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!!

The Ice Lawsuit Cometh (Potentially)

Hi Readers: It’s weird, isn’t it, how something as remote as litigation ends up changing REAL, daily life? But it does. This note is just a great example of what happens when we see everything in terms of a court case down the road. — Lenore
Dear Free-Range Kids: I live in the suburbs of DC — Frederick, MD to be exact, a lovely community that is rich in history. We have a fantastic “downtown” area that hosts lots of community and cultural arts events on a regular basis. Anyhooo, last Friday was their yearly “Fire & Ice” display. The streets are lined with many ice sculptures on display, the quaint stores are open late, free trolley rides etc. etc.


My kids are 8 & 10 years old. As we were browsing the streets this evening, we came upon a fenced in outdoor area that advertised itself as the “ice playground.” Cool. As the kids and I curiously went to step into the “playground,” we were abruptly halted by a lady with a clipboard. Since this fenced-in area was actually the patio dining area of a restaurant (closed during winter months, obviously), I thought this lady was taking names for the wait list to get seated inside. Wrong. She was having anyone who entered the area (even adults sans children), sign a full page release. I printed my name and then signed at the bottom. I then was asked to print the names of my children under my signature. The lady was most pleasant and I obliged accordingly, thinking to myself how ridiculous this is.

To make this even more absurd, the “ice playground” consisted of 3 things. Hold on tight here, they are a bit risky and dangerous:

1. A large ice sculpture (bear shaped) that was made into a chair. Anyone could line up to sit in the chair and have their picture taken, for free.

2. Another large ice sculpture, clown-shaped, with various holes in the ice. A large plastic bin sat in front of the clown with bean bags in it. Anyone could play to their heart’s content, trying to get a bean bag to go through one of the holes.

3. Lastly, another ice sculpture of a checkers-type game with plastic checker pieces on it. It was actually more of a mini shuffleboard, where one could slide the plastic checker pieces on the ice table.

That was it. The Ice Playground. No ice sliding, no balance beam, no diving board, high wire or frozen ball pit that I was assuming would have been at this high-risk “playground,” with mandatory release required.

I am so sorry that I did not get a copy of the form to email you. It was one for the books. Here is a link to the events for the evening though. Enjoy your winter! — A friend in Maryland

The fear of lawsuits is freezing the life out of us. Brrr. — 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: http://www.facebook.com/pages/MCPS-Parents-Support-Outdoor-Recess-in-the-Cold/164312570280330 and http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/MCPS-Parents-Support-Outdoor-Recess/) 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!)






Outrage of the Week: Students Denied Recess Due to Snow

Hi Readers — Here you snow. er, go, from Scotland, via news.scotsman.com:

CHILDREN have been banned from playing in the snow during break times at city schools due to health and safety fears.

Pupils in some primaries have been kept inside during their morning and lunchtime breaks since the schools re-opened on Wednesday.The decision to stop the pupils playing in the snow has sparked criticism among parents, who believe it is “misguided” and is depriving children from enjoying the winter fun.

One of the schools involved is James Gillespie’s Primary where the headteacher stopped youngsters going out on Wednesday and Thursday during playtimes. It is understood reasons including the depth of the snow, a shortage of staff to supervise the children and the resulting mess from pupils walking with wet boots into the building were cited for the decision.

I’m cheered to know that some parents found this ludicrous, as did some other officials. But that headteacher — sheesh!It’s no fun when safety hysteria trumps absolutely everything else in life. Including snowmen. And women (see below). — Lenore 

Not quite relevant, but is this or is this not the COOLEST snow-woman (and kid) ever?

More About the Snowball Maker

Hi Readers! As I read through the comments about the $9 snowball maker invented by a dad to make sure his sons’ snowballs weren’t too hard-packed, I saw that some folks thought I was a killjoy for scorning it.

So I wrote back to explain that what I really object to is anyone trying to convince parents that an age-old activity is suddenly TOO DANGEROUS. And that, for some reason, THIS GENERATION is more vulnerable to injury/disappointment/disaster than any previous generation, and hence needs to be more protected. And I also object to the fact that someone is making money by assuaging a new parental fear that he himself inflamed.

Thought I’d nailed everything that irked me about he snowball maker. And then I read this fantastic comment from Chris Byrne, a.k.a.,  “The Toy Guy:”

We have tested this product or one like it, and it’s horrible and unsatisfying for kids to use. The balance is wrong, and the snowballs actually disintegrate before the kids can throw them. We played with kids ages 5-11, and every one of them was frustrated with it for different reasons, mostly because it didn’t work. The one we played with was also very cheap, and younger kids didn’t have the dexterity to use it.

The other problem is that it turns kids into snowball manufacturers, rather than crafters. Now, I know that probably sounds insane, but different snow has different consistencies, and learning how to make a really good snowball comes from getting your hands in the stuff. Do you pack it tight to do damage? Or do you make them quickly and less compressed, for speed? You know what that’s called? Play. This implement effectively removes one whole aspect of creativity and interaction from the play.

I don’t think the readers of this blog are the target demographic for this product, and certainly not from the comments I’ve read. But the important thing  with our kids is to look at the whole experience and realize that every time we put a piece of technology or a product  between a kid and an experience, that experience is  altered–and not always for the best. I know that’s a little heady for a snowball molder, but the principle is sound. The mechanized, perfect snowball takes the individual kid out of the play experience.

Besides, what’s wrong with getting wet and soggy in the snow? Wasn’t that the point? Didn’t you stay out until you were soaked through and the tips of your mittened fingers were covered with ice? Then you got to come inside and get dry and warm again, only to watch the sun go down and the snow turn violet in the last light of the day, and go to bed hoping there would be more snow overnight so you could do it all over? Is there anything that so completely transforms the world to a kid as much as a blanket of snow? But I digress…

I don’t think he digressed at all. I think he’s pretty profound. And perhaps, thanks to him, the conversation will…snowball. (Couldn’t resist!) — L.

Finally, Kids Get The Help They REALLY Need (Making Snowballs)

Let’s hear it for this $9 investment! Because kid-formed snowballs are too hard to make. To deal with. To live amongst. And tiny hands get cold making snowballs. And tiny gloves get soggy. And tiny brains think that this is suddenly a big problem.  And bigger brains think, “Parents will buy ANYTHING, if we can worry them enough. Woo hoo!”

Coming next (I predict): the freezer-to-yard snowman.