No more label? The new rules for recess deprive children of play in the name of ‘safety’

A mother who wished to remain anonymous recently went to her daughter’s elementary school in Maryland to ask why the children are not allowed to play tag or even close their eyes during recess.

“We recently moved from another district and my daughter was amazed at how many rules there were,” the mother said.

There are indeed a lot of rules at the girl’s new school: four pages. The mother found this out when the school administrator gave her a copy of the Montgomery County Public Schools Playground Supervision Recess Procedures for Playground Aides. This includes, among other things:

— Baseball and football games are not permitted at any time.
— Random running, chasing and tag games on the asphalt are not allowed.
— A student may not begin swinging on rings and bars until the student before him has finished.

Once they swing or climb, they should use an “opposed thumb grip.” – As opposed to… their teeth?

Regarding behavior:
– It is the responsibility of the playground helper to “alert children when emotions and excitement build to a point where incorrect actions can quickly result.”

Incorrect actions. It’s like the prequel to ‘Minorty Report’.

After the mother sent me the rules, I contacted the Montogomery County office responsible for recess safety. They didn’t respond.

The mother did, when I asked for more background information. “It really feels like maybe we’ve lost touch with what’s developmentally appropriate,” she said.

The administrator who met her was nice, she said, but told her the school’s main job was to keep children safe. “I didn’t say anything, but the primary task of a school is to teach children and certainly not to hinder the development of children.”

But that is exactly what interfering with children’s play does. “These rules demonstrate no trust from the children, or even from the playground supervisors,” writes Peter Gray, professor of psychology at Boston College and co-founder of Let Grow. I had forwarded him a copy of the rules. “If we treat people as irresponsible, they become irresponsible.”

If we treat children as vulnerable, they become vulnerable too. The rules tell monitors to “discourage dangerous situations, such as … a student attempting a task that is too difficult for his/her age or size.” Yet children MUST try hard things. This is how they learn:

1. Yes, I can.
2. Rats, I can’t do it yet.

Then they realize that failure is part of the process of doing something new.

The mother said she felt sorry for the administrator, who had no say in these rules. Just like the children. And she added that today’s kids really seem a little rough when they play tag because they have had so little practice playing tag.

I’ve heard this from other people who work with children, like therapist Angela Hanscom, who has noticed that when children don’t get enough exercise, their “proprioception” – the ability to know where their body is in space, and how much force – having to do something like a hug, a pat, a handshake – is out.

All the more reason to let children get used to each other as easily and at an early age as possible. Depriving children of play in the name of ‘safety’ is dangerous.

Even more dangerous than two children on the climbing rings at the same time.