An After-school Provider Laments the Crazy Rules

Hi Folks! Here’s yet another look at some insanely overprotective, unproductive rules governing anything having to do with kids. This rant/lament comes from Rick Rood, director of an on-site after-school child care program in the San Francisco Bay Area.  He has worked in the profession since 1990, and provides workshops and coaching for education professionals who work with school-age children.  He blogs at AfterschoolAnswers and is currently finishing his new book, “The Three Secret Pillars of Behavior Guidance,” even while he and his wife are raising kids aged 5, 16, and 17. This note came in response to a post about a YMCA that wouldn’t let a mom bring her 3-year-old in to use the bathroom because this was against the rules. – L

Dear Free-Range Kids:  I run an after-school program, and if that parent had come to our center, I would’ve had to tell them the same exact thing.  Our organization (we’re a string of 16 centers run by a rec and park organization) has a policy that outsiders are not allowed to use our restrooms. Why not?

One simple reason — liability.  The (very) sad fact is that the policy comes from our insurance company. I do my best to be a “Free-Range” director.  I don’t make these policies, and there are many rules and regulations with which I personally don’t agree. But it goes deeper than that.  Because of this “bubble-wrap” mentality, out-of-school-time staff have become more and more infected over the years with this insidious “worst-case scenario” type of thinking.

Some examples? Recently one of my teachers reported me to my boss for a Free-Range comment I had made.  One day, one of our children decided to sneak away from school and not come to the afterschool program.  This resourceful 8-year-old made it pretty much clear across our medium-sized town, heading to a friend’s house.  We followed our policies when he didn’t show up to our program: parents and police were called, and they tracked him down in pretty short order. After the dust had settled, I made a comment to one of our teachers (who I mistakenly figured held similar Free-Range ideas), saying that, while it was good that we found the boy, I was impressed with the boy’s resourcefulness and that maybe, as a culture, we shouldn’t call up visions of child molesters and abductors every time something doesn’t go as planned. The teacher went to my boss, and told her that he didn’t think I was very serious about protecting the children in our care.

Another policy: Kids can’t walk home on their own.  Again, liability.  How much could we be sued for if a kid breaks their leg or goes missing on the short walk home (we’re a neighborhood school),  even if the parent has given permission?  Frustrating to me because the odds that nothing bad will happen within a two-block walk are pretty astronomical, and then add to that the VERY tiny chance that their parent will pursue legal action (these are parents that we, as a rule, work together with as partners- and we have very good relationships with our parents).

Here’s a corker. Our local Little League uses the fields on our school grounds for practice and games.  Can we release the kids to just walk across the field (again on the SAME physical grounds) to practice?  Heck no… we require a “responsible adult” to come and sign them out and walk them the 100 yards to practice).  And, even better, by policy that “responsible adult” cannot be one of our staff members (even if the parents say it’s okay and we walk them every step of the way).

Finally, here’s a spot where I’ve rebelled (although quietly). At one of our “sister centers” (on the grounds of another local school)… they had a kindergartner who fell off the monkey bars while playing in the afterschool program and broke her arm.  Immediately, and with almost scary domino-like action, many of the other local centers (including the one in question) banned kindergarteners from the play structures (even though they’re labeled for use by kids 5-12 years of age).  No one ever made it an official policy, so my kindergarteners continue to enjoy play time on the play structure.

My main philosophy in afterschool care is that we exist to facilitate the emotional and social growth of children.  And if we’re going to succumb to the bubble-wrap philosophy of raising kids, then our mission is doomed from the start! At my center, kids will be allowed to play freely on the play structure, kids will be allowed to wrestle in the grass, and I will make free range choices in every area where they have not already been banned and by the regulating agencies, lawyers and insurance adjusters.  And unlike some of my fellow co-workers, I will not succumb to the “worst-first” type of thinking that stunts the social and emotional growth of the next generation. – Rick Rood

You Read it Here First: The Deaf Pre-Schooler Story

Hi Readers! Just had to crow. The story about Hunter, the deaf pre-schooler who was told to change his name because it violated the school’s anti-gun policy, was sent to us by a gal in Hunter’s neck of the woods — Nebraska — on Monday night, which is when I posted and tweeted  it. By Tuesday afternoon, the story had gone ’round the world. Google it — you can’t miss it. On Yahoo’s home page alone it got 17,000+ comments. And despite the fact neither this site nor the one where I’m guest-posting this month, The Agitator, are getting credit (see this),   Free-Range Kids was, as far as I can tell, the first to bring it to national attention.

What thrills me about that is knowing that the press is peeking in on us, and ready to take up the anti-stupidity standard. It’s also thrilling to see how obvious it is to most humans that Zero Tolerance too often means Zero Brains. Hunter’s story may go on to achieve “The Lady Who Sued McDonald’s For Hot Coffee” status (but don’t start debating it here!), used as a sort of shorthand for, “Come on — under the pretense of caring, this is just INSANE.”

We could use a story like that, because it is time to re-think so many schools rules and time to remember our kids just aren’t that vulnerable. For me it is also time to thank YOU, readers, for always sending in the best examples of what’s wrong with the way we treat kids, and what’s right.

Keep it up! – L.

“Hunter,” a Deaf 3-Year-Old, Told Signing His Name Violates School’s Gun Policy

Hi Folks!  This is perhaps the most absurd story ever reported here — and that’s saying a lot! A reader named Rachel writes:

A Deaf child named Hunter is not allowed to use his name sign because the sign for “Hunter” (a dictionary word) uses the thumb and first two fingers in a gun shape and suggests a shooting motion. Here’s the story.

These school officials have lost their ability to reason if they believe stripping a child of his name is necessary for safety under a weapons policy. Educators who are unable to use logic and critical thinking have no business educating.

I just sent a letter to the school board expressing my outrage. Everyone else can too at  http://www.gips.org/contact_us

Thanks, Rachel 

Girls Plan “Hug In” to Protest School’s Anti-Hug Policy

Hi Folks!  I want to give these girls a hug! They’re four friends, 12 and 13, who have organized a “Hug In” at their school, where the motto is, “No loving, no shoving.” A motto that makes about as much sense as, “No saving, no shooting.”

Ah, but ostensibly the unofficial rule is to “help” students by protecting them from shoving and unwanted touching. So wouldn’t a  “No shoving, no unwanted touching” rule be a lot more helpful?

Instead, the specter of Zero Tolerance reared its unlovable head, and  friendly hugs got swept into the mix. The administrators insist they CAN tell the difference between nice hugs and “bad” ones, and that they do not actually outlaw all hugging. But the girls say they’ve been reprimanded for walking arm in arm. And after they announced their Hug In, they got sent to the principal’s office, where they had to stay the rest of the day.

The best quote about this whole issue comes not from the girls, but from the newspaper — shout out to The Toronto Star! — which added, “There were some concerns that a public invitation for a ‘hug in’ at a middle school could pose safety issues.”

Gotta love a society that can worry about the safety of hugging.

June 20 is the date of the Hug In and the time is lunch period. Here’s hoping it’s hug-e. (You know — huge.) L.

I will not hug. I will not hug. I will not…

Outrage of the Week: 6-year-old Suspended for Singing “I’m Sexy & I Know It”

Hi Readers — Feeling sluggish? You can listen to the song below OR just read this piece about a boy in Denver who told a fellow first-grader, “I’m Sexy and I Know It.”

The brilliant school administrators defined this as “unwelcome sexual advance” and promptly suspended the boy for three days. It’s enough to make you bang your iPad over your head (pointless though that would be). (Pricey, too.) (And need I mention: painful.) BUT —  there’s a silver lining!

This happened in Colorado, the state where the Columbine massacre occurred. The state that went almost understandably crazy with “closing the barn door after the cows (horses?) got out” legislation, making Zero Tolerance its credo.

And now, thanks to ridiculous situations like the 6-year-old’s, the state is reconsidering its regulations. Why? Because (everybody sing along): They’re silly and they know it. – L

School Bans Hugs (in New Jersey) and Best Friends (in Britain)

Hi Folks! Just got two articles on school-wide bans and the coincidence compelled me to share them. Here’s a piece about a middle school in New Jersey banning hugs, because some “unsuitable” ones had been witnessed and, said the superintendent, the schools must teach “appropriate” behavior.( Of course, the school isn’t doing that at all, since it seems to be damning appropriate hugs right along with the “unsuitable” ones.) Here’s another piece on the story.

And then there’ this piece from England about the  small trend of schools banning best friends, so kids don’t get hurt if-or-when they get dumped. The comments are really wonderful there, including this one:

So, is the government also encouraging Polygamy? Because if you live in a group marriage then you won’t feel as hurt when one of your spice dumps you??

I not only love the logic, I love the idea of calling spouses spice! Appropriate hugs to you all  — L.

Just Following Orders…At an Afterschool Program

Hi Readers: The letter below brings things full circle for me. While I have been interested in the way we underestimate kids and overestimate danger for a while now, I have been interested for even LONGER in the way decent people become trained not to use their brains or hearts. Eventually they come to think this is the RIGHT way to act. I think it is WRONG WRONG WRONG. And also: WRONG.- L.

Dear Free-Range Kids: Today I was at baseball practice with my older sons when my 3-year old said, “I gotta poop!!!” I could tell by the look on his face that it could not wait.  Although the fields are at a school, it was after hours and the restrooms were locked.

We went to the YMCA after-care, located on the school grounds, and asked to use the restroom.  By this time, there were no school kids in the room, just two employees. They looked at me apologetically, but said it was against policy to let a stranger use the facility.  At this point, my son wailed again, “I’m going to poop!”.  The employee went to ask her boss.  The boss returned and apologetically said it was again the rules and that her “hands are tied.”

I then realized that this daycare provider used to work at my son’s school!  I reminded her that she actually knew us.  I told her that my son might actually poop on her steps.  She then replied that if her supervisor found out she let him in, she would get fired.  After all, “What would happen if he slipped and fell in the bathroom? You could sue us,”she said.

I actually feel for the employee.  I do believe that she was following orders. But really, couldn’t a little flexibility have been possible in this case?

And yet…I have another modern day story. Our sons attend a wonderful school that literally is on the other side of the fence from our house.They open the back gate and are on campus. On weekends, they go down by themselves and play in the fields. The after-care program at the school is at the far end of the school, so it is approximately a five minute walk from our back fence.

I am frequently in a hurry, and I don’t want to drag my 3-year-old to the program to pick up his brothers.  I’ve asked if I can call the school and have my boys sent home.  I’ve been told that it is a liability to let my kids walk home by themselves, and that I must sign-in and out everyday.  I even offered to sign a release of liability, but my request was denied.

I understand organizations being afraid of lawsuits. However, I really respect most childcare providers. I would love it if the people caring for my children had the freedom to make exceptions once in a while. — Frustrated Mom

Lenore here: I’m a frustrated mom — and human — too. These rules are just like Zero Tolerance laws. We refuse to let people make sensible, case-by-case decisions because we don’t trust them, we don’t trust the world and we don’t trust each other (not to sue). In the end, we are crippled by the stupidity and cruelty this distrust engenders.

Halt! What toddler goes there?