Is There a Free-Range Way to Deal with REAL Recess Bullying?

Hi Folks! I appreciate this writer’s dilemma and asked Jill Vialet, the founder of Playworks , and author of the new book Recess Rules to respond! I love her organization and learned a bunch of almost uncannily fun games at a workshop they gave in NYC a few years back. (And I’m not much of a playground game person myself.) – L

Dear Free-Range Kids: I love the Free-Range philosophy and was wondering if you could do a post on how to address actual bullying while staying Free-Range? I teach at a very very small school and we have minimal supervision for the K-5 kids during lunch (45 minutes). Lately we’ve learned that several (3, maybe more) of the kids are being socially isolated by a larger group (about 5 ringleaders, influencing about 20 kids total) though “games” such as keep-away/ignoring, as well as supposedly slapping and grabbing and pushing/pulling another child into an empty classroom and telling the child to “just stay here I don’t want to see you!” (No, they weren’t playing a game.) Or, a group of kids will whisper/laugh and point at a target child. It’s gotten to the point where one child doesn’t even want to go to school anymore. I’ve taught for several years and I’ve seen a wide variety of kid tussles/disagreements but my gut feeling is that this goes beyond that.

We’ve tried addressing “how to be kind,” “what is bullying behavior,” “no bullying will be tolerated” in classes, but it’s made minimal progress.

It’s complicated because it’s a small community, and I honestly feel like some of the bullies are copying their parents’ behavior (parents gossip about each other and have parties where the invite lists purposely exclude other families – the same families that the bullied kids are in- yikes!). Not to mention that the parents of the bullies are staunchly opposed to the thought that their angel children (intellectually very bright and very helpful/compliant in front of adults) could be that mean, and “kids are kids.”

One solution is to not have “free time” anymore and implement structured activity during lunch. I hate that it takes away the kids’ time to play on their own. I also don’t think it’s right to force kids to play with each other. So… I’m hoping you have some other ideas!

Thanks, Molly

To which Jill Vialet writes: 

Molly — I’m afraid what you’re describing is something I hear about quite a lot. But as the founder of Playworks, a group that both provides training and sends staff into schools, I’ve found that it is possible to make recess fun again. Our staff – and the folks we train — organize games while teaching students to be “Junior Coaches.”  For the Junior Coach program we recommend choosing kids who are naturally leaders, and including both those kids who are using their superpowers for good, as well as those who are sometimes leading in the wrong direction.  

We find this “teaching” necessary because the kids haven’t learned games from their older friends and siblings the way we used to. Kids literally don’t know how to start or sustain a game because they’ve never seen it happen. So our staff help bring that skill back. They also teach kids “rock, paper, scissors,” the amazingly effective way to solve conflicts quickly, easily and fairly. (Grown-ups might consider using it more, too. Like, in Congress.)

Playworks is not always seen as a “Free-Range” approach because we encourage a level of grown-up engagement that could be seen as running counter to the ethos.  But at Playworks, we’ve always seen ourselves as being closely aligned, because it we believe in the power of play to bring out the best in every kid. [Lenore here: I agree!]

We start from a place of understanding that our role is to build an environment that is conducive to a culture of kindness. Our job as grown-ups is to model empathy, teamwork, leadership and inclusion.  Once that environment is established, it’s our job to get out of the way and let kids be the drivers.  Let them develop their own skills as changemakers.

I have often thought that one of the great paradoxes of Free-Range Kids is that the one essential precondition to kids taking healthy risks is that they feel essentially safe.  Not the padding-on-coffee-tables safe.  But safe, as in operating in a system where there is a semblance of order, and when things go wrong (because they will), they know what to do.  Not coincidentally, it is this same sense of safety that is an essential precondition to learning.

I was in Arizona a couple of weeks ago and met a young man who had been a Playworks junior coach. Now a 7th grader, he looked back nostalgically at his elementary school years and explained to me that he had been a trouble-maker and a bit of a bully. “But then Playworks came to my school,” he explained. “And it just made more sense to be a junior coach. It was just more fun.”

So my answer about how to make the recess time less mean, is to suggest that you and some of the other teachers go out and play along side the kids, modeling the behaviors you hope to encourage.  Resist taking away break time, and I agree about not forcing kids to play together.  But you should do what you can to make playing in an un-mean way the coolest, funnest, best gig in town.  (Get our free book of game ideas here.)  And then, as play works its magic, bringing out the best in every kid, make sure to allow the kids to lead, with you playing in support, but not overshadowing. – J.V.


Can we really teach kids to play without serious bullying?

Can kids really change, through play?

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75 Responses to Is There a Free-Range Way to Deal with REAL Recess Bullying?

  1. Ben December 5, 2013 at 8:13 am #

    Let’s be honest, the world of children is just like the one adults live and work in. It’s unrealistic to expect everyone to like each other and to enjoy each other’s company. However, that is no excuse for bullying behavior.

    Those few excluded kids deserve friends too, so you should everything you can to avoid having the bullies influence their decisions. That play coaching Jill mentioned is a good idea too. Finally, if you come across evidence of bullying behavior, don’t hesitate to mention it to parents. There is only so much you can ignore…

  2. Rebecca December 5, 2013 at 9:38 am #

    A note about structured recess: in 5th Grade we would occasionally have a class kickball game, and since I’ve never been athletic, I feel I was more bullied during this structured recess than when we had free play.

  3. Nicole December 5, 2013 at 10:12 am #

    I like the idea of having a semi-structured recess, emphasizing cooperative over competitive play, for bullying. I don’t think free range works well in large groups- I think kids, like adults, are subject to group think and can becoming bullies in those situations. There needs to a referee, there needs to be rules, and there needs to be a selection of activities to choose from.

    A while back I was reading about a study done about bullying- basically, they watched kids and tried to figure out what behaviors the kids naturally displayed that decreased the bullying. Basically, the victim can’t do anything- stand up or not, walk away or not, the victim will be bullied. However if a bystander stands up for the victim, even if that bystander is also bullied, the bully will usually stand down. So I think trying to create a culture where other children stand up (with words and body language) for their peers who are treated unfairly is really where we need to go. This is also the badly we want to see when they grow up- the altruistic, stand up for what’s right, behavior.

    There was another model I read about, where they paired up kids in buddies across social boundaries (popular with unpopular, etc) and had “buddy recess” and “buddy time” where the students had to do something with that person. I like that idea for breaking down clique behavior.

  4. Nicole December 5, 2013 at 10:13 am #

    Oooh, sorry for the typos- proofreading fail ;p

  5. Really Bad Mum December 5, 2013 at 10:59 am #

    I have a rule when it comes to bulling or my kids fighting with others, it’s that unless it is disrupting our lives at home ( coming home crying, trouble sleeping, not wanting to go to school basically starting to annoy me ) I don’t get involved, kids can make up quickly leaving the parents fighting, I tell my kids to stand up for themselves, and although not P.C. To fight back, telling teachers etc honestly does sweet F.A, we did it for 12 months until I got angry and told my daughter to give it to her…( not my finest parenting moment hehe) she came home that day happy, she waited till this girl was alone in the toilets-her idea not mine, pushed back up to the wall and pointing in her face said ‘ YOU! Shut your mouth and tell your mother to shut hers too… Or I will punch you’ ( they where 9 or 10) then she told her ‘ and don’t you dob either because you started it’ from that day we never had a problem, in year 8 she was on the bus when a year 12 girl tripped a boy who was over weight and not as popular my girl did it again for this boy, and had the year 12 scared ( maybe more shocked a lowly yr 8 would take in a yr 12).
    As a teacher you unfortunately can’t do any of this.
    And the only thing that stops bullies is for the kid being bullied to be able to get the courage and confidence to stand up for themselves and fight back. But to tell a kid that these days is apparently on the same bad parenting level as supplying them with heroin…

  6. Emily December 5, 2013 at 11:03 am #

    I’m on the fence. Maybe “structured recess” can help solve the problem of bullying, BUT the structured games should be optional, and also, there should really be some other recess options for kids who just plain don’t like playing outside. Not every kid wants to be outside; not every kid wants to run around chasing after a ball, and that should be okay. Maybe “recess duty” could include, in addition to the teachers on the playground, other teachers supervising the library, computer room, music room, etc. All of the options would be wholesome and educational, they’d teach time management (for example, if little Susie knows she has dance class followed by Brownies after school, then lunch recess might be the only time that day that she can do her homework), but more than that, instead of reinforcing over and over again to the introverted, unathletic kids, what they’re NOT, they’d help these kids discover what they ARE–for example, instead of “I’m not co-ordinated, I’m not athletic, I don’t like playing outside,” they could learn, “I like to read, I like to draw, I like to play the piano,” etc. I know that I’m going to get some flak for this, about how “kids need to learn to overcome adversity,” and whatnot, but I think that that lesson can be taught outside the context of break time. Recess was never a true break for me, because I didn’t get a break from interacting with others. So, maybe if the options were “structured game, free outdoor play, or library/computers/music room,” then I could get on board with this idea, because then it’d be addressing the bullying problem, while also making recess as free-range as possible.

  7. Ali December 5, 2013 at 11:08 am #

    Kudos for seeing it and wanting to change it. That being said OMG!!! it’s gotten so bad the targeted child doesn’t want to go to school anymore?? Holy Smokes! 1) it’s been going on a lot longer than you suspect. 2) It’s going on at more than just recess.

    Saying: “Play nice at recess” WILL NOT help. You need to make it VERY clear that excluding and name calling is NOT ACCEPTABLE AT ALL. You need to hold the bullies back from recess the second they put a toe out of line. The parents need to be told, in no uncertain terms, that their kids are disruptive to the social fabric and that you will be dealing with their behavior at school. The parents need to be made aware and most likely will continue to model poor behavior at home -just know this is who they are. The principal needs to have your back on this one.

    You also need to work with the bullied kids to prop them up a little and give them tools to fight back. Their parents may not have the social ability to help their kids deal with bullies.

    The third thing you need to do is decide whether this is the school for you. I’ve known several teachers who have stepped away from small schools (rural or private) for this very reason….the parents turn into bullies when they believe their brat children are being unfairly punished and will gang up on the teacher who is trying to keep harmony in the classroom.

    My story is: I was picked out as the “weird kid” because I spoke a 1st language other than English at home. At school I had an accent, and the kids made fun of it. I didn’t have the social skills to put the kids in their place and ended up being their target for 6 years during primary school. I had a cap gun put to my ear before school started, kids bumping my desk, knocking things off my desk, stealing my things, pinching, etc all without the teacher knowing. Kids are REALLY good at doing things when teachers aren’t looking. I hated going to school and ended up dropping out in my junior year because I was over the whole school scene. Turns out, the main bully’s dad was head of the American Heart Assn -a very high powered MD who had no time for his three sons. Matt was the youngest and treated me the way his brothers treated him. He apologized nearly 20 years later, but it was too late by then though it has helped ease the anxiety around school a little. And FYI, I just finished my Master’s degree, it is possible to go back and make it right.

    I wish there would have been a teacher like you who would have stood up for me. So, good luck. A helpful read for me was “Odd Girl Out” by Rachel Simmons; it talks in detail about how bullies operate.

  8. Papilio December 5, 2013 at 11:28 am #

    Yeah, count me with the people who never liked outside games or sport. It would have been an extra PE lesson I so dreaded and I would have felt punished too for the behavior of the bullies.
    I’d rather occupy the bullies during free time for a while, in the meantime talk to the rest of the group about how to behave nicely etc, and then see who’s the out-group after that…

  9. Donna December 5, 2013 at 11:43 am #

    The thing is that kids don’t come into the world knowing how to socialize nicely anymore than they come into the world knowing anything else. And fellow children are not their best teachers as they are also socially inexperienced and immature. I’m not going to leave teaching my child how to drive in the hands of her recently licensed teenage friend so I don’t leave lessons on how to make and be a friend completely in the hands of her fellow children.

    That doesn’t mean that we need to jump in at the first sign of conflict, but it does mean that children need adult guidance in learning and understanding what is proper social behavior and that sometimes means structured play.

    My daughter has had two mean girls in her life thus far. One, both sets of parents realized the situation and we worked on good socialization skills with both our kids. In the end, her daughter became nicer and mine a little better at being able to walk away when A was being a brat. I was still kinda happy to have the relationship end when we left Samoa because I didn’t particularly like the other girl, but it stopped being a toxic relationship for my child long before then.

    The second, the mother refuses to intervene. She sees what her daughter is doing but minimalizes her daughter’s responsibility and ultimately believes that the kids will just work it out. This girl, who I don’t really think is as innately unpleasant as the other one, is learning bad social skills and having them reinforced by a lack of anyone telling her that what she is doing is wrong. She will continue to do what she is doing, not because she is truly a bad person, but because this is working for her and nobody is telling her otherwise. Luckily, my daughter peaced-out of the whole relationship once S started her antics so it doesn’t really affect us any more.

  10. LS December 5, 2013 at 11:43 am #

    A fair amount of social conflict occurs during low-supervision times, like recess, and often on the edges of a playground. Can’t there be a middle ground of better supervision during free play, with a teacher(s) there to redirect, intervene, remove, whatever and let the kids still frolic without being herded into a group game? Teachers can learn a lot about their students during this time, and the students are still free to engage in whatever games they want to, they just can’t be awful to a few. My daughter’s school uses Kim John Payne’s teachings regarding social inclusion; you might find his information helpful as well.

  11. Christine Hancock December 5, 2013 at 11:45 am #

    Bullying is an extremely complicated problem, one which school policy alone can not solve. Part of the problem is that of zero tolerance policies. The bullied child has no recourse but to report the problem to an adult where-upon, both parties sometimes are punished (I got a 24 hour suspension just for taking a blow to the stomach, same as the kid that punched me). Then there is the stigma for being the one to report (being called a snitch and ostracized for it is never fun). Of course there are the smart bullies that lie either to avoid trouble or to get another student in trouble. Zero tolerance just doesn’t work. You can tell a tornado that destroying property is not allowed in your county, but a force of nature doesn’t care, neither do bullies. Report the problem to the parents and provide documentation (hide a camera if necessary). That’s all a school can do short of calling the cops, which never looks good.

    I say, give individual students their option whether they play in an unstructured recess, play in organized sports during recess, or stay inside in a supervised classroom with a selection of indoor activities (open the library, the kids will love it). Some kids, bullied or bullies, don’t like being around each other and are better off in separate places doing different things.

    This won’t sound politically correct, but have weekly martial arts or self defense instruction to which documented bullies are not invited or will be expelled from. If a bully knows he (or she) risks having the crap kicked out of him, that can be a serious deterrent, not to mention there is the benefit of earning the right to be with the well behaved kids having fun. Ooh! And the exercise!

    Obviously, I’m just dreaming. Not a single one of these ideas will be implemented, but still, it’s fun to consider a world where children are empowered and given the tools to deal with bullies.

  12. hineata December 5, 2013 at 12:39 pm #

    Am with Ali on this if I read you right. Personally firstly I would ‘bench’ the ringleaders (leave them on a bench outside the staff room (inside a building if it is cold out) each and every time they put a foot out of line.

    Am interested that there are three + students who are targets of this. As well as the above I would do everything possible to get these kids to form a group of their own and stand together over this nonsense.

    Non-PC too, but I have also instructed kids to hit back/take on their bullies, in cases where I was darn sure it was a real problem, and promised to look the other way. Usually effective.

    A fourth tactic to go along with this, assuming (and I’m not necessarily…) that all the teachers agree that this bulling is an issue, is to have all staff out on duty for a few days, everywhere and in everyone’s faces. Not giving any room for the bullying to occur.

    A fifth tactic would be to quietly get the bully alone and point out not so subtly that you know what is going on, and what is happening in the bully’s life to make them so nasty? Emphasise how sorry you are that their lives suck so much, and what can you do to help? Do this every days for however long it takes. Bullies who are not actually suffering real life crises are usually so creeped out by this behavior that they begin to behave correctly – anything to stop the crazy teacher trying to ‘help’ them :-)

  13. hineata December 5, 2013 at 12:40 pm #


  14. E December 5, 2013 at 12:42 pm #

    Lots of good advice, but I’d have to wonder about the physical violence. Surely that’s against school rules and the child being accused of such (I realize this wasn’t witnessed by a staff member) could be taken aside and told that they would lose some of their freedoms or whatever school consequences go along with that.

    For those suggestion that outdoor recess should be option, I just don’t get how that fits the idea behind this website. What about the child that can’t sing? Or doesn’t like music? Do they get to opt out of those? Recess doesn’t have to be about physical exertion. And from a practical standpoint, the school can’t really be expected to pull off having multiple options, not every class is taking recess at the same time and they’d never have enough resources for that.

    I’d be leery of endorsing the idea that ‘my kid doesn’t like to go outside’. Young kids should be exposed to what’s beyond the 4 walls (well adults should be too).

  15. Donna December 5, 2013 at 1:01 pm #

    E – I agree in part with what you are saying. I do think that, if the class is going outside for recess, then the ENTIRE class is going outside for recess. But recess is not PE class. It is supposed to be relaxation time, not work. The kids should be allowed to do whatever they want to do. That means that acceptable activities should include playing games and sitting alone while reading a book.

  16. Emily December 5, 2013 at 1:01 pm #

    E–You’re comparing apples to oranges. Music is usually taught as a class in school, and every kid has to take music, or an equivalent arts course. That’s not optional. Recess is different, because it’s NOT a class–it’s “break time” for the students to recharge their mental batteries between classes. Anyway, yes, I do believe that kids in school should get to spend their break time as they wish, just as adults in the workplace do. Adults have more options; they can leave the premises if they have enough time, and obviously, you can’t give elementary-school kids that option (although my high school was open campus), but I really don’t see a problem with providing a few different options for recess, either indoors or out. I wouldn’t want to spend my “break” time outside in -20 C weather as an adult, and I hated having to do that as a kid. I much preferred spending recess in the library or the computer room, when that option existed. It allowed me to return to the noise and hustle of the classroom at least somewhat refreshed, because I’d had some quiet time to do something I actually enjoyed, instead of being herded outside and forced to deal with the cold, the exclusion (on good days), and the teasing and bullying (on bad days). Even now, I find it difficult to spend a full day with people I actually LIKE, with no time to myself, because it’s exhausting to be “on” all the time.

    Christine Hancock–I didn’t think of the idea of schools offering martial arts lessons, but I love it. :)

  17. Vanessa December 5, 2013 at 1:02 pm #

    I like the idea of giving kids something else to do besides being on the playground. I was not at all popular from grades 5-8 and sixth grade was an especially low point. Sometime in the middle of the year, I wandered into the library during lunch and asked the librarian if there was anything I could do to help her, and from that point on, I spent most of my lunch periods dusting and shelving books. I was a book lover already, so I felt comfortable and safe in the library, and it was a wonderful refuge. I’ve always wondered whether the librarian knew why I was there – I’m guessing she probably did, but she never said anything directly to me about it. (I actually got a special citizenship award the end-of-the-year assembly for my “volunteer work.”) I suppose you could make a case that kids shouldn’t be allowed to hide from bullies, but based on my experience, there are plenty of times throughout the school day when they’ll have to deal with the bullies anyway, so why not give them half an hour of respite?

  18. JB December 5, 2013 at 1:20 pm #

    Saw this yesterday- could work for some kids.

    My only son, 5yo, has real leadership potential, but he tends to be bossy about it- can he be a junior junior coach? Always looking for ideas to help him down a kind path.

  19. Scott Lazarowitz December 5, 2013 at 1:25 pm #

    I agree mostly with Ali 11:08 and Christine 11:45.

    And the addition of a martial arts class is a great idea. If parents don’t teach their kids how to fight back against bullies, then perhaps the school can provide such instruction.

    However, if you are aware of the more advanced, organized scheme involving “ringleaders,” then those ones must be expelled.

  20. Donna December 5, 2013 at 1:33 pm #

    Emily – I think the issue is just available space and supervision. In my daughter’s school, there are different recess periods throughout the day. When my daughter is at recess, there are other classes in the library, computer room, art room and music room. Those students deserve the full use of the resources of the classes that they are taking and the teachers should be able teach those students without also having to supervise a half dozen recess kids who don’t want to go outside.

    Your comparison to adults is actually pretty apt and they are far more similar than you give them credit for being. Even as an adult at work, unless everyone is taking a break at the same time, my only options are to stay in my personal office or go outside of the office completely. I may be able to go more places once outside the office than a child can, but I certainly can’t decide to go nap on the boss’ couch or hang out in a co-worker’s office while they are still working (although I did occasionally nap on the boss’ couch while he was out).

  21. Emily December 5, 2013 at 1:37 pm #

    @Scott Lazarowitz–There are plenty of moves in martial arts that don’t actually involve hurting people. You can duck, block, jump out of the way of your attacker, etc. So, I wouldn’t see martial arts as encouraging kids to “hit back,” necessarily; but rather, just giving them the skills they need to protect themselves. It’s also good exercise, of course, but that’s just a bonus.

  22. Steve Cournoyer December 5, 2013 at 1:49 pm #

    Well said, Really Bad Mum! As a kid I was bullied a lot and one day I snapped and let the bully have it…and never got in trouble for it. My father told me, “Walk away if you can, if you can’t fight back…but you better not be the one starting it”….I agree it should be checked in school by teachers, aids, etc. but sometimes a kid has to stand up….PS the aforementioned bully and I was friends after that…we both learned from it…

  23. pentamom December 5, 2013 at 1:50 pm #

    “You need to make it VERY clear that excluding and name calling is NOT ACCEPTABLE AT ALL.”

    On the level of principle, I agree with this. Not acceptable. Wrong. Not “just kid stuff.” Not “they’ll work it out.”

    But, on a practical level, how do you make kids “not exclude?” You can’t force inclusion, you just can’t. If you force some kind of superficial inclusion, that rapidly turns into an opportunity for a different, and possibly more vicious, kind of bullying.

    I don’t want to say it’s hopeless but I’ve yet to see a workable solution. Hopefully there’s one out there somewhere.

  24. Really Bad Mum December 5, 2013 at 2:21 pm #

    @Steve, cheers for that, my daughter has also become friends with people who she started out ‘ hating sooo much’ but that little girl she bailed up was a piece of work… She kept telling my daughter her mum said she could play with her because we where too posh and she didn’t her daughter turning out like us.. Huh? So displaying all my airs and grace and yet another choice parenting moment told my daughter if she says it again to say ‘ I rather be posh then white trash like you’ in my defence I didn’t mean for her to take me literally and come back at the kid with it.. But after all that she was left alone by this kid. ( but I still think if this sheila thinks we’re posh then they must be the biggest bogans in the world )
    @pentamom. It’s easy to stop if we give kids the skills and confidence to stand up for themselves, once they know someone won’t be pushed around they back off I have taught my kids try and talk your way out but if not make sure they ALWAYS take the first swing, then make sure you knock them flat on their bum. Then it’s self defence not assult.. And I can stick up for u against other adults, but if they do the wrong thing I tell them ‘ I love you but your on your own and dealing with the consequences of your actions’

  25. SKL December 5, 2013 at 2:28 pm #

    I was bullied in school. Here’s my thought. Children in school need to stop being punished for responding in reasonable ways. For example, I instructed my kids that if someone messes with them, their first act should be to loudly, confidently state: “you are not allowed to ___ me.” Loud enough for the teacher and everyone else to hear it. Then the teacher is on notice that there is a problem. An older kid should be allowed to push the person away physically while saying that, if the threat is physical. Or even throw a punch if necessary.

    Unfortunately, in school, kids who try to stand up for themselves get punished for it. Often these are the kids who have a squeaky clean record, the rule-abiders, and they would rather put up with nonsense than get in trouble for defending themselves. When my nephew fought back a little, even though he was the only one who ended up injured, he was expelled (the aggressor with the record of violence was not). The message to bullied kids is clear: suck it up.

  26. Rae December 5, 2013 at 2:32 pm #

    Oh my, this hits close to home. I very reluctantly pulled my kids off the school bus for the rest of the school year last week due to these kinds of issues. For some reason the atmosphere on the afternoon school bus (it has no monitor, no camera and a bus full of K-8) had turned very nasty. My 1st grader & 3rd grader were on the giving and receiving end of this horrible behavior (name calling, destroying and taking other’s property, physical assaults). I’ve complained all the way up to the head of transportation, had conferences with the school, parents and even a social worker in effort to find a way for this bus ride to happen safely. But as another poster said, these unstructured, unsupervised times are can be hard for some kids to make good choices (including mine).

    After meeting with the parents and the school, it became clear that the situation wasn’t going to change. The parents of the other children did not believe (in spite of multiple eye witnesses) that their children had done wrong and the kids denied it up and down. So my kids were alone in making apologies and promising to be kinder, the other children graciously accepted the apology and offered none in return. The parents explained that the confessions that their kids had made were done under duress and they were, in fact, totally innocent. The school lacked any resources to supervise the bus and could only offer punishment after the fact.

    Ultimately, I concluded that my 6 year old is just not ready to resist the social aggression that is occurring on the bus. If someone hits her or calls her a name, she steps right into the fray. Her 8 year old brother finds it hard to stay out of it when his sister is “in trouble”(usually at least partly her own making). So I decide to join the carpool, and work on some lacking impluse control and social skills and try again next year.

  27. Emily December 5, 2013 at 2:55 pm #

    Donna–I didn’t think of the “staggered recess” scenario. When I was in school, everyone had recess at the same time. The only exception was in high school, during the years when we had higher-than-usual enrollment, we had to have two separate lunch periods, but people on lunch or spares were still allowed to use the library, music room, art studio, graphics/yearbook/photography room, gymnasiums, weights room, etc., while classes were being held there. The only exception was the tech shops, because there wouldn’t have been enough equipment to go around. Other than that, free time was free time. Of course, we were warned very firmly not to disrupt classes that were happening in rooms that we were using during our breaks, and we mostly didn’t, because we knew it was a privilege, and troublemakers would be kicked out of that room for the day. Anyway, some people would leave campus to get fast food, and others did kind of sketchy things, like fighting/smoking/making out behind the arena that was next door to our school, but a lot of other people used that time as self-directed learning time, without any prompting at all. Often, student groups would collectively choose to meet during lunch during busy times (for example, I was on student council, and we met at lunch all the time during Spirit Week, either instead of or in addition to our Tuesday afternoon time slot), because they knew that other people had other activities/responsibilities after school, and that was the only time they could get everyone together. Now, if lunch/break/whatever had been rigidly structured, so as to require everyone to be in a specific place, or to gather on the blacktop and play Octopus (for example), all of that opportunity for growth and personal development would have been lost. When I was in grades 5-8, the library or computer room option was offered intermittently, for a while, but it was eventually phased out, and I was sad when it was, because I felt that my autonomy was being taken away.

  28. Really Bad Mum December 5, 2013 at 2:57 pm #

    @Rae I don’t get that way of thinking I am usually shocked that my kids are usually, according to others, well behaved. I’ve seen them at work, any kid at one time is going to make satan look like a good guy, those parents are more worried about themselves, if they admit that their kids can and have done some horrific, face palming, makes you want to either strangle them or give them away, then they think they are better then that and want to keep the act up… I find them highly amusing… Hey I’m 99% sure satan has a restraining order against my kids… Lol

  29. hineata December 5, 2013 at 3:14 pm #

    @Really Bad Mum – your kids’ schools must love you! Wish we could clone you. Even around here, land of even less posh sheilas (geez I love that word, LOL!) too many of our parents these days think their kid can do no wrong. Even had a parent the other day shouting at the principal that his daughter ‘never lies’. Kid is actually a habitual liar, whom we sympathize with – she mostly does it to avoid dad yelling at her – but, yep, she’s an angel who does no wrong. Yet another Tui billboard (yeah, right) moment….

  30. Donna December 5, 2013 at 3:22 pm #

    Emily – You are talking about high school and this writer is talking about elementary school. HUGE difference in maturity, self-control and both the ability to sit in a library while a class is going on without being a distraction and the ability to sit in a class and focus on the lesson while other kids are in the room doing their own thing.

  31. Donna December 5, 2013 at 3:42 pm #

    @Pentamom – I don’t think that you should even want to force inclusion. People, even young people, have a right to decide who they want to play with and when they want to play with them. Not everyone is ever going to get along or enjoy each other’s company. And it is okay to want to play with different groups of kids or for smaller subgroups of one larger friend group to occasionally get together without the whole. That is all perfectly normal.

    What you have to enforce is not being mean about it. It is one thing for Susie and Janie to not want to play with Annie because they don’t like Annie. It is another entirely for Susie and Janie to be mean to Annie, to run and hide from Annie and stop Betty and Cassie from playing with Annie too. That is all readily identifiable and needs to be combated.

    One way to combat it is to work with the kids. This goes back to kids don’t just KNOW intuitively how to be positively social. We, even here, tend to view bullies as bad kids but much that I see is just socially inexperienced kids. My daughter doesn’t get the concept that someone can occasionally want to play with alone with another kid and still be her friend (we’re working on it). She is likely to feel hurt and then retaliate the next day, starting down a bad road unless stopped.

  32. Rae December 5, 2013 at 4:09 pm #

    @Really Bad Mum, I too,was totally stunned when the other parents refused to acknowledge the possibility that their kids were anything but beyond reproach.

    At the end of the day, I came to the conclusion that the other parents and I had some basic differences in our worldview. See, I don’t think the fact that Satan has an order of protection against my little cupcakes means they are ‘bad kids’, it means they are kids, who screwed up and need some more practice and instruction before they get it right (or maybe get it closer-to-right). Perhaps these parents think that admitting that their kids had been bullies was akin to admitting that their kids were “bad kids” or *gasp* they are “bad parents”. It’s a shame, I think they are missing an opportunity. And to reference a previous post, maybe my snowflakes won’t get into Harvard, but I would be prouder if they do the right thing when no one is watching.

  33. Emily December 5, 2013 at 4:14 pm #

    >>Emily – You are talking about high school and this writer is talking about elementary school. HUGE difference in maturity, self-control and both the ability to sit in a library while a class is going on without being a distraction and the ability to sit in a class and focus on the lesson while other kids are in the room doing their own thing.<<

    Donna, I could have managed that fairly early on; maybe by the time I was eight or nine. Back then, the public library had a separate area for special programs, etc., but it wasn't in a separate room, so I was used to either using the library without disrupting the programs, or if I was participating in a program, to remain engaged in the activity without wandering off into the stacks. Those are important skills to learn, and elementary school is as good a time as any to teach them.

  34. Emily December 5, 2013 at 4:21 pm #

    P.S., Donna, I grew up in Ontario (like Warren), where elementary school mostly goes from kindergarten (or junior kindergarten) to grade eight, and high school starts in grade nine. There actually isn’t a huge difference between grade eight and grade nine, and depending on individual kids’ levels of intellectual and emotional development, you could very well have kids who are the right age for elementary school, but who are more mature than some high school students. In any case, developing maturity isn’t that different from strength training–just like you build muscles by lifting weights or doing strength exercises, you develop maturity by being allowed to make decisions and think for yourself; not by being shepherded and supervised through every waking moment of life. If that doesn’t happen, then maturity never develops. That’s why we have kids who head off to university not knowing how to do laundry, or why they shouldn’t eat undercooked chicken, or worse yet, not knowing who they are. I’m not saying that four-and-five-year-olds should be given free reign to come and go as they please during breaks, but I think phasing in freedoms and privileges during elementary school makes much more sense than going from “rigid structure” in grade eight, to “open campus” in grade nine.

  35. BL December 5, 2013 at 4:47 pm #

    “Unfortunately, in school, kids who try to stand up for themselves get punished for it.”

    Exactly. You’re not going to get justice through ‘the system’. You’re going to have to go outside it, one way or another.

    It amazes me in this age of “getting tough” on everything and anything, bullies seem to be the exception and are treated with kid gloves. The answer is to physically thrash them until they stop.

  36. pentamom December 5, 2013 at 4:56 pm #

    Donna — that’s actually what I meant. You put it much better. I should have made clearer that I wanted to stop active, hostile exclusion, not merely simply quietly choosing who you did, and did not, want to play with. Seeing forced or even active inclusion as the only alternative is what creates trouble.

    Still, I don’t know any way to make kids “be nice.” There are all kinds of subtle ways that really hurtful hostility can be communicated that can’t be enforced or even noticed by the adults in charge. So even given your excellent clarification, I’m still sort of at a loss as to how you could make it work.

  37. pentamom December 5, 2013 at 5:00 pm #

    I also agree with you that a lot of “exclusion” is just poor social skills and communication — a kid not wanting to play with another kid is not always being mean, sometimes they just don’t know how to communicate that well and/or the other kid can’t grasp that there can be preferences in playmates or activities without hostility. So teaching them better communication and social skills covers that.

    But it doesn’t cover the situations where one or more kids are made into pariahs and it’s cool to exclude them and social suicide to include them in anything. Those are the tricky cases that I had in mind. When that happens, the kids are in most cases defying the minimum standard of social behavior that they’ve already been taught — they just WANT to be mean to another kid for some reason, or are afraid of bucking the mean kids. That’s a problem that starts more in the later elementary grades, I think.

  38. Donna December 5, 2013 at 5:15 pm #

    Emily – Elementary school in the US – where this writer seems to be from – is 4-11 years old. You admit that even you couldn’t have handled this until you were almost out of American elementary school, and you appear to be far from the bottom rung of maturity for your age. Further, even once you were mature enough to do it, that doesn’t mean that the kids in the classroom that you want to be in aren’t much younger, and not able to deal with the distraction of you being in their space.

    People here seem to have an overwhelming inability to understand that schools need to meet the needs of hundreds of children and not just you (or yours), and they need to do so as efficiently as possible as there is not an overabundance of resources, human or otherwise. Sometimes that means that everyone’s individual wants are not going to be able to be met.

  39. Emily December 5, 2013 at 6:48 pm #

    >>People here seem to have an overwhelming inability to understand that schools need to meet the needs of hundreds of children and not just you (or yours), and they need to do so as efficiently as possible as there is not an overabundance of resources, human or otherwise. Sometimes that means that everyone’s individual wants are not going to be able to be met.<<

    Donna, I don't see the need for a young person who's being bullied to feel safe at school, or the need for an introverted person (no matter what age) to have a break from being around hordes of others over the course of a six-or-more-hour school day, to be merely a "want," but rather, a "need," and with the current model of recess being either "everyone outside to play," or "everyone outside for structured games," those needs, for those students, are going unmet EVERY day. The population of students who feel this way seems to be larger than most school officials think, judging by the response on here, and yet, a lot of those kids feel alone, like they're the only one. Maybe if kids in school had more options for recess–indoors or out, rambunctious or quiet–then the quieter kids might meet each other over their common interests, and become friends. Of course this would be harder to implement in a school that does "staggered recess" like your daughter's school, but there's really no good reason why it wouldn't work in a traditional school setting, where everyone has recess at the same time. After all, the population of the school is the same, and it wouldn't take as many teachers to supervise students reading or playing board games quietly in the library, as it would to supervise students running around on the playground, so with a little ingenuity, it could probably work. Also, I'm sure that there would be at least a few teachers who'd much rather supervise the library or the computer room at recess, than be outside in the dead of winter, and then there are some helicopter parents who are always clamouring to volunteer at their kids' schools, so this would be a good way to put them to work, by ironically having them help make "free-range recess" happen. In other words, it'd take some effort to make it work, but I really think that the benefits would outweigh the potential hurdles.

  40. Jenn December 5, 2013 at 8:36 pm #

    For centuries (and longer), children learned how to play games through the older children who passed on their knowledge. Once those children grew up, they then took their turn as the child ‘leaders’ who taught the new generation of children the games (and the rules) and so on. Today, children don’t have the same free time, which means that they haven’t been teaching each other the games that we grew up with (even though our parents and grandparents played variations of the same games). I try to teach my own children and the students I teach the school yard and neighbourhood games that we grew up on, Hide and Seek, Red Rover, Spud, Jumpsies, Hopscotch and more. Once they have played a game with me, I leave them alone. They sometimes come to find me to clarify a rule or to help resolve a dispute, which I think was the role of adults and older children in the past. Hopefully we can teach this generation of children the games and rules of playing nicely so that they can teach future generations.

  41. Virginia December 5, 2013 at 9:05 pm #

    JB, I saw that article about the “Buddy Bench” too, and I think it’s a great idea. I also feel that recess needs to be much more closely supervised than it often is. At my kids’ elementary school, there was a job called “yard duty” which was often filled by local parents. Frankly they weren’t all that much help most of the time, but I think if they’d been trained better, they could have done more. For a while, there was also a program that trained students in playground conflict resolution. Our older neighbors participated and seemed to like it, but unfortunately it was discontinued by the time my kids reached upper elementary age.

    The elementary school where I volunteer now has Playworks recess, and although I have to admit that I was initially dubious about it, the kids I’ve spoken to about it all like it a lot.

    Anyway, I think the bottom line is that if you want to change playground behavior, you have to take concrete action rather than just talking about it. All the kids need tools to change their behavior — both the bullied and the bullies. It’s hard sometimes, but so important, to remember that even kids who are behaving very badly are really just kids. That doesn’t mean accepting their behavior — it means finding a way to teach them to change it.

    Good luck! It sounds like a difficult situation.

  42. Reziac December 5, 2013 at 9:06 pm #

    How much of the bullying is a side effect of helicopter parents? of kids who have no other outlet for their frustrations at being so confined, so they act-out against other kids, perhaps much as they feel their parents are doing to them??

    Some years ago I knew a teenage boy who’d taken to bullying the family dog, as well as self-harm, purely because he was literally never out from under mom’s thumb — not only helicoptered but also homeschooled, so it was 24 hours a day.** I advised him to go to regular high school (which in his state he could do by his own choice) and funny thing, the self-harm and bullying the dog stopped immediately, and he became a less pressured person all around. (He went on to become a fine young man.)

    ** This is why I consider homeschooling your OWN children to be child abuse. Kids naturally want to please their parents, but no child can deal with having to please their parents 24 hours of every day. There was a medieval saying, “He who educates his own child is a fool” for this very reason. If you homeschool, at the very least swap kids with other parents. Give your kids a chance to breathe away from you at least part of every day.

  43. Cassie December 5, 2013 at 9:37 pm #

    I have a great memory of being at a small school (30 kids), like your school their was minimal teacher supervision.

    A student was responsible for ringing the bell to return to class. He always did it, BUT we knew that occasionally if we could get the entire school participating in a game (ie rounders, which is a version of softball) and if we were all playing well and everyone was playing and we *accidently* forgot to ring the bell…. we knew the teachers would allow us to keep playing. A 15 minute recess stretched into hours of playing a game together. We would play right through class time, through our regular lunch until a teacher would ring the bell to signal the end of lunch.

    It is a strong memory. I remember if a younger student was hurt, or if two people started getting annoyed, we would quickly band together and hush it up, reminding each other that we would be allowed to stay out playing if we played well.

    This is not an ongoing solution (or even an immediate one) but I want to throw out the idea that somewhere, within a small school environment, there is the option of doing the opposite… of creating more responsibility as a solution, rather than taking it away.

  44. Emily December 5, 2013 at 10:05 pm #

    Oh, I just thought of another idea–what about getting interested students involved in a meaningful project around the school, like a community garden, or a mural in the cafeteria or the gymnasium, or even outside, if the playground is all pavement, and planting grass and trees isn’t an option? It’d still be a structured activity, but it’d be optional, and it’d help the kids take pride in their school.

  45. Alisa December 5, 2013 at 10:11 pm #

    I also loved this idea that a 2nd grader came up with: The Buddy Bench

  46. Steve Cournoyer December 5, 2013 at 10:53 pm #

    Anyone here ever read “Lord of the Flies”?

  47. Sky December 5, 2013 at 11:09 pm #

    I don’t understand. You know who the bullies are. Three or four kids. Discipline those 3 or 4 kids. Pull them into the principal, lecture them, make it known the behavior will not be tolerated, and make them sit out recess for a day or two. Adults don’t need to play alongside or structure recess. They just need to discipline the bullies. Not talk to the whole class about bullying in the abstract – discipline the actual individual bullies. Pull them from recess. How hard is that?

  48. Melanie Jones December 5, 2013 at 11:30 pm #

    My kids have had a hard time on the minimal supervision bus in the past, but over time it has worked out. It’s interesting to see how the kids eventually pair up and support each other and come up with solutions. But I know not every kid finds a solution and it can be many days and days of tears before one is found. I remember as a fourth grade girl that was kind of bookish I couldn’t handle all the 4th/5th grade girl drama and so I asked to be a library aide at recess. I really loved it. I loved talking to the librarian, browsing the books while I shelved them, being able to chat with friends who came into the library. It gave me time to decompress and re-charge each day because I found all that social stuff super stressful. I think looking back an adult might think that is kind of sad and worry about a kid that wants to be in the library during recess, but it made me really happy and it was a great solution to me during one hard year. I still had friends. The same friends. I just found a way to not be involved in the unsupervised playground drama. When my daughter was having playground trouble I asked her if she brought anything on the playground to occupy her time, wanting to encourage her that there is always something to do on your own. She had never considered that it was okay to be alone on the playground. Read a book. Imagine you are a spy agent. That brain between your ears is especially useful in situations where all the options available don’t appeal! (i.e., being the target of someone’s ‘game’, or participating in a ‘game’ that has gone negative.) I was shocked to realize that apparently being alone is something that has to be learned just as much as playing together. There are many teachers at our school that organize fun activities on the playground that are also wonderful and inclusive. It can be something as simple as standing in a circle on a cold day and taking turns leading a silly way to move to get warm. Kids can come and go from the circle at will, and aren’t compelled by force to participate. It’s fluid, low-key fun. I think that level of involvement from the teachers is really awesome and I am thankful our teachers care enough to do it.

  49. Emily December 5, 2013 at 11:47 pm #

    >>Adults don’t need to play alongside or structure recess. They just need to discipline the bullies. Not talk to the whole class about bullying in the abstract – discipline the actual individual bullies. Pull them from recess. How hard is that?<<

    Sky, that's one solution, but there's a pretty glaring hole in it–the bullies, the bullied kids, and the world in general, continues to exist outside of school hours. I had this problem when I was in grade four, and no matter how many times Bully Kid was kept in from recess, he could still beat me up on the way home from school. The school's solution was actually to dismiss him earlier than me. I didn't mind this arrangement on its face, because I didn't want to miss anything important in school, and also, I had to walk my then-six-year-old brother home each day, so altering my departure time would have meant altering his as well. However, when Bully Kid started lying in wait for me behind a snow bank, well, that's when I realized that something was really wrong. I mean, there's disliking someone, and there's lashing out against someone when forced to be in the same place as that person (like at school), but there is no earthly reason why anyone, especially a nine-or-ten-year-old kid, should be ACTIVELY SEEKING PEOPLE OUT to antagonize them. I think that that crosses the line from "bullying" into "mental illness."

  50. Really Bad Mum December 5, 2013 at 11:51 pm #

    @ hineata. Lol when ‘Princess Bitchface’ was in year 2 she told me a girl had said something about that she should be in the cemetery I went to the school as things had been going on for a while, the next day after me thinking something not right I questioned her again, she then got caught in a lie. I smacked her bum then made her write 2 letters of apology one to the school and one to the girl, then took her to the girls mothers workplace and apologise to the mother ( who forgave her after a small lecture) the next time something happened and I knew that she was telling the truth ( as I had witnessed the incident ) I pretended like I didn’t believe her, then I told her ‘ you lied to me, why should I believe you now?’ Later I told her I believed her, she got the message, but I know she still BS’s to me I believe about 75% of what she says, my son on the other hand is a crack up he tells stories that are so funny and entertaining like the scar on hi head was from the time he went fishing and a crocodile bit him on the head… Lol

  51. Lin December 6, 2013 at 1:14 am #

    I really LOVE the idea of the junior coaches!

    My personal experience with that kind of behaviour (directed at my daugther) is that:
    – counting on kids to ask teachers for help when they feel threatened does not work well at all. Even the one teacher does not react in a consistent way every time, so having to ask whatever teacher is on playground duty at the time is really a hit and miss affair. And it is not a good solution for kids that feel easily intimidated by authority and adults. But the bullies/anti-social kids usually have no such restrictions which can make matters worse instead of better for the victims. Also, if a teacher only once or twice doesn’t follow it up or take it seriously (and kids do exaggerate, it’s an easy mistake to make), the bullied child will lose confidence in this as a viable solution.
    – It’s all good and well to encourage a child to stand up for themselves but I happen to have a child who – though not particularly shy nor lacking in courage in other areas – won’t even scream loudly when she is being threatened, let alone kick someone (which is what I have instructed her to do on a couple of occasions!). She would find it embarrassing to do that. And things get worse when the bullies are perceived to be friends. I have on various occasions waited and waited for my girl to finally see that friends like that are just not worth the emotional agony they caused her, but nothing can make her abandon her loyalty to her friends. Reading “Get Up and Get Along!” helped her somewhat with strategies to counter bullying and teasing, but only marginally.
    – Assigning one single buddy to a child is not enough. That was the system they had in my child’s school when she started school at 5. She liked her buddy but she didn’t feel comfortable enough around her to go ask her for help. And they only did it one year, pairing a kindy kid with a year 6 kid.

    So I think junior coaches, that would have a fairly broad role of assisting with social conflict in the playground, could work quite well in a school environment too. After all, who could understand playground politics better than a child?

  52. Jenny Islander December 6, 2013 at 1:35 am #

    When we were kids, the local Catholic school was famous as the school where people hardly ever got bullied. It wasn’t the moral teaching, or a schedule of punishments. It was simply that the staff to student ratio was high and the staff were everywhere. Bullies could not have a victim out of sight for more than a minute before staff found them. And their reaction was always the same: “We don’t care about your excuses. Knock it off, or the ones who were doing things to other kids when we came around the corner are going to the principal, and then we’ll call your parents.”

    So my recommendation is: Bus monitors, hall monitors, classroom monitors, lunchroom monitors, playground monitors, bathroom monitors. Of course, this is not in the budget for most schools.

  53. Really Bad Mum December 6, 2013 at 1:42 am #

    @ Lin it’s a horrible feeling when your situation happens personally when my kids where acting that way I went back and forward between feeling sad for them and wanting to help to getting annoyed because we know they have to stand up for themselves which is easier said then done. In the end with my son I said to him if you aren’t going to at least try to stand up for yourself then I don’t want to hear about it. I don’t encourage this for others but for him I needed to draw a line. When it is a so called friend I say to them if you are going to choose to be friends with that person knowing what they do then too bad,

  54. J.T. Wenting December 6, 2013 at 6:11 am #

    “We’ve tried addressing “how to be kind,” “what is bullying behavior,” “no bullying will be tolerated” in classes, but it’s made minimal progress.”

    gosh. of course that doesn’t work. It only makes it worse as the bullies now take things out even more violently on their victims for “being teachers’ pets” and “tattletales”.

    Bullies like that need to be taken to task about their behaviour being unacceptable, not just shown a raised finger and told “now be nice and never do it again” (while all too often their victims if they so much as raise their voice against their torturers are severely punished).

    Personal experience, as a kid I was that victim. I didn’t dare leave line of sight of a teacher during play time at school or I’d end up beaten and kicked. Was a rare day I didn’t come home with bruises.
    Teachers knew very well what was going on and who were responsible, but did nothing. Yet the one time I fought back and someone ended up with a bloody lip, I was the one on probation.

    And, being a small community, it all extended way outside school time to the point where it was impossible for me to join any sports or other club. Judo classes became just a way to beat me up some more (under the watchful and approving eye of the judo teacher), I was afraid to walk or bike through town so never did, etc. etc.
    And teachers and my parents both wondered why I ended up such a loner, when the evidence was screaming in their face and being willfully and blissfully ignored because it didn’t fit in the image of the nice little smalltown life they had in mind.

    At 10 I first thought of suicide. Didn’t go through with it, sometimes I still wonder why.

    Giving them “game time” doesn’t do squat. If only rewards the bullies with more chances to outcast their victims, who’ll end up the ones always excluded from taking part, always the last ones chosen for anything and then blamed for everything that goes wrong, singled out for being beaten up after school and having whatever work they do in school sabotaged (I was no stranger to finding my desk scratched and having to explain the damage to the head teacher, again punishment for things I’d not done, with everyone aware I’d not done it but not caring as blaming the victim is easier than finding out the true guilty party who’s sheltered by the other kids).

  55. J.T. Wenting December 6, 2013 at 6:23 am #

    @RBM ” In the end with my son I said to him if you aren’t going to at least try to stand up for yourself then I don’t want to hear about it.”

    sadly all too many victims of relentless bullying end up being the ones punished when they do decide to “stand up for themselves”.
    They fight back, take a swing at their tormentor the next time he starts beating them up, bloody the guy’s nose or split his lip, guy runs to a teacher and their victim gets suspended or probation, or whatever other punishment the school sets for fighting. The hundred times before however that he didn’t stand up and instead complained himself about being beaten, that same teacher never took action. (and all too often their parents will then punish them more for that, for giving the family a bad name, etc., even after they’d first told him to stand up for himself)

    Such is all too often the situation with victims of bullying, leading to them becoming isolated, outcasts, depressed, and eventual suicide statistics (or national headlines when they take a gun and shoot up a classroom full of their tormentors before being taken down and vilified on national TV).

  56. Really Bad Mum December 6, 2013 at 6:57 am #

    @ J.T, if my son got in trouble for that then I would be having a go at the school asking why it was necessary for my son to have to protect himself when it is their duty of care. And why did he have to anyway because I will alway go to the school before telling my kids todo it. That way I can stand up for him against any adults whose laziness or incompetence will be exposed… I always make sure I have every base covered

  57. E December 6, 2013 at 8:41 am #

    @Emily, I realize a lot of posts have gone on between yours and mine, but I don’t really think that differently between non-academic activities (music, pe) and recess. It’s part of the school day plan and it’s designed to give the kids and teachers a break. I’m not advocating organized activities (my kids never had any), so a child should be able to do whatever they want (or nothing) during the very brief recess time. Every school my kids attended had staggered breaks so again, availability for multiple ‘things’ at different places in the school was not feasible.

    It’s a very brief period of time. If a child is being bothered by other students, the teachers/staff should address it just like they do any other time of day. If it isn’t your kid’s favorite part of the day, well it lasts about 20 minutes?

    Again, this seems like an over complication of the original issue. If a kid is a “real bully” then there should be “real consequences”. Schools should know how to do this, shouldn’t they?

  58. Mark Roulo December 6, 2013 at 10:15 am #

    “This is why I consider homeschooling your OWN children to be child abuse. Kids naturally want to please their parents, but no child can deal with having to please their parents 24 hours of every day. There was a medieval saying, ‘He who educates his own child is a fool’ for this very reason. If you homeschool, at the very least swap kids with other parents. Give your kids a chance to breathe away from you at least part of every day.”

    Um … it *is* possible to both homeschool your kids and raise them free-range. Homeschooling tends to take less time each day than traditional schooling, so the kids have more time to pursue their own interests or play. Mom and dad don’t have to be around for a lot of this …

  59. Emily December 6, 2013 at 10:47 am #

    E–Your mileage may vary, but we certainly had proper art classes in elementary school, and proper music classes if there was a teacher around who knew something about music. Drama was a bit spotty, but I remember being involved in a few different school plays. We definitely had proper music classes in high school, and drama, art, and the whole shebang, and in fact, I actually went on to major in music in university, and then later helped run a children’s music camp with a friend of mine, so for you to put music class on par with recess, is actually pretty offensive to me.

    As for the problem with staggered recess making it impossible to offer multiple options for recess, maybe the solution would be to have just one “indoor recess room,” where the kids who didn’t want to go outside could read, draw, play board games, listen to music on headphones, etc. Like I said, when I was in school, everyone followed the same schedule, so it wasn’t even a case of not having enough available space; the teachers just couldn’t be bothered. As for “even if it’s not your kid’s favourite part of the day, it lasts 20 minutes,” well, that 20 minutes can feel much longer to a child who’s freezing cold, or being teased, bullied, or excluded, or for the child who just needs some alone time, but knows that that’s not going to happen for several more hours. Recess is supposed to be a much-needed break in a long school day, and for a lot of kids, being herded out onto a noisy playground ISN’T a break for them. Also, lunch recess for us was between 40 and 60 minutes long, not 20.

  60. Jenny Islander December 6, 2013 at 10:52 am #

    @Mark Roulo: You mean by getting the school part of the day over before lunch, doing an hour of chores after lunch, and then handing them their allowance and kicking them out the door, right?

    There are parents who can’t stop standing over their kids, inspecting, criticizing, nagging, commanding, blaming, controlling, controlling, controlling. Some of them homeschool. This does not mean that the Venn diagram of the two groups is a circle!

  61. ThatDeborahGirl December 6, 2013 at 11:11 am #

    Why not just punish the bullies?

    Don’t get me wrong but we always know what to do about kid’s behavior but then, when it comes to bullying we get all, OMG, I have no idea what to do?

    Find out the kids who are doing it and make them stop. And let them know that any sort of retaliation with also be punished. And explain it to them so they understand.

    Bullies get to be bullies because no one stands up to them or stands up for their victims. I am so tired of people wondering what to about this problem. The only reason people question what to do about a bully is because they secretly think that people, even kids who are still learning to navigate the world, should always have to stand up for themselves.

    In an adult and civilized society, we stand up for each other and we stand together.

    Punish the bullies. Swiftly and without apology or without making excuses for their behavior – and let their parents know. Maybe you’ll teach their gossiping parents a lesson too.

  62. Mark Roulo December 6, 2013 at 11:13 am #

    “You mean by getting the school part of the day over before lunch, doing an hour of chores after lunch, and then handing them their allowance and kicking them out the door, right?”

    Our days aren’t that regular :-) Most common is something like this:

    *) Kid goes in to work with me (early) and we do 90ish minutes of schooling. Kid calls mom(*) and plays on computer until she arrives. Or kid takes light-rail home [we’ve been doing this for a while now to encourage independence].

    *) Mom takes kid home or he arrives home via light-rail and does more schooling.

    *) Now things start to diverge … maybe he walks/bikes down to the local library. Or (on short school days) maybe he can play with friends. Or he goes to karate class. Or mom and he go on some sort of field trip. Or maybe that day he’s got some sort of science class.

    *) After dinner we tend to watch an “educational” video as part of the pre-bed-time routine.

    There are chores, but not an hour per day :-)

    And in general, playing with friends has priority because his friends tend to spend so much time in scheduled activities that they aren’t as available to play as we’d like. We’re willing to skip schooling later in the day to let our kid play with his friends.

    And they tend to play unsupervised.

    He also works with one of the local community TV station filming high school events … and on those nights he may not get home until 11:00. This screws up the next day’s morning schooling and we may skip it if he is still sleeping.

    So … to answer your question: sorta ?!?

    I’m sure that there are homeschooling families that hover over their kids a *LOT*. Just like we have Tiger-moms that don’t homeschool. But I have no reason to believe that homeschoolers are any more controlling than any other parents (popular stereotypes aside).

    (*) Yes, we are married to each other and live in the same house.

  63. hyacinth smith December 6, 2013 at 12:10 pm #

    School, had traditionally been viewed as a haven from the disorders of everyday life. The proverb: “It is easy to frighten a bull from the window.” Means: When protected from retribution it becomes all too easy to frighten and torment someone more powerful than yourself. Thus in the past we associated the school- bully with size and aggression, whereas now technology has brought us the cyber-bully an anonymous wannabe who is more likely to be witless and timid. Strong men with sharp minds who can afford to be gentle and kind.Bullies like you who can only be cruel to support your malevolent mind. Remind your self that you are a God’s masterpeice and don’t accept the judgement of others your beautiful in your own way. Keep safe and protected bring it check this out at!/page_home.

  64. Really Bad Mum December 6, 2013 at 1:10 pm #

    @ hyacinth smith, all that website does is play on the fears of people, we don’t need things like that, they are nothing more then a way for someone to make money by putting the fear of god into parents so they will buy the product.

    ‘Visually understand crime in your child’s location
    Visually see where sex offenders live
    See pictures of sex offenders (where available)
    See all types of crime in an area’

    ‘Knowing threats in your child’s location can help him/her avoid danger
    They always know if they are close to Sex Offenders locations
    Threat level is a real time measurement of danger
    Crime statistics are automatically calculated into the threat level
    Easily identify places your child should avoid
    The child is automatically alerted if they are near a dangerous area
    Understand why an area is dangerous’

    These are the things we are trying to stop.

  65. pentamom December 6, 2013 at 2:09 pm #

    “I’m sure that there are homeschooling families that hover over their kids a *LOT*. Just like we have Tiger-moms that don’t homeschool. But I have no reason to believe that homeschoolers are any more controlling than any other parents (popular stereotypes aside).”

    I wish I could state it quite THAT strongly. But I do think that homeschoolers as a group are at least *somewhat* more likely to hover. However, that’s a choice, or maybe in many cases the impetus for homeschooling rather than an effect. Plenty of us don’t, because that’s not how we raise our kids and homeschooling doesn’t change that.

    The having to please your parents all day long thing the other commenter said just sounds weird to me — my relationship with my kids and my teaching of them is not about them “pleasing” me — they’re free to do what they want as long as it is within the bounds of what we expect from them as human beings. They don’t do their math to “impress Mom,” they do it to learn it, because people have to learn stuff. They don’t clean their rooms to “make me happy,” they do it because that’s part of what people do when they share living space with other people. The whole idea of either the teacher/student or parent/child relationship being about “pleasing” after the age of 7 or so is misguided, therefore the criticism on that score just doesn’t apply.

  66. John December 6, 2013 at 2:27 pm #

    @Really Bad Mum……what you said was spot-on! Many times if kids are able to stand up for themselves, that stops the bullying more so than if a teacher gets involved. A father whose 9-year-old son was into wrestling and MMA said that his son was being picked on by a 12-year-old at school. Of course, his son took the high road and would try to walk away and talk the situation down as he was taught by his wrestling coaches but it didn’t work as the older kid kept on cuffing him alongside the head. He even told the teachers but then the older kid would just bully him off of school grounds.

    Finally one day, his son had enough and used his wrestling and MMA skills to take this older kid down and put a little whupp’in on him! Of course, it was humiliating for the older boy to basically get beat-up by a 9-year-old in front of his friends BUT the bullying stopped right in its tracks! The next time that older kid decides to pick on a younger boy, he may think twice because maybe, just maybe, that younger boy isn’t as weak as he thinks! So it was definitely a learning experience, albeit the hard way, for the older kid.

    Of course, this kind of situation does have limitations. If Brock Lesnar, for example, was picking on me, there is no way I could defend myself! All of the wrestling, boxing, karate, MMA training, eating all my vegetables, etc. would not help me one iota against Brock Lesnar! So in that case, I’d have no choice but to go to the Principal. But I think if a kid is capable and confident enough to stand up for him or herself, there is nothing wrong with him or her doing so! I know that’s not PC nowadays in school but it worked 40 years ago and it can still work today!

  67. Andy December 6, 2013 at 4:26 pm #

    @ThatDeborahGirl Punished bullies often blame victim for their punishment. They will “punish” their victim back for “ratting them”, so it may easily backfire. Bullying is by definition repeated action and they will not stop their habit after one trouble.

    I’m not saying that punishment should not be part of the solution, but it will solve nothing by itself. Look at it this way: punishments alone were never able to stop teenage smoking.

  68. Havva December 7, 2013 at 5:51 am #

    I’ve seen a lot of good points made, but there is one element that I haven’t seen mentioned. And that is the lasting positive impact of socially powerful kids standing up for those being bullied. Especially when they are the bully’s friends. Perhaps Playworks is having an impact on that front.

    I was targeted by a variety of bullying and bullies from 4th-8th grade (age 9-14). But two particular cases come to mind. Fourth grade was my first year of public school. I came over with a friend from private school. The class queen bee, at our first hello’s she promptly pounced on us for talking to “her friends.” She made wearable tokens to indicate her friends who wouldn’t talk to me. Several wore them under duress, and she treated them poorly. Then my family was in a big news fatal car accident. When I made it back to school I found the class had taken direction from my friend to finish my open house projects, just as I intended them. And the Bee’s best friend “Bekah” firmly marched her over to me with the class gathered round and the Bee reluctantly offered me the token, and ask me to be her ‘friend.’ I think Bee was actually relieved when I said that I didn’t know her enough to know if we could be friends, so I wouldn’t wear it. But I would accept it as a peace offering, if she would allow everyone to talk to one another regardless of the token. She accepted my conditions.

    In 8th grade I was being anonymously harassed in a variety of ways including tricks to get me removed from class. Finally a popular girl was used as a counterpart to pull me into peer counseling. An interesting trap since they wouldn’t let us leave if we refused to “admit” we were in conflict. And we had no conflict. After the popular girl asked if I had a clue what that meeting was about, and I told her that it was just another part of a long string of anonymously messing with me. I suggested perhaps it was done by someone who knew she wouldn’t mind skipping class. No one knew we had been friends when we were very young. That afternoon she rounded up her closest friends and told them to put the word out that I was off limits and if anyone messed with me, they would have to answer to her. It ended.

  69. Really Bad Mum December 7, 2013 at 6:53 am #

    @Havva, go to my first comment. Besides teaching them to stand up for themselves they where taught to stand up for others. They both will go up to kids who are sitting alone and ask if they want to hang with them and their friends. The student services councillor at my daughters school informed me she was one of the most popular kids.. ( so not like me at school lol ) but she also knows what it’s like to be picked on so she will stand up to any bully for anyone( even a teacher who had an accent she stood up in class and told them to ‘ shut the f*#% up and listen ‘ she was then sent to student services for swearing but I was proud of her).

  70. Karen Loethen December 7, 2013 at 10:31 am #

    Hi, I am posting a blog Carnival for Atheist Parenting at this link:
    I would love to be able to include this blog post, and/or another blog post of your choice… If you would consider this, please submit your post through the email address on my blog.
    Thanks so much for considering this!
    I am really hoping for good quality blogs to feature on my carnival and, with the carnival, I’m hoping to support and inspire secular and atheist parents!

    Please feel free to delete this post!
    Carnival for Atheist Parenting

  71. April December 8, 2013 at 11:40 pm #

    I agree with those that said Just punish the bullies. It is not that hard. All you have to do is make an example out of a few and the other kids will fall in line. Kick them off the football team. Suspend them. Kick them off the cheerleading squad. Basically any kind of school sponsored team they are on they will be kicked off. They will be suspended so their parents will have to deal with them and that makes it more likely the parents will put a stop to the bullying when it becomes their problem.

    Press charges with police if there was assault or harassment involved if nothing else works. When the law gets involved I bet the parents will put a stop to it.

    The problem is a lot of the time the bullies are the popular kids who have parents who are somebodies who volunteer at the school or the bully is captain of the football team. So they don’t want to punish them. But like I said, make an example out of one or two and the others will stop it.

  72. J.T. Wenting December 9, 2013 at 10:25 am #

    “E–Your mileage may vary, but we certainly had proper art classes in elementary school, and proper music classes if there was a teacher around who knew something about music. Drama was a bit spotty, but I remember being involved in a few different school plays. We definitely had proper music classes in high school, and drama, art, and the whole shebang, and in fact, I actually went on to major in music in university, and then later helped run a children’s music camp with a friend of mine, so for you to put music class on par with recess, is actually pretty offensive to me. ”

    elementary school: “art class” was painting old toilet rolls in primary colours. Music and drama non-existent (though there was a local drama society with a childrens’ section who use the school gymnasium for performances).
    Highschool, not much better (in no small part because eveyrone hated the art teacher, including the other teachers, and the music teacher mostly taught us by taking us to performances of his band).

  73. CrazyCatLady December 9, 2013 at 10:51 am #

    There are proven programs out there that work to reduce bullying. But they are not as simple as putting up a poster, having an assembly and asking teachers to say some quote every morning. These programs have been replicated and compared to control groups. They also tend to cost money and time to implement.

    As I recall (because it has been a couple of years) the best programs involve peer counseling/mentoring. It involves the teachers getting trained, then them training their classes. Student are recruited to do training to be peer mentors. Students are all instructed in what is acceptable and what is not and how to stand up for other students who are being bullied. (Because often, if the kids are not cheering, they don’t know what they can do to help so they just watch and it seems like they condone the actions.) The whole climate of the school needs to change to one of respect, which includes the teachers. Once the climate starts to change, students stand up for bullied students and both the bullies and the bullied get counseling and support though the peer mentors. Once students realize that their peers don’t consider what they are doing appropriate, then the bullying often stops.

    This does take time to implement. In the short term, I would get the kids together – by class would be best if they can, later with the whole school, and discuss this. Sit the kids in a circle and encourage them to talk open and honestly. Target a couple of kids who are uncomfortable but not recipients to start. They can be prepped ahead of time. Have them talk about how they feel when they see this going on – how it may make them feel scared, or sad that people who they used to see as nice they now see as being mean – and NOT Cool. Do not let the ringleaders talk until everyone else gets to talk. Encourage the group to brainstorm ways that they can help the targets – how they can stand up for and remind the bullies that what they are doing is not acceptable, not cool, not making them friends. This might help, but really an over all culture change is needed. This might need to be repeated often.

    And, when kids report that they are bullied – take them seriously. Give them and the rest of the bystanders skills to stand up and say that what is going on is not right. Kids getting slapped and shoved into rooms being told to stay there should not happen.

  74. Rods_N_Cones December 11, 2013 at 9:36 am #

    I’ve had some experience with this type of social exclusion and I believe some problems are a result of how the school handles the problem.
    First of all schools are worried about lawsuits so they see any action as an admission of guilt. They are more likely to get statements from the perpetrators to support why it is the victims fault. (“poor social skills, agressive, etc.”)

    School privacy policies serve to further isolate the victim and their family. While the school won’t share any information with the victim because of “privacy” the bullies and their families are getting together and sharing information. These discussions between the families of the kids responsible for doing the excluding can quickly distort the truth.

    Teachers don’t pay much attention to one child’s complaint but punish when a group complains. This can lead to great power in the hands of mean kids who are leaders of a group. I once witnessed one child turn a minor incident into a huge problem by recruiting others to back-up their story even though none of the others saw the initial incident. The teacher never asked if the others saw the incident. When a child goes through the day being punched and pushed, verbally harassed, etc. it is outrageous and confusing for that child to then get in trouble for some minor incident after a group complains.

    For those who think that the excluded are just not likable, this is usually not the case. My own son was excluded because of a parent spreading rumors to try to make her child more popular. When he switched schools he was very well liked until the rumors followed through parents at after school sports. At the third school (yes third) he was very social because the parents weren’t in the gossip network of the first 2 schools.

  75. Kay December 12, 2013 at 10:06 am #

    Maybe I’m the only one who thinks a buddy bench could backfire. “Go away, loser, and sit on the buddy bench!”

    I am unsure how rewarding bullies with leadership roles helps the situation, it’s nice to hear of one testimony on this playworks. I think the playworks idea sounds good as an inspiration to get them on their way if the kids lack the skill of organizing pick-up games by themselves.

    J.T. Wentling, I am sorry for your story. I know you’ve overcome all that, but I would imagine the bullies were stars and favored students. It’s tough to beat that.