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: Toronto School Bans Terrifying Orbs!

Hi Readers! A number of you sent me this story, about a K-8 school in Toronto that has temporarily banned all balls that are not Nerf-soft, after some near  misses, as well as an adult who got an actual hit to her actual head by a soccer ball and suffered a concussion.

The school board defended its action as, guess what? Prudent  Big surprise. But Dr. Mark Tremblay, chief scientist at Healthy Active Living Kids Canada, is quoted as saying, “The health benefits far exceed the risks associated with them.”

Yay! And  — duh. Charles Adler pretty much sums up my feelings about the ban with this essay. When the choice is between kids playing or kids standing oh-so-safely still, I think we can pretty much agree on which should win. But feel free to weigh in: Should kids play with soccer, foot, basket or volleyballs on the school playground? Or is this just a tragedy waiting to happen? Have a ball! — L.

Good lord, what is that dangerous object sitting next to the sweet, doomed moppet?

Signing Kids Out of School: Does It Have to Be This Hard?

Hi Readers! I have a feeling many people can relate to this comment (which came in response to “The Drop-Off in Drop-Offs” post). I know I can — something very similar happened to me.  L. 

Dear Free-Range Kids: My daughter is a sophomore in high school.  I also have a 3 year old and am expecting a new little one this winter.  My only real complaint with her school is that I cannot send a note telling them when I will pick her up for an appointment and have her wait outside for me.  No.  I have to drag my 3 year old (and soon, my newborn as well) out of the car, damn the weather, haul us all inside, go to the attendance office, sign her out, keep my toddler entertained and contained and quiet WITHOUT running or climbing on the benches (his shoes might get germs on the benches, and then someone would have to wipe them down with antibacterial wipes — I was actually told this), and WAIT while they send a special runner up to my daughter’s classroom to give her a hall pass, then keep waiting until she arrives at my side, whereupon we can finally walk out together.

It absolutely infuriates me!  She’s going to be driving soon!  She knows her way around.  And she even knows the way from her classroom to the curb, where I would gladly pull up and wait for her to arrive.

Not only do I have to physically sign her out, but if I don’t also send a note upon her return, the absence is unexcused.  This is too much!  The kids are not in prison, for goodness’ sake.

It hasn’t been that long since I was in school myself, and when I was in school, not only could I wait outside for my mom to pick me up for an appointment, if the appointment was close enough, I could – gasp – WALK myself there and back to school.  It’s dispiriting to watch the changes. — Duckmama

It’s also dispiriting to inevitably be told this is all for the children’s “safety,” when clearly it isn’t. It doesn’t affect their safety one whit! They are allowed to walk home, so why is it MORE dangerous to stand outside for a few minutes, or even walk home, but at a different time? “Safety” is the all-purpose, brook-no-dissension shibboleth that stands in for, “New rule we are imposing whether it makes sense or not, just because it seems sort of responsible even if it’s actually a pointless pain.” – L

Outrage of the Week: School Bans Soccer Balls

Hi Folks! At a school for 7- to 11-year-olds in England, says the BBC, they’ve banned leather footballs (that is, soccer balls)  at what sounds like recess and perhaps before and after school. Leather balls can be for “football club” and “specific” P.E. lessons. But otherwise, all regulation balls will be replaced by balls made out of sponge.

Sort of like childhood itself: That time of daring and doing gradually being replaced with a squishy-safe facsimile of adventure.

And while we’re on the topic of Safety First, Last & Always, to the point of no return, here’s a marvelous letter by Mike, the host of Dirty Jobs, responding to a viewer complaining about a time he did not wear goggles.

Couldn’t have said it better myself! — Lenore

New Outrage! Homeowners Assn. Proposes Ban on Kids Playing

Hi Readers — Just be glad you don’t live in the Persimmon Place subdivision in Edgewater, Fla. The Homeowners Association (HOA) there is considering new rules that will ban children from playing outside.

I KNOW this sounds like a fantasy plot from one of the umpteen dystopian young adult novels out there, so let me quote from this report on ClickOrlando.com:

The HOA board said the proposed rule, which will carry a $100 fine for every violation, is all about safety. …

The proposal states that “minor children will be under the direct control of a responsible adult at all times,” and it would also ban the game of tag, skateboarding, Big Wheels, loud or obnoxious toys on “common property.” …

For now, the children can play outside without restriction, but the HOA board will meet with an attorney on Thursday, and the final rules and bylaws will be given to every resident before the April 27 vote.

The problem, defined by the Homeowners Assn., is a lack of open space in the 48-townhouse subdivision. So the kids  play on the driveways (oh! the horror!) and in the parking lot (which could be a fine or terrible idea, depending on its size and the number of cars there, etc. etc.). The point is: Kids DESERVE to play outside. It doesn’t even seem like it should be LEGAL to ban this, anymore than banning eating or sleeping.

But of course, it’s all about “safety,” the word that sneaks into so many debates, legitimately or not, and often stuns all common sense.

I hope the kids storm this meeting in their roller skates. It is time for a revolution. — L.

All these kids needed was a RAILING to play on.

I Hate This! Student Suspended for Opening Door

Readers — As you know, Free-Range Kids is about trust, community and common sense. All of which a Virginia middle school student displayed the other day when he held open the door for someone he knew.

For this, he was given a day long suspension. The reason? The school had just installed a $10,000 + security system, and his action violated it. Voila:

According to an anonymous e-mail sent to The Tidewater News, the “A” student opened the door for a woman he knew, who had her hands full. The e-mail also indicated the student received a one-day, out-of-school suspension.

[School administrator Wayne K.] Smith said he could not confirm the story for confidentiality reasons. Superintendent Charles Turner said he did not know all the details behind the suspension.

Turner said the policy that prohibits anyone from opening doors was part of making the security system work.

“If it happens, it’s defeated,” he said. “You have to have a system, and that system has to be consistent. We have to stay within the rules and stay secure.”

Turner explained that part of the school district’s mission is to provide a quality education in a safe environment.

“We looked at what we’re doing in our schools for safety and looked at what others have done,” he said.

That’s why the security system was installed initially at the secondary schools and then the elementary schools.

And yet, what the school fails to understand is that the student was an even BETTER security system! The student has a heart, a brain and hands. This incredible carbon-based security system can open the door when that makes sense! It can create a climate of warmth, help and connectedness that a locked door, even operated by remote control from the front office, cannot.

We are happier and safer when we connect, rather than we assume we’re all in dire peril and must outsource our humanity to excessive rules and   machines. — Lenore

You Must be an ADULT To Walk a Dog! UPDATED!!!

Arrrrroooooo! Readers — This proposed law makes me want to lift a hind leg somewhere in Manassas, Va:

City leaders want to make it a requirement that only responsible adults be the ones walking their dogs.

“At the other end of the leash, there must be an individual who is competent to control the animal,” Manassas Councilmember John Way told NBC Washington’s Craig Melvin.

Way admits this has not been a widespread problem, however one woman recently reported having to jump on the top of a car to escape two stray pit bulls.  Way also ran into a similar problem while walking his small dog down a public street.

That’s the spirit! Cripple an entire culture because of two incidents. Prohibit children from having any responsibility, any role to play in the adult world other than being cute (and victims, of course). One question, Manassas: Will children be allowed to pour their own milk before age 18? Or are the dangers just too great? — L.

!!!!UPDATE!!!!

I just spoke to John Way, the city council member who is sponsoring this law, and he says that it does NOT specify an age that the dog walker has to be. Only that the walker be competent! So the reporter got it wrong in the story I picked up, and I’m sorry I repeated it here before speaking directly to the councilman. All is a little saner than previously thought! Woof! — L.

Kids and pets: What a dangerous combination!