Now Our Kids are Too Delicate to Handle the Glare of Notebook Paper?

Readers — I just got some “helpful” back-to-school tips from a famous sunscreen company. (Hint: Think dog and little girl and bathingsuit.) Not only does that company really want kids to wear — this’ll surprise you — sunscreen when they go out for recess, but it had some other suggestions. Well, two, actually, one of which was for kids to wear a comfortable (as opposed to uncomfortable) backpack. Never woulda thought of that! The one single other “tip”?

Students spend so much time staring at paper, it may surprise you to know that the higher the contrast, the more strain on your son or daughter’s eyes. If the school allows it, give your child yellow or green paper. These colors actually offer reduced contrast and brightness, easing the strain on their eyes.

So basically, the sunscreen company is suggesting that, ever since Guttenberg, our kids have been going blind, or at least under difficult visual duress, thanks to that darn white paper.

As for the sunscreen company: I understand that you have to gussy up your “tip list” with other ideas, so it didn’t look like all you care about is selling more sunscreen. But it sure looks like all you care about is selling more sunscreen (and coming up with ridiculous new worries, so the idea of kids slathering themselves in sunscreen for 15 minutes of recess seems less extreme.) — L

Cancel Recess If Some Kids Are Shivering?

Hi Readers — As a gal who is ALWAYS shivering, and wears a million layers, and did not particularly love recess back in my Chicago youth — but who has come to wholeheartedly endorse outdoor time now — I feel bad for the kids in this county:

Dear Free-Range Kids: Question for you about outdoor/indoor recess policies.

I live in Montgomery County, Maryland, where it is rarely below 25 degrees by the middle of the day. And yet, there are many days when the elementary school kids have “indoor recess” (which means that they sit in their classrooms). A friend of mine started a petition  (see: and to encourage the County to send kids out even when it’s cold.  (Let’s be clear: this is Maryland: we’re talking about days when it is in the upper 20s/low 30s and sunny–or even overcast).

Last night at a PTA meeting we brought up the subject with the principal and got into a surreal discussion in which a few parents noted that “perhaps boys need to go out for recess, but when my daughter goes outside in the cold, she shivers.” It occurs to me that we’ve reached a really strange place where “shivering” is considered remarkable (and upsetting) enough to note in a public meeting. And the implications that only boys need exercise/run-around/non-programmed educational time during the day is simply appalling to me. The principal noted that her para-educators (who staff recess) go outside in the morning to make sure it is “comfortable” (her word). When I asked why they couldn’t still go outside even if it wasn’t “comfortable,” she said it was her job to keep the children safe. She was not able to articulate (at least to my satisfaction) what was “unsafe” about going outside when it’s cold outside, given that the children are wearing coats and hats (or they could be, if they actually went outside).

So here’s my question: Do you have (or know where I could find) any data showing what school systems around the country have in terms of “go outside for recess in the cold” policies? I think it will be helpful as we pursue this conversation to have some information that isn’t simply anecdotal (i.e. I’m from Wisconsin and we went outside all the time).

Thanks for any insights you & your readers might have. All best, Sarah

Sarah — Someone did send me this USA Today piece on the differing policies about temperature and recess. But maybe some readers have other good ideas on how make your county (and principal) understand that recess is important. Let us know what transpires! I am shivering (per usual) in anticipation. — L





Hooray for recess! (But put some pants on, kid!)






No Recess? No Good

Hi Readers! Meg Rosker is a writer, wife and mom of three in Redington Shores, FL. She blogs at withoutablueprint. To keep  recess alive and well at your school (or bring it back from the dead), check out the resources at,  Kaboom and Playworks! — L
“When my children come to school I want their bottoms in chairs, learning. When they come home, I’ll let them play.”

These words were spoken to me at a recent school meeting by a woman who is a parent AND a public school teacher. I had approached our neighborhood elementary school about re-instating recess into the daily schedule. Right now, only kindergarteners get 30 minutes a day of free time. By first grade, it’s over.

Nonetheless, another teacher pointed to her watch with annoyance and emphasized that, “We just don’t have time for this.”  After I wrote a letter to the editor in our local paper about the desperate need for recess, the school principal accused me of defaming the school and attacking the teachers   Then there was the long list of excuses of why recess doesn’t work:  “There are too many children. We can’t have proper supervision.” “Children get hurt at recess.” “Most write-ups occur during recess and we don’t want that kind of trouble. It takes away from learning time.”

And that was just the beginning. As my friend Michelle and I approached parents to sign a petition in favor of recess, countless said things like,  “I’m sure there is a good reason they don’t have it.” Or,  “I know someone on the school board and I know they would tell me not to signthat.”

Seriously, does anyone think for themselves anymore? Does anyone listen to that parental intuition that tells us what is best for our children?  There is no part of me that thinks allowing children to sit inside for six hours a day is okay.

But the question I left that meeting with was this: What in the world do these people think their children are going to be up against in the coming years, that to allow them even a half an hour of play during the school day could lead to their ultimate demise?

We are trying to protect our children from a danger we can’t even name!

Allowing this fear to grow will sicken our kids.  In fact, Dr. Stuart Brown, founder of the National Institute of Play, determined that play is an absolute necessity in positive socialization. You can read more about it in his book, Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination and Invigorates the Soul.

Once upon a little boy and a little girl were not allowed to go outside. They had to stay inside and study all day. They never got to go to the playground or dig in the sandbox.  They didn’t tie clover necklaces or learn how to play touch football. Instead they studied and got very, very smart.

The End.

Don’t you wonder what kind of people they will be? — M.R.

Yup. But I’d rather we don’t have to find out. Save recess! — L.



OTHER Outrage of the Day: School Cancels Some Recess Because It’s Noisy

Hi Readers! Here’s the latest nonsense (and it was reported by the BBC, not The Daily Mail): A grammar school in England decided to cut back on recess when neighbors complained it was too loud.

Why not cut back on, say, responding to outlandish complaints? Or on letting lawyers decide what to eviscerate fun from the school day? But no: The decision was made to take it out on the kids. After all, they don’t really have to run around, do they? It’s not like they’re primates or anything… — Lenore

Help This Mom Save Recess!

Hi Readers — Here’s a plea for some great ideas from a mom whose “excellent” public school has killed recess. Has your school tried this, too, and realized its folly? If so, how did it come to its senses? Or is your school considering this and you, too, are trying to figure out how to stop the soul-crushing steamroller of “test success at all costs”? Do tell! — L.

Dear Free-Range Kids: My son just started kindergarten a few weeks ago and I have been so worried about the lack of “Free-Range”-ness in schools — like free choice and play time. Everyone assured me kindergarten was fine and it has been, but the innocence is over in 1st grade: Our school district as DONE COMPLETELY AWAY with RECESS!

The reason? “Just not enough time.” Huh!? What about games and socialization? No, now everything is about test scores. They are keeping 6-year-olds inside for 6 hours to study for tests.

The truly sick thing is that it is an EXCELLENT school academically…great scores. It also prides itself on character building. But my question is: How are they doing all this character building when the students are learning test prep instead of going to recess?  In second, third and fourth grade the kids are literally only learning test-taking skills with the other subjects worked in.  It is a complete disaster and, in my opinion, the school administrators have become so caught up in their reputation for having good academics, they have lost sight of how children learn best and how to mold young children well.

Another mom and I are going to be taking this up with the school and then ultimately the school board.  We have written a letter and are gathering parent signatures.  Any advice/support you could offer I would really appreciate.  This sort of short-sidedness that could really harm the gentle minds our children is devastating to me. Thanks for the support. — Meg

Meg — Lately, child development types have begun emphasizing the importance of “self-regulation,” the ability to control oneself. And it turns out the very best way to develop this ability is by playing with a group of kids, who say things like, “Wait your turn!”  And that is how a kid learns, indeed, to wait her turn.

A great book on the importance of play is Susan Linn’s, “The Case for Make-Believe,” which goes into all the studies and psychology of creativity, play and development. Plus, it’s readable! Another wonderful source of info about free play and all the good it does is KaBoom, the playground-promoting people. And I just read this article on English schools cheating kids out of all-important, tumble-around play.

Please let us know how your crusade progresses. And go get ’em! — L

The More Kids Get Moving, The Better They Do In School

Hi Readers — I was just going to tweet this, but it’s such a cool story, I’m providing the link here. A high school in Naperville, Illinois is holding gym class first period for some kids who struggle with academics. The idea is: Switch on the body and the brain switches on, too. And even in the classrooms there are bikes and balls. (Stationary bikes, that is. Otherwise, I’m not quite sure how much learning the kids would stick around for.)

The program has been running (so to speak) for five years and the students in it are now reading 1.5 years ahead of grade level, according to the story.  So instead of chipping away at recess, as some schools are doing to make extra time for test prep, maybe we should start chipping away at test prep to make time for bouncy balls and square dancing. — Lenore

Recess Coaches: Good Idea?

Hi Readers! Well today a topic we’d discussed a little earlier (and earlier still)  has made the front page of The New York Times. “Forget Goofing Around: Recess Has a New Boss,” is about a recess assistant hired at an elementary school in Newark, NJ, where many of the kids had ostensibly been spending recess deliberately running into each other, or arguing, or banishing other kids to the sidelines.

The Times mentions that the coach broke up a “renegade game of hopscotch,” making it sound as if she is outlawing all that is joyous about childhood. (So does the headline.) And if there is an element of official kill-joying,  I hope the coach learns to back off. But her job is also to teach the students a vast array of what sound like fast, fun “just add kid” games — games with rules so simple that the children “can focus on playing rather than on following directions.” She lets them yell as much as they want, and jump around, and run.  Another school’s recess helper has taught kids how to settle their disputes with the age-old rock-paper-scissors, rather than  squabbling. (Or using a real rock. Or scissors.)

When we discussed this issue here a few months back there was concern that these “helpers” could actually be “squashers” — squashing kids’ inherent creativity, or problem-solving abilities, or even their right to daydream. After emailing with a couple of readers this morning, however, here’s an idea that makes sense:

One reader suggested that this would be a good program for kids who had gotten into recess-time trouble: make them participate in the organized games. Another suggested it would a be fine program, providing kids could opt out. But synthesizing these ideas makes even more sense: Make this program mandatory for everyone for a little while, and then allow kids to opt out. With all the kids participating, it wouldn’t get the reputation of punishment. Meanwhile, ALL the kids would learn a bunch of games — games they could eventually organize themselves, even outside of school. Or even during recess, without adult help!

In times past, and in some places to this day, kids grew up KNOWING how to play “Mother, May I?” and freeze tag and Duck, Duck Goose. When those games get forgotten, they’re like a lost language. They don’t spontaneously re-appear. Someone needs to teach them to the kids again. So  let’s teach them. (Let’s just make sure it’s not as painful as real language lessons.)

Meantime, by allowing kids to opt out a little later on, we’ve got the best of both worlds: Kids who want to go  off and play that game of hopscotch on their own still can, so we haven’t lost the “free” in “free time.” All that has been added is a new repertoire of games and maybe some skills at solving disputes.

I’m all for free play, as you know. But if what’s really happening is free-misery, it makes sense to reassess recess. — Lenore

"Should we fight or learn a game?" PHOTO: National Archives

Principal Declares Recess is NOT “Free Time”

Hi Readers! Sometimes I think our society has come so far from darkness to enlightenment (no more Inquisition, for instance; no more Scarlet A’s) that we have come full circle and are now back to being idiots. A case in point? This principal’s letter to parents about why she doesn’t want kids to consider recess  “free time.”

“[Our school is working to] change the perception of recess from free time away from learning to a valuable learning experience that will teach them and will help them cope in all social settings and environments. When children view recess as “free time” they have a tendency to act in a less responsible manner and push the limits of irresponsible behavior. In order to change the perception of recess, children must see that its content is respected and valued.”

Principal Mumbo-Jumbo is so into respecting “content” (whatever the heck that means) that she has outlawed tag! I guess by NOT running around, and NOT having carefree fun, and by thinking long and hard about LEARNING every single second of the day, these kids are going to turn into marvels of responsibility.

If they don’t tie her to the flag pole  first.

Anyway, this isn’t my school, it’s the school that one of our readers sends her kids to, and here is her pleasantly profane blog post about the whole situation. Meantime, she is meeting with the principal this Friday to try to talk about the no tag/no freedom recess situation. She’s looking for moral support and some blow-that-bloviator-away arguments. Go for it! — Lenore

Photo Credit: Visual Dichotomy

Remember, kids: Just because it’s “free time” doesn’t mean it’s free time!

These Kids Have Balls!

Or at least they want them: Two Ottawa fifth graders have started a petition to be allowed to PLAY WITH BALLS ON THE PLAYGROUND.

The principal banned balls during the winter, because, she told the CBC , “They’ve  got snow stuck to them, they’re frozen, often there’s pebbles on them and they’re flying through the air.”

Balls flying through the air? My, my. Maybe the principal likes balls, but only when they’re sitting quietly in the corner, or rolling to the library to bounce ever so gently near the books.

The kids, meanwhile, have collected more than 250 signatures begging for the ball ban to be bonked on the head. Why? As one of the kids put it, “It’s really fun with the balls.”

Now who said kids were supposed to have fun in the winter? Tsk, tsk. Next thing you know, they’ll want to play outside after school instead of running home to turn on the TV. — Lenore

You Mean Kids Can Survive Winter Recess?

Hi Readers! After all the discussion a week or two ago about schools cancelling recess in the (less-than-bone-chilling) cold,  another mom sent in her school’s policy. I like it! Voila:

Dear Parent: Even in the cold winter months, we believe outdoor recess is an important and valuable part of the student’s day in the Hopewell Valley Regional School District elementary schools. With that in mind, we ask that you consider the temperature and weather conditions when assisting your child with clothing for the day. There may be times when the weather is deemed too cold for outdoor recess. We make that determination on a daily basis, but please remember that on most days we will have outdoor recess even if it is for an abbreviated time. Winter coats, hats, gloves and long pans are most appropriate on these cold days.

We realize that temperatures in our buildings may vary, so dressing in layers…is a good practice. In addition, please consider labeling coats,gloves, hates, scarves, etc. as these items of clothing sometimes go missing. Take the time to check out the Lost and Found at your child’s school, as each has a large number of items at this time of year.

Thank you for your attention and continued support and stay warm!