playground rules sign fairfax

Frolicking is Forbidden! Playground Sign Lists 21 Rules

“Welcome! Play Safe” reads the sign at a Fairfax County Public School playground in Virginia just outside of DC. It goes on to list 21 rules, by my count.

Gee, what a normal society we live in!

First of all, the sign says, the playground should never be used when it’s frozen.

Or wet.

There can be no climbing on things like the safety rails (which are…fences?). And kids must not wear any clothing with drawstrings, hoods, or toggles when playing – because these could get caught on something. (Ponytails seem grandmothered in.)

No loitering on the slide!

On the slide, children must “take turns,” “sit in an upright position” (preparing them for those pointless airplane rules), and “not climb.” There also must be “No loitering at slide entry or exit.”

(Does anyone who didn’t spend three years in law school ever call the top of the slide “the entry?”)

While she has seen this same sign at a playground for kids age 6-12, says Katie Courtney, a 32-year-old mom of four who brought this sign to my attention, “This is literally a playground that’s for 2 to 5-year-olds.” The slide there about “as tall as an adult.”

Nonetheless, when a child gets up to the top, legally they must hustle their butt right down. This disturbs Courtney, who has her masters in education and used to teach pre-school.

“Part of the fun of being on the playground is that for three seconds you’re at the top of the slide – you have one moment of being in charge.” And if another kid is right behind you? “How hard is it for a 4-year-old to negotiate, ‘You need to move! You’re blocking everyone else!’?”

Without legal counsel?!? That’s crazy.

No monkey business on the monkey bars!

Still, the slide rules (as it were) pale in comparison to the rules for the monkey bars and rings. Kids are not allowed to sit or walk on the monkey bars, nor can they “skip rings or rungs.”

The pre-school teacher in Courtney cannot tolerate this. If kids feel ready to skip a ring or rung, she says, they should be allowed to go for it.

“It gives them some confidence in their decision making,” she says. Force kids to follow rules like that, “and you think you’re protecting your 4-year-old from getting hurt, then all of a sudden you have a 17-year-old who doesn’t know how to make a decision. People my age – 20 to 30 – are having tons of mental health problems. It’s got to be because they haven’t had years of making these tiny little decisions.”

Deciding how to play on the swings is also not left to the little ones. The rules state there can be only one child at a time, they must “sit in an upright position,” and there is to be no “twirling.” Can they jump off?


No enjoying the world!

When she was teaching in DC, Courtney says, her pre-school had a penchant for rules, too. Kids were there almost 9 hours a day, and about 33% were homeless. Recess was one hour.

Behind the playground was a small, fenced-in area with about 20 trees. No one could run out or sneak in. Nonetheless, each day a teacher was posted there to keep the kids from entering.

Courtney pleaded that kids learning about trees in the classroom should be able to touch them in real life. Eventually, she won!

Can she win on her local playgrounds? I reached out to Fairfax County to ask when and why the signs were erected, but did not hear back.

Tony Christopher, executive director of the National Institute for Play, said playgrounds post these signs hoping to “mitigate the liability of the entity responsible for the playground (school, municipality, etc.) in the event they are sued.”

Boston College Psychology Prof. Peter Gray, an expert on free play and  co-founder with me of Let Grow, has seen such signs at several playgrounds and summed it up this way. “The only restriction that needs to be added to make them complete is ‘No Playing.’”

3 Responses to Frolicking is Forbidden! Playground Sign Lists 21 Rules

  1. LGB February 21, 2024 at 2:28 pm #

    You know, with or without these “safety measures,” kids are risk-seeking creatures. And if necessary, they’ll create their own risks. This woman’s experience reminds me of a cruel irony that my daughter encountered when she was 10 years old. She was playing on one of those plastic “safety” playgrounds that replaced the riskier ones that I grew up with in the 80s/90s. She got so bored with the equipment that she decided to MAKE it more exciting by climbing on top of a plastic castle. She slipped off and broker her collarbone. “Safety” made the playground more dangerous. Go figure.

  2. Bruce February 21, 2024 at 3:27 pm #

    Our hyperlitigious society has clearly been ou of control for decades. Entire books are filled with examples of ridiculous warnings on all kinds of products. One Instagram post noted that car owner manuals used to tell you how to adjust the valves and carburetor. Now they tell you to not drink the battery acid.

    It’s a real shame especially that this insanity hurts kids and leads to lifetimes of paranoia and neurosis.

    I doubt if it’ll do much good, but I also plan to contact Fairfax County and direct them to this article. I encourage everyone else to do the same. This is governmental overeach on steroids.

  3. Steve Nations February 22, 2024 at 9:09 am #

    I’m an engineer, not a lawyer. But it seems to me that if this playground equipment is so terribly dangerous then putting up a sign that 2-5 year-old kids can’t read anyway isn’t going to reduce the school’s liability.

    But what really gets my goat is that this is a school! So these are educators, who supposedly understand how little minds work and what they need to succeed. Do these people really think that the best way to turn kids into healthy and happy adults is to put them in bubble wrap for 18 years? What’s wrong with our educational system when the people tasked with educating our children don’t understand what children need?