Readers — Here’s a lovely piece by Kerala Taylor, senior manager of online content & outreach at KaBOOM, the organization dedicated to making sure every kid has a playground nearby. (And even plays in it!) KaBOOM has a “Back to School Pledge” folks can sign, to defend school day playtime. Naturally, I signed it! — L.
Five Freedoms I Had at School that My Daughter Won’t, by Kerala Taylor
At six months pregnant, like most moms and moms-to-be, I’m finding plenty of things to worry about. When I’m not fretting over my daily calcium intake or environmentally friendly diaper options, I find myself plagued with anxiety about the longer-term realities of childrearing today.
I want to give my daughter the freedom I enjoyed as a child—freedom to move, imagine, and create. But in today’s paranoid, litigious, and test-happy culture, will I be able to? As kids across the country head back to school, and as I watch my belly swell, I’ve been thinking a lot about the freedoms I had in school that most kids these days don’t enjoy.
- I had two recess periods every day. More and more kids are finding they have to rush through lunch to enjoy a precious few minutes of recess. Some kids aren’t getting any recess at all, despite the overwhelming body of evidence that shows kids need recess to focus in the classroom. This child sums it up perfectly: “I get this feeling in my legs when they want to run and that feeling moves up to my belly and when that feeling moves up to my head I can’t remember what the rules are.”
- I got hurt sometimes—and no one freaked out. I suffered plenty of scrapes and bruises on the playground, and once limped around for a week after falling from the monkey bars. But no one ever told me to stop running, or even considered the possibility of taking away the monkey bars! These days, the fear of lawsuits from relatively minor injuries are prompting schools to not only remove see saws and swings from schoolyards, but to ban tag, touch football, and yes, even running.
- I played inside and outside the classroom. I made a paper maché globe in geography, dug up “dinosaur” bones from the sandbox in science, and took regular field trips (on, gasp, public city buses!). Now, the pressures of standardized testing are forcing teachers to forego such creative, hands-on pursuits. After all, how will paper maché teach students which bubble to mark with their No. 2 pencil?
- I took a school-sponsored week-long camping trip every year, starting in the first grade. Playing in nature comes intuitively to children; nature is rife with opportunities to splash, dig, climb, run, and explore. Unfortunately, nature is also rife with potential “dangers” that today’s bubble-wrapped children must be protected from at all costs. And as studies find that kids of helicopter parents have trouble functioning on their own in college, can we expect today’s first graders to be independent enough to spend a whole week away from home?
- I played after school. I didn’t participate in any organized sports until sixth grade and my homework in elementary school was minimal. That meant more time for free play. Yet since the 1970s, as schools pile on more homework and kids get roped into more structured activities, children have lost about 12 hours per week in free time, including a 25 percent decrease in play.
Why are we taking these freedoms away from our children? We say we’re protecting them from harm, or we’re helping them succeed academically, or we’re preserving their fragile egos. But more often than not, the reality is that we’re slowly eroding the very essence of what it means to be a child. We’re not only making childhood less fun, we’re actually stunting our kids’ physical, social, cognitive, and creative development.
As a Free-Range stepmom and mom-to-be, I’m used to feeling isolated, enraged, and just plain exasperated. But I know I’m not alone! I say, let’s join forces to save play in our nation’s schools—we can start by signing this Back-to-School Pledge.
We are not powerless to curb the rising tides of paranoia, testing-frenzy, and blatant disregard for the health and well-being of our children. It’s when like-minded parents connect—whether on this blog, in the neighborhood, or in PTA meetings—that we can channel our frustrations into action and restore some good old-fashioned common sense. – K.T.