School Inspectors Say: Trees Too Dangerous!

Hi Readers — This is a column I wrote for Creators, my syndicate. (Feel free to ask your local paper to carry me every week!) Anyway, I wanted to make sure you saw this one, so here it is. Happy weekend! — L.


For almost a half-century, kids at the farm-based Moorestown Children’s School in New Jersey have spent a lot of their time stomping in the mud, running through the meadow and visiting the barn, blissfully oblivious to the danger in their midst.


Oh, the child care inspectors don’t use that term. They call it “overgrown vegetation” — the tree branches that dip down to the ground, weeping willow-style. These must be chopped off — every last branch, until inspectors can see 7 feet of bare trunk on every tree — or the school will be cited for safety violations.

“But they play with the trees!” school director Sue Maloney recalls telling the inspection crew. The children “touch the trees! They shake the leaves. It’s what they do.”

Not anymore. Not if she wants to keep her license. This is the story of what happens when two different ideas of childhood collide.

The Moorestown school, which was started by Maloney’s mom, does not look like a typical child care center, Maloney confesses. “We believe in clutter. Leaves, twigs, pine cones, stuff, projects, papier-mâché, things that you don’t put away at the end of an hour” — that’s what the indoor space is filled with. And a cat. More about her later.

Outside, even as suburbia encroaches, the school’s 11 acres remain rural. There’s another cat, and all those trees. Years ago, there was a stream, too, but that has since been fenced off for safety reasons. There were also several fat logs cut into stumps. Kids could place them in a circle for story time or line them up and hop from stump to stump.

But, by regulation, any “play equipment” must be permanently affixed to the ground over safety surfacing. And because the kids played with the logs, these technically were “play equipment,” so now they’re gone, too. Maloney didn’t buck the system. The school opened in 1981 and was never in danger of closing. Till now.

The problem started last year when an inspector visited the school and smelled something foul. This turned out to be an egg a boy had stuffed into his boot for safekeeping (and forgotten!). It made a bad impression on the inspector, who returned with more inspectors, who in turn found more things objectionable.

The 10-year-old tabby sleeping in a basket, for instance. From now on, she had to be leashed or caged or evicted. Then there’s the fact that some of the 15 students, ages infant to 8, were padding around inside in stocking feet. By law, they are required to wear shoes. And there were some other concerns Maloney was happy to fix: a patch of uneven surface on the playground, some mildew in a storage building. Finally, as it said on the Dec. 20 “Inspection/Violation” report, the center had to “cut back low-hanging tree branches.”

That’s where Maloney drew the line. She called me to explain why. “This is a country environment! I grew up here. Honestly, that’s what I wrestle with: Do we even want to remain a child care center if we have to eliminate all the parts we love?” Do away with the cat, the stream, the logs, the bare feet and the branches — what’s left?

Almost absolute safety.

And almost nothing else. — Lenore

Caution! Tree ahead!

Lovely. This Is How Folks Think Today

Hi Readers — Sent by one of you, from a Facebook exchange:

KM: Today I toured a “preschool” that makes the kids (4/5 year olds) nap for 2 hours everyday. Lights out, kids laying on cots in the dark for two hours! WTF! AND it cost $140/week.

MGK: Um, kids should never be left in the dark at any daycare. Sadly predators will take any chance.

KM: There was a teacher in there flipping through a magazine. The place was really small and the doors locked.

MGK: Even worse. One teacher, alone in the dark with a child/children and the doors locked. How is this legal?

JLB: … as for M’s comments, that is exactly why I am so scared of babysitters and home daycares…at least “in” a school you think it’s safer. I teach {my son} that nobody is allowed to touch him, not even me, our generation they only taught us to watch for strangers not our f*ing family members that were hurting us…sigh…

MGK: My mom is a supervisor at the CDC at ____ and I took her with me to tour daycares when I was pregnant. She gave me all the ins and outs of what to look for. On base they are not allowed to have the lights down or the doors locked just for that reason. Background checks do not include people who have never been caught or first time offenders.

Lenore here again: Now, I agree, we don’t want our kids molested. But I think we also don’t want everyone so freaked out about predators all the time that, my God, we have gotten to the point where we trust NO ONE to touch our kids, including — can it be? OURSELVES! That is so beyond paranoid and into whatever comes AFTER paranoid (what does?) that I am practically shaking. It’s like we’ve taken some sort of craziness pill that makes us see everyday life like a horror movie: “Coming, this winter: Predator IV. Whatever you do…don’t go into the pre-school.” — L

A Story You Will Read Aloud (I Did), About A Cheese Sandwich

Dear Readers: This is not only an incredible story — a boy’s cheese sandwich is confiscated by the food police — it is also the best writing I’ve read in a long time. That’s why I just read it out loud to my husband. It begins:

A Britain in which the cheese sandwich is subject to intolerance and abuse is a Britain that no right-minded rennet-lover would ever care to inhabit. It is a Britain that no one could have imagined possible.

Yet the impossible has happened: staff at a nursery in Pemberton, near Wigan, have confiscated a cheese sandwich belonging to a two-year-old pupil, Jack Ormisher. Its failing was to contain neither lettuce nor tomato.

Enjoy! (With cheese sandwich in hand!) — L

There Was an Old Lady Who Lived in A Shoe, But She is Fine & Her Kids Are, Too

Hi Folks! When not busy blogging here (and lecturing, and writing non-blogs), I run a humor contest in the magazine The Week. My question is usually a wacky twist on something in the news and last week I was fed up with that pre-school TV show in England that had tinkered with the ending of Humpty Dumpty. Remember? Worried, I think, that their little viewers could not handle the shock and horror of Humpty’s actual fate, the show changed the ending to, “All the kings horses and all the kings men/Made Humpty happy again.”

So my Week contest asked readers to come up with another nursery rhyme with a new ending suited for today’s supersensitive, easily traumatized kids. Here are the fantastic results, below. If you want to see more contests from The Week, click here and then keep clicking, “For the results of last week’s contest” when you get there. My contest has been running for almost a year, so there’s a lot of fun packed in there!  Have safe, educational fun! — Lenore


Little Miss Muffet sat on a tuffet, eating her lightly baked fish.
Along came a spider, who sat down beside her, and said, “What a heart healthy dish!”
Robyn Sharretts, Danville, PA

There was an old woman who lived in a shoe
She had so many children, she didn’t know what to do
She asked a producer, who was in the know
“If I have octuplets, can I get a show?”
Lianne Kuboi, Honolulu

There was a little girl who had a little curl
Right in the middle of her forehead.
And when she was good, she was very, very good.
And when she was bad, she had her iPhone taken away from her.
Mary Walker, Ocean City, NJ


Little Jack Horner sat in a corner
Eating a non-denominational winter-holiday pie
He stuck in his thumb and pulled out a plum,
And said, “I have an unhealthy relationship with food that causes my obesity.”
Bill Muse, Seattle

There was an old woman who lived in a shoe
But faced foreclosure, didn’t know what to do
She appealed to her banker to lend her a hand
Now she sleeps on a flip flop out in the sand.
David Sorenson, Green Bay, WI

Diddle diddle dumpling, my son John
Went to bed with his britches on
One shoe off and one shoe on
That’s why she divorced you, John
Helen Kontis, Fort Lauderdale

three men who can’t marry each other in a tub.
Cathy Curtis, Finksburg, MD

There was an old woman who lived in a shoe.
In this mortgage market, you probably will, too.
Michael Plittman, Pittsburgh

Jack Sprat could eat no fat
His wife would eat no sweet
When they added a pilates class
Their bods were hard to beat.
Bobby Schackow, Gainesville, FL

Little Miss Muffet sat on her tuffet, eating her curds and whey.
Along came a spider who sat down beside her and discussed his lactose intolerance all day.
Pattie Vespereny, St. Louis, MO

Little Miss Muffet sat on her tuffet, drinking her soy-based whey.
Along came a spider who sat down beside her and said, “Hey, did you get my latte?”
Marion Law, San Diego

Little Miss Muffet sat on her tuffet, eating her curds and whey.
Along came a spider who sat down beside her and asked if she’d had a nice day.
Adrienne Hochee, Mountain Center, CA (and others, similar)

This little piggy went to the doctor
This little piggy stayed home
This first piggy got H1N1
The other little piggy got none
Now all the little piggies cry, “We…we…we don’t know what to do!” all the way home.
Peter Savigny, White Plains, NY

Three blind mice, see how they run!
They all ran after the farmer’s wife
Who’s practiced opthamology all of her life
She restored their sight with a laser knife
Three vision-corrected mice
Nancy House, Nashville

There was an attractive, middle-aged woman who lived in a condo with a view
She had a fulfilling career and 2.1 children, too
She cooked them organic meals and homemade bread
She was their best friend, n’er a harsh word said.
Danielle Tallman, Litchfield Park, AZ

Tom, Tom, the piper’s son
Stole a pig and away did run
His lawyer could offer no defense
For this was poor Tom’s third offense.
Lois A. Dorschel, Hawthorne, NV

Rock-a-bye baby, on the tree top
When the wind blows, the cradle will rock
When the bough breaks, the cradle rips free
But baby is perfect and wins a tro-phy.
Daisy Michael, Westminster, MD

Little Bo Peep has lost her sheep
And can’t tell where to find them.
Leave them alone and they’ll come home
With their GPS to guide them!
Gail Noren, Fayetteville, GA

Old Mother Hubbard went to the cupboard
To fetch her poor dog a bone
When she got there, the cupboard was bare
So they ordered a pizza by phone.
Gene Hosey, Mechanicsburg, PA

It’s raining, it’s pouring, TV’s getting boring
The satellite’s gone, HBO is done and we can’t TiVo till morning.
Norma Herrera, North Bay Ridge, FL

Ladybug, ladybug, fly away home!
Your house is paid off and your children are grown!
Mary Holz, Nipomo, CA

Jack be cautious, Jack slow down
Jack walk ’round the candle in your flame retardant gown.
Vicki Brownell, Blairstown, NJ

I’m a little hedge fund, short and stout
Here is a sure bet, do not doubt
When I get in trouble, hear me shout,
“Tip me over and bail me out!”
Marv Toyer, Carlsbad, CA

Georgie Porgie, pudding and pie
Kissed the girls and made them cry
Until one spoke to Georgie’s mom.
Then he was grounded and missed his prom.
Miles, Judith, David and Valerie Klein, Frisco, TX

Jack and Jill went up the hill
To fetch a pail of water
Jack fell down and sued the town
Jill installed plumbing thereafter.
Roberta Rathbun, Goleta, CA

Jack and Jill went up the hill
To fetch a pail of water
Jack sat down and looked around
Jill texted, “c u L8r!”
Julie Pilat, Los Angeles

Jack and Jill went up the hill
To fetch a pail of water
From that day on they had it done
By one who’d crossed the border.
Tom Sheppard, Flat Rock, NC

…Jack fell down and broke his crown
And Jill sought pre-treatment approval from an in-network provider
Then carefully and safely walked down the hill,
As their policy limit was one such lifetime occurrence.
Warren Scrivani, Raleigh, NC

….Jack fell down and broke his crown.
But Jill stood by him during the press conference.
Ramon Presson, Franklin, TN

Forget the Flash-Cards: How To REALLY Help Your Pre-Schooler

It’s no secret that parents worried about how their kids are going to do in kindergarten are willing to work hard to help them make the grade. But a new study reported in Connect with Kids shows that teaching pre-schoolers the academic stuff — letters, numbers, etc. — may not be the best approach. What is?

Chores. Teaching them to listen to you, follow instructions and complete a task:

According to a study of 379 children published in the ‘Journal of Personality’, kids who had more responsibilities at age five, were more likely to have better grades and better behavior in school as 8-year-olds.

“When you get to school you have multiple step direction of things that children are expected to do,” explains Psychologist Laura Mee, Ph.D., “If they’ve been practicing that and listening to parents and following thing in a sequence at home for several years… I think it is more automatic for them.”She says simple chores also help a child develop a sense of confidence, independence. “And then feeling more self confidence that then helps you have more mastery in school,” says Dr. Mee.

She says if parents are paying attention, they’ll get cues from their child when they want to help out. “So if you can catch them when they want to do things independently, it’s a great time to encourage that and help them move forward,” says Dr. Mee.

I’m not saying I had my toddlers cleaning the house  — I’m pretty bad at that  myself (and always forget where the switch is on the vaccuum cleaner). But this study sure makes sense to me. Especially when we remember that until recently, children were always expected to help out their parents, not just the other way around.  — Lenore

Outrage of the Week: Teacher Lets Kids Climb Hill, Cops Come Calling

Hi Readers — Here’s the latest outrage. Lia’s nature-oriented nursery school/kindergarten might not be for everyone, but it certainly is for some kids. Or at least it was.  — Lenore

By Lia Grippo

My name is Lia Grippo.  I am an early childhood educator with 20 years of experience.  For the past 11 years, a large part of my work here in Santa Barbara has been taking young children into local wild spaces where we forage, track animals, climb trees, build forts, etc. For the last two years I have been running a small school that meets at my home 3 days a week and in the woods 2 days per week — safely.

I have two sons, age 7 and 4.  My 7-year-old has been climbing to heights since he was a baby. My husband and I mentored this skill early on first by staying close while pretending to watch something else, and later by having some simple guidelines. For climbing trees, our guidelines include teaching children to know how to tell a dead branch from a living one, and then teaching them never to climb on dead branches or any limb “thinner than your arm.”  We never help a child to climb up but are willing to help as much as necessary on the climb down.

 A few weeks ago my school met at a local beach.  The beach is sandwiched between the ocean and some steep hills and bluffs.  The hills sit in the sand, not above the water.  My 7-year-old and his 6-year-old friend – an equally competent as a climber and also the son of my dearest friend and school teaching assistant — climbed to the top of one of these hills.  As they climbed they chatted, and moved at a steady pace, which meant to me that they were not at the edge of their abilities, which would have been evidenced by their silence or by announcements of fear, tense body language, or frequent stops in search of how to proceed next.  In imitation of the older boys, the younger children began to climb the hill as well.  

I stopped them by saying, “That’s high enough,” when I saw they had reached the point where they would not be able to come down by themselves if they were to continue.  The three younger ones (ages 4, 5, & 5) stopped and began to climb down.  By this time, a group of people had gathered to watch.  My 4-year-old son slid a little down the hill on his bottom. I was right below him to catch him should he continue to slide.  But with the combination of the sliding and, I believe, a frightened group of strangers staring up at him, he became too afraid to come down the rest of the way.  So I climbed up and coached him down, staying  just beneath him. He calmed down to the point where we were laughing and joking as we made our way down.

As we neared the bottom, I noticed there was a lifeguard beneath me on the hill about 3-4 feet off the ground.  When we reached him he asked if I wanted to pass my son off to him and I did and he put him down on the ground.  Then the lifeguard told me he would take the trail around the side of the hill to get the other boys down and I agreed, not because I thought those boys couldn’t make it down on their own — I was certain they could — but because of the fear of the folks watching.  We went around to meet the kids as they came down the trail.  The lifeguard seemed annoyed and said, “Don’t do that again,” before walking off.

During all of this the police were called.  The police officer took a statement from me and left.  As the parents arrived at the end of our morning, I told each one the story and each of them said, “I’m so sorry that happened to you. Why are people so afraid these days?”

A few days later the agency that licenses my school came to my door to begin an investigation. This included calling all of the parents at the school, who were all in complete support of me and thought the incident was blown completely out of proportion.  Each parent called me afterward to lend support and to share their outrage at this agency.

At the end of this process, the agency has revoked my license saying that I endangered the children by “exposing them to the natural hazard of the hill and the ocean front,” and by allowing them to climb, made worse by the fact that I allowed them to climb in beach attire, and my son was naked. (As result of ditching his freezing wet pair of jeans.)  

The families have surrounded me with support and outrage and are willing to help pay attorney’s fees to appeal this process.

A couple of nights ago, my 7-year-old said to me, “Mama, I know why those people were afraid.  They couldn’t climb that hill themselves.”

I could use whatever support, resources, or ideas, folks might have to offer.  Especially helpful would be an attorney who had had experience with this sort of situation or someone who works in California’s Community Care Licensing Division who may be able to offer advice.

Thank you,