because of a potential “splinter hazard,” Wright-Chrystal determined.

How have we evolved to a society that sees splinters, blood and lawsuits every where we turn? Especially in light of my hero Phillip Howard’s contention that (according to the LA Times piece) there is no data showing an increase in playground injuries or lawsuits!

We are drunk on safety and hallucinating pink liability issues. (Elephants are too big to safely be hallucinated anymore.) Time to sober up and let kids have fun. — L.

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!!

Outrage of the Week: School Cordons Off 3-Foot Hill

Hi Readers — Just got this note from David Robert Hogg, who blogs about traveling the world with kids at MyLittleNomads.com. Talk about making a mountain out of a molehill!  — L
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Dear Free- Range Kids: I live in Seattle. Home to hikers, snowboarders, world travelers. It seemed like everyone I know was giving their kids the freedom to explore pretty much how we did as kids. OK, maybe not quite, but close enough not to land us on the Outrage of the Week.
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Then I got our weekly email from my boys’ school. They are taping off a part of the playground because some kids had fallen, slipped, or tripped on it. Wrote the principal:
Dear Parents: After a few injuries caused by large groups of students running down the slope to line up after recess, I asked our custodial engineer to temporarily tape the area to keep students from running down the slope.
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 have been communicating with our district gardeners and machinists to discuss a better solution such as landscaping the sloped area to prevent students from unsafely running down into it … I am also meeting with the Playground Committee this week and will seek their input on the improvements for safety reasons.

This is a "dangerous" hill?!

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Dear Principal (I wrote back): I was very disappointed to see the yellow tape around the dirt slope on the playground and even more disappointed to read your reasoning for it. 
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I’m a firm believer in the value of play – real play. There are risks, of course, that are serious enough to require intervention. A dirt hill with a 3 foot slope is not one of them. 
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In the simplest terms, what happens when a child falls while running down this slope? They learn they need to be careful when running down the slope! Remove the challenge and the consequences and you remove the opportunity to learn. Let me ask two questions:
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Are we making our kids any safer?
Almost certainly not. While potentially anything could happen with any fall, the majority of upsets are likely minor scrapes and bruises – if that. But more important, there’s evidence that removing small risks from a playground only serves to encourage greater risk taking – and prevents no injuries in the aggregate.
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Are we making kids any smarter?
The message we’re sending when we try to protect our children from trivial dangers like this is that we don’t trust them, their intelligence, their ability to learn. To be safe in the real world requires the ability to tell serious risk from manageable risk. Teachers talk in the classroom of getting kids to think independently – and then the children walk outside to see tape marking off a slope that a 2 year old could safely run down.
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Kids are better off  when they learn to navigate the real world than when they are protected from every possible risk. A playground that more closely resembles the real world makes for safer, stronger, and smarter children in the long run.
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It’s difficult to write seriously about such a trivial matter but I fear if I don’t speak up now that this policy of a zero-risk schoolyard will only grow stronger and our kids will pay a steep price. Steeper, even, than a 3-foot hill. — David Hogg

The Secret To Happy, Ready-to-Learn Kids (Hint: It’s Not Test Prep. Or Is it?)

Hi Readers! This is just a beyond-belief great playground idea:

As simple as it gets. As fun as it gets. And (if we must justify the idea of kids doing things on their own) as developmentally rich as it gets.

Watch it and weep — with joy for the kids with this kind of recess, with sadness for those who never get to do anything this free-form with THEIR friends. As the narators on the video say, “Children who are happier and engaged in play have a better experience in school.” This kind of “mixed-age, mixed gender” creative fun results in, “increased critical skills development.” Through open-ended play kids learn “team work, negotiation, risk management, conflict resolution, problem-solving.” They have fewer playground disputes because they’re busy having fun!  All of which adds up to “Happier, engaged students.”

Engaged students are GOOD students. Teachers! Principals! Superintendents! Why not substitute a bit of test prep for a bit more junkyard recess time? It’s such a SIMPLE thing that can change the school day SO MUCH! (And thanks to Tim Gill for sending it along!) — L.

How to Host a School Picnic (With Almost Zero Planning)

Hi Readers! As you know, one of the things that I believe makes folks feel safer and more ready to Free-Range their kids is COMMUNITY. The more connected we are, the less threatening the “world out there” seems, since “out there” is now familiar, even friendly. That’s why I love the idea of block parties and school get-togethers and all that, but I know (since I have never had the guts to organize one myself) that volunteering to make one of these wonders happen can be daunting. That’s why I loved reading this note from a mom in Portland, Oregon, named Mitzi. Here’s what she discovered about organizing an all-school picnic:

Dear Free-Range Kids: Our school started what we hope becomes a new tradition—a Fall Family Picnic on the school grounds one of the first evenings of school.

The idea is to have a low-key, casual picnic where families can meet, mingle, and re-connect after the summer break. We kept it super-simple: prep was limited to spreading the word about the picnic, putting up signs on the school yard for each grade so families could more easily meet others at their kids’ grade levels and having a pizza company come in to sell slices (and as a PTO fundraiser). Other than some ice-breaker games for Kindergarten kids, we had no planned activities: no bouncy houses, no rock wall, no clowns or face-painting or relay games. As PTO President, I was basically in charge of the event and wanted to keep it simple. I had a moment of panic about half an hour before picnic started: WHAT WERE WE THINKING?? What if we have 100 (or more) kids show up and they’re totally bored because we have nothing to entertain them with!? Will I have a bunch of angry parents shocked that I hadn’t planned activities? While there is a big play structure at the school, I hadn’t even requested to use the school’s playground balls and equipment. I threw some of our own kick balls, hula hoops and sidewalk chalk into the minivan, said a prayer and headed to the school.

And the result? Kids, everywhere, playing and having a blast. On their own. At least I assume they were having a blast—I was too busy mingling and chatting with other parents to pay much attention to my kids, other than to offer another slice of pizza when they came back to our blanket for a water break or to say hi. But if the shrieks of laughter and good-natured playing yelling were any indication, all the kids had fun. It’s amazing, isn’t it, what happens when we just let kids play? — Mitzi