header image

Parks, Playing and Playgrounds

Reader — Welcome to the wisdom of Philip Howard, the lawyer, intellectual, and founder of Common Good, whose book “Life Without Lawyers” opened my eyes to how we got so risk-averse. Here’s that whole book boiled down, more or less, in a recent blogpost by Howard. It explains how we got to the point where we feel free to sue everybody for everything, and the effect this fear of being sued has. The red ink is my effort to BOLD his great points:

The Evil of Investing in Litigation, by Philip Howard

A side effect of the 1960s rights revolution was the idea that people had a right to sue for anything. Human suffering became an opportunity to get rich. Entrepreneurial plaintiffs lawyers like Dickie Scruggs, Mel Weiss, and John Edwards congregated at the intersection of human tragedy and human greed, and became tycoons. It was easy work for anyone with a knack for sales. Just find any human suffering—a baby born with cerebral palsy, a company that went bankrupt, smokers who got sick—and sue for the moon. It was all about emotion: “How much would it be worth to you to have emphysema?” The families of victims got rich. The lawyers, skimming a third or more out of multiple verdicts and settlements, got really rich. Class actions were the pot at the end of the rainbow. Scruggs reportedly got a billion dollar fee for settlement of mass tort claims on behalf of the State of Mississippi….

These direct costs of sue-for-anything justice are only the tiny tip of a far larger cost—a pervasive fear of litigation has replaced a sense of freedom and spontaneity in social dealings. A tidal wave of defensiveness has washed over American culture. When anyone can sue for almost anything, people start going through the day looking over their shoulders. Doctors waste billions in “defensive medicine.” Teachers no longer feel free to put an arm around a crying child. Businesses no longer give job references. Diving boards and seesaws disappear. Companies don’t take risks with innovative new products. Better safe than sorry. America’s can-do spirit turns upside down. Welcome to the culture of can’t do.

…Moreover, a lawsuit doesn’t just affect the immediate parties. What people can sue for establishes the boundaries of everyone else’s freedom. If a school in California gets sued when a child falls off a seesaw, you can be sure that schools in Massachusetts will remove seesaws….The solution—the only solution—is for judges and legislatures to draw the boundaries of who can sue for what as a matter of law. Every claim should first go through a legal gatekeeper, asking whether this claim might erode the legitimate freedoms of people in society. These rulings of law should affirmatively defend the freedom of people to take reasonable risks—like, say, children on a seesaw.

Read the whole Philip Howard blogpost here.

Lenore here: In short, the assumption behind the “You can sue anyone for anything” is that there should be NO RISK at all to anyone doing anything. When that attitude gets absorbed by the population, it is scared and angry all the time. Scared that something bad might happen and angry when it does, with no sense of proportion or what’s lost by outlawing all risk.  

I agree that lawsuits that ignore the reality that, say, SOMETIMES a child will get hurt on a seesaw MUST BE thrown out. Otherwise, nothing is safe enough and childhood becomes vanilla pudding. (Served room temperature, so no one gets burned, and eaten with one’s fingers, so no one chokes on a spoon.) – L

When we can sue anytime a child gets hurt, schools and park districts have to defend themselves.

When we can sue anytime a child gets hurt, schools and park districts have no choice but to pre-emptively get rid of almost all “risk” — like seesaws. 

Folks — Wendy Mogel got the anti-helicopter parenting movement rolling with her book, ‘The Blessings of a Skinned Knee.” Here’s a taste of her fabulous “Overparenting Anonymous” List that I wish I had tattooed (just for the first 20 years or so) on my arm:


A 26-step program for good parents gone bad, by Wendy Mogel

I’ve written these steps to provide encouragement to well-intentioned, devoted, loving, intelligent parents who feel powerless to stop themselves from overindulging, overprotecting, and overscheduling their children. Parents who get jittery if their offspring aren’t close to perfect in every area. And parents who have allowed traits like self-reliance, resilience, and accountability to slip to the bottom of their parenting agenda.

1.         Don’t mistake a snapshot taken today with the epic movie of your child’s life. Kids go through phases. Glorious ones and rotten ones.

2.         Don’t fret over or try to fix what’s not broken. Accept your child’s nature even if he’s shy, stubborn, moody, or not great at math.

 3.         Look at anything up close and you’ll see the flaws. Consider it perfectly normal if you like your child’s friends better than you like your child.

4.         Work up the courage to say a simple “no.” Don’t try to reach consensus every time.

5. Encourage your child to play or spend time outside using all five senses in the three-dimensional world. How come only troubled rich kids get to go to the wilderness these days?

Lenore here: That is the greatest question EVER! For the rest of Wendy’s list click here! But first, let me just give you this one more:

14. Allow your child to do things that scare you.  You have to let her take some steps on her own, without holding your hand, if you want her to grow increasingly independent and self-confident. Let her get her learner’s permit when she comes of age; let her choose her own boyfriend.

Read the rest here!

How come only troubled rich kids are sent to spend time in nature, asks Wendy Mogel.

How come only troubled rich kids are sent to spend time in nature, asks Wendy Mogel.

Readers — Sometimes I can’t believe how hard it is for kids to find anyone to play with outside.  Some days my sports-loving son, now 15, still comes straight home, only because all the other kids were doing that, too.

So — here’s an alternative you might want to try: Rather than relying on parents to spontaneously let their kids go out and play (which I hope will happen again some day), a Florida parent has started organizing “Good Time Sports” every other Sunday at a local park. Kids come and play casually organized games.  Parents pay $10, which goes for food and expenses.

Now I know — $10 isn’t peanuts, and why do kids need anything other than a ball and each other? But it still seems like a great alternative to a super-organized sports program, or sitting at home on a beautiful day.


If this sounds fun to you, why not share your location and an email address in the comments section, below? Tell folks what day and time you’d like to organize a Free-Range Sports Day! If and when you get something going — I sure hope you do — send pictures! – L

Someday kids will play beyond clip art!!

Someday kids will play beyond clip art!!

Readers, This blog, Math With Bad Drawings, says something I’m always trying to say — but adds bad drawings! Here are a few gems from the post, “Headlines from a Mathematically Literate World.”

Our WorldOne Dead in Shark Attack; See Tips for Shark Safety Inside
Mathematically Literate WorldOne Dead in Tragic, Highly Unlikely Event; See Tips for Something Useful Inside


Our WorldRates of Cancer Approach Historic High
Mathematically Literate WorldRates of Surviving Long Enough to Develop Cancer Approach Historic High

So when, for instance, you read this (real) headline, that ran in the New York Post a few months back:

Oasis of fear: Crime spiking in Central Park

And the story begins: 

Staying safe in this part of town is no walk in the park.

And goes on to say that:

Six rapes have been reported in the park so far this year. This time last year, that number was zero.

Burglaries also are up, with six this year versus one for the same period last year.

You can TRY to put that in perspective by doing the REAL math: Central Park gets 38,000,000 visitors/year. So one’s chances of being burglarized, for instance, appear to be 1 in 6,000,000+. Same with rape. So while this is truly awful for those involved, it is also — thank God — unbelievably rare. And yet, of course, the reporter quotes a woman saying:

“It is very concerning,” Cotto said.

Which it is. For anyone trying to stay sane in a mathematically illiterate, fear-drenched, headline-hollering world. – L.

Don't these poor people know they are DOOMED here in crime-escalating Central Park?

Don’t these poor people know they are DOOMED here in crime-escalating Central Park?


Readers — A bunch of you have been sending this fantastic story from New Zealand, where a school abandoned its plans to build a fancy, new playground because there were just too many regulations and expenses. Instead, it decided to let kids play the old-fashioned way, by making their own fun.

The results? Astounding. As the principal noted: “When you look at our playground it looks chaotic. From an adult’s perspective, it looks like kids might get hurt, but they don’t.” What’s more:

Mudslides, skateboarding, bullrush [which sounds like Kiwi Red Rover] and tree climbing kept the children so occupied the school no longer needed a timeout area or as many teachers on patrol.

Yes, amidst the chaos of free play, discipline problems DECREASED! As the principal explained:

“The kids were motivated, busy and engaged. In my experience, the time children get into trouble is when they are not busy, motivated and engaged. It’s during that time they bully other kids, graffiti or wreck things around the school.”

Grant Schofield, a professor of public health who studied the playground experiment, said:

“The great paradox of cotton-woolling children is it’s more dangerous in the long-run.”

Society’s obsession with protecting children ignores the benefits of risk-taking, he said.

Children develop the frontal lobe of their brain when taking risks, meaning they work out consequences. “You can’t teach them that. They have to learn risk on their own terms. It doesn’t develop by watching TV, they have to get out there.”

How fantastic that a school undertook this experiment and that it was studied. Here’s to more “beneficial risk!” – L

What do kids need to feel excited and engaged?

What do kids need to feel excited and engaged?




Yep, kids built a fort on an empty lot. Then someone called in a complaint. First off, here’s the letter the kids wrote to the city:

Dear City, Please do not tear this house down! We have all worked for almost a year on it, for hours and hours. We have all had fun climbing on it, camping in it, having picnics in it. Many happy memories were forged here. We all hope that it won’t be torn down. So please don’t tear it down!

Can you guess what happened next? Here’s the story, from KCTV in Missouri.  Missouri! Isn’t that where Tom Sawyer lived? Imagine it now. “Tom! Put down that paint brush. You don’t have a permit!”

And here’s the “happy” ending that I find hideously warped and unhappy:

There are already plans in the works to build a new fort, meeting city code and even getting an architect involved.

Woo hoo! Because it is so much more fun when an adult tells you what to build and how to build it. – L.

Let's bulldoze anything resembling initiative!

Let’s bulldoze anything resembling initiative!


Readers — I always love Jen Singer‘s funny, thoughtful take on things. It’s nice to see her son appreciate her, too! – L

Mom, You Did Something Right. “Wait, What?”

by Jen Singer, a.k.a., MommaSaid

January 15, 2014

Pudding Hill Mining Company

When your parenting is chronicled for all to see, you run the risk of screwing it up in a big public way. Or you can get something right. As we approach MommaSaid’s 11th birthday, I am pleased to report that my own child told me that I had done something right when it comes to parenting.

He and his buddy Drew were talking in school yesterday about how I had encouraged them to make forts and play outside (by limiting their access to electronics and shooing them out the door.)

“I remember being mad that you wouldn’t let me have a [Nintendo] DS in fourth grade, but now I see how it got me to play outside so much,” my 10th grader declared. He and Drew decided they were the “last generation” to grow up offline, and they were lucky for it.

- Read more here. (Really. Do. You’ll get a kick out of it!) – L