Outrage of the Season: No Winter Recess, Safety Ground Cushioning “Too Hard”

Hi Readers! We are so concerned for our kids’ safety, the apparently the safety of our safety precautions isn’t safe enough, either. Read on.  – L


Dear Free-Range Kids: It’s been a beautiful week in upstate New York, with temperatures nearing 60 mid-week. But students in my school district cannot play on their school playgrounds.

In January, the Saratoga Springs School District announced that all school playgrounds would be closed until sometime in April, since the cushioning material under climbing structures is frozen and therefore deemed unsafe.
Ironically, the safety material we installed–and I’m sure it wasn’t cheap–is unusable for up to five months of the school year. According to our district safety specialist, there is no approved playground surfacing material that is safe to use during freezing weather. If a school has outdoor space without climbing structures, they can use that for outdoor time (for instance, a basketball blacktop), but my 9-year-old daughter’s school does not. So that means she has “classroom recess” day after day. She’s given up on trying to find some way to play, and she sits at her desk and finishes schoolwork. They have a brief (less than 5 minute) recess in the gym before lunch, and they have gym class twice a week. But otherwise, they have no outlet for their energy.
After Girl Scouts this week, the adult leaders were exhausted–they couldn’t figure out why the girls were bouncing off the walls, unable to sit still and do an activity. It seems pretty clear to me that the loss of recess is the culprit. I can’t imagine what it’s like in the classrooms day after day, and I feel very sorry for the classroom teachers. If they cannot invent–and supervise–an indoor activity (Zumba videos on the SmartBoard?), their students will be increasingly restless, irritable, and unable to concentrate.
After a difficult discussion at a PTA meeting, our principal has promised to try to come up with alternatives to playground play. But the district will not budge on re-opening the playgrounds while it is still winter. Keeping students off the playground may prevent one or two falls, and I’m sure it reduces liability. But it creates far more risks than it avoids.
It’s time to restore balance to our safety policies. Yours — A Saratoga Mom
Lenore here again: Readers, has anyone out there researched this? Is  standard playground safety cushioning truly  UNsafe in cold weather — like, less safe than blacktop? Or do the manufacturers warn that it is, so no one can sue them if a kid falls down? Anyone familiar with this issue and can give us some insight or solve this district’s problem? 

Since when do we let kids play outside in the winter?!?

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!!

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!)






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.

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

This Story Will Make You Blubber (No, I Could NOT Resist)

Dear Readers: Here’s a nice story — and an ice story, too: Real boys build real igloo. I know — it’s too bad that this kind of this is so rare it merited a write-up. But that snow reason not to celebrate (with bad puns)! — 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!

No Recess Under 32 Degrees? Because Kids Freeze Like Water?

Hi Readers — Got a notice from our school last week: No more recess when it’s freezing outside — 32 degrees Fahrenheit — or when the wind chill takes an above-freezing day and makes it FEEL freezing.

Now, as a kid growing up in Chicago, this was my dream policy. (Yes, even as a kid I dreamed of improving public  policy. Didn’t you?) How many days were we outside when it was 15 degrees with those famous Windy City winds whipping us around? That’s before kids were fat! We were like coffee stirrers skittering across the blacktop!

On the other hand, now that I’ve got two middle-school sons, I want them to run around during recess. They want to run around, too. The good news at our school is that they ARE allowed to leave the premises for lunch. (I know — how very New York.) It’s just that if they stay and eat in the cafeteria, they can no longer go out to the playground.

What harm would it do them to play outside in the cold? Aren’t Finnish kids #1 in the world in everything, and aren’t they freezing from Day One? Since when did winter become too much to bear? — Lenore