When Kids Have to Play Tag on the Low-Down

Hi nbrbiasnhh
Folks! Just got this disturbing little note from reader Jeff Johnson who, I am happy to say, is writing a book about the importance of play. — L.

Dear Free-Range Kids: Just wondering how much you’re hearing about the death of games like tag on school playgrounds.

I volunteer in a local kindergarten once a week. Last Thursday I had this exchange with some students during recess:

Me: Let’s play some freeze tag!

Kindergartner #1: We aren’t sposed to play tag.

Kindergartner #2: Yeah, you want to get us in trouble or something?

Me: What The Fu…n-killing kind of rule is that? Why can’t you play tag?

Kindergartner #3: ‘Cus it’s The Rule.

Kindergartner #4 (Whispering, as if the playground is bugged ): We still play sometimes in secret when the teachers are just talking.

I emailed the principal–she says it is just “too dangerous” with so many kids on the playground.

In a year, this school will merge with another into a shiny new building (which looks kind of like a perky prison) with over 700 elementary students. I’m afraid to think about what will classified as too dangerous then. — J.J.

Johnson then wrote another note to report:

UPDATE: Today at recess I learned that the kids are not allowed to play in and/or with snow on the playground. The kids are restricted to the cleared asphalt area of the playground. I also saw two great looking perfect-for-play sticks taken away from children and put in protective custody.

I shudder to think what would happen to a child caught playing tag in the snow while holding a stick. — J.J.

Kids having fun at recess? This must stop!!

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83 Responses to When Kids Have to Play Tag on the Low-Down

  1. Andrea December 10, 2011 at 1:00 am #

    This sounds like my children’s school. They have the same rules about tag and playing in snow. (They also don’t go outside to play if the administration in the building thinks it’s too cold – below 15, or too hot out.)

  2. free range parent December 10, 2011 at 1:06 am #

    To be fair, some context would help. I see games of tag that look like rugby with kids pushing each other down and falling on each other with inevitable “accidents” and tears. While we don’t ban the game, youthful high spirits require some supervision. Also, tag with a large playground ball (the kind that are half as tall as the kids playing with it), also discouraged. Use your hands and play the game, don’t just stand around and throw a ball.

    And chasing is supposed to be banned but it’s such a natural game that in practice, you end up reminding kids to communicate with each other: if you don’t want to play, say so and then go do something else. If you want someone to play, ask them — don’t start running after them while they playing another game.

    A lot of this freeranging stuff is about being present, isn’t it? About making thoughtful choices and encouraging responsibility.

  3. Heather G December 10, 2011 at 1:14 am #

    My mother-in-law teaches kindergarten at a private school and often complains that the kids are lacking such imagination that the only thing they know how to play anymore is chase. Outside of school most of her students are banned from any form of play that doesn’t involved a computer/television screen and or an organized activity. It frustrates her to no end that the only time that her 5 year old students get to be kids is at recess and that their development suffers for it.

    If parents have this much trouble getting the concept of how important these “games” are to children’s development when the school supports it can you imagine what happens when the school doesn’t get it?

  4. FrancesfromCanada December 10, 2011 at 1:15 am #

    I guess I’m lucky…my child’s daycare not only allows but encourages playing in snow. Problem is, not every parent provides the appropriate gear, or even a change of clothes. Sometimes they have enough staff to split the group but sometimes they don’t and then all the kids have to stay in.

    They also have a big indoor gym where the kids get to ride tricycles and shoot plastic hockey pucks into a net, and, yes, play tag. But my boy, who finds a stick to carry with him every morning, has to leave it outside. We stash them in the branches of a big old evergreen. You don’t want to be standing beside that tree in a windstorm…

    I can’t blame the school for wanting to keep the kids warm and dry, though I do get frustrated with the parents. And I don’t think I’d want random eye-poking sticks in a big group of toddlers, especially in close quarters. But not letting them play tag? It’d have to be a mighty small play space (like, say, my living room) before I’d call that reasonable.

    Before you all jump on me that some people can’t afford snowpants for their kids — it’s winter 6 months of the year here, the thrift stores are full of them, and the daycare periodically calls for donations. It’s not about money.

  5. Alida December 10, 2011 at 1:23 am #

    This wouldn’t be an issue if schools had grass instead of asphalt!

  6. Kim December 10, 2011 at 1:23 am #

    “I shudder to think what would happen to a child caught playing tag in the snow while holding a stick.”

    I am pretty sure our school has a zero tolerance policy about this 😀

  7. Allison Bay December 10, 2011 at 1:25 am #

    Some teachers and parents at our son’s old school had a “No Touch” policy. This obviously bars kids from playing tag. What kind of a world is that where no one every touches anyone? No hand shakes, no pats on the back, no hugs, no pig piles. Just because some touching is inappropriate at certain times doesn’t mean we should teach our children that touching is bad all the time.

  8. Meghan December 10, 2011 at 1:26 am #

    My son’s school makes it clear that they will play outside most days and to send them dressed appropriately. Sticks are banned. But few games are banned. This requires the teachers to watch the kids and be ready to step in should things get too rough, but they want the kids to play. Of course the place is run by my mother in law who is old school and thinks parents should spend time with their kids and the kids should be allowed to play with each other. Really play. Running, jumping, chasing, pushing/pulling each other in a wagon – fast, etc…

  9. Colin Summers December 10, 2011 at 1:32 am #

    So that game of Snowman Freeze Tag with the stick as the baton is clearly out.

  10. Fred Flange December 10, 2011 at 1:35 am #

    Jeff Kinney’s new Diary of a Wimpy Kid book (“Cabin Fever”) has a funny chapter on school recess, clearly drawn from these stories: no equipment, no toys, no touch, no running, but also no sitting around (“kids have to be active”). They had monkey bars but a girl got scared to be on top, the teachers could not touch her to get her down, so the parents had to be called. So they play “air tag” but can go no faster than a shuffle, since they cannot run. Too bad this is not the joke it ought to be.

  11. K December 10, 2011 at 1:44 am #

    My kids’ school doesn’t allow the kids outside if: it is below 35 degrees or over 85, it is raining,there is uncleared snow (unlikely over 35 degrees), the ground is too wet. Nine times out of ten, my sons arrive home looking ready to spontaneously combust.

    Then, they get in trouble for squiggling in their seats.

    Today? No recess. They are watching Polar Express around their school Christmas tree (they’ve already seen Rudolph and a bunch of other Christmas shows). This is public school. Nice, huh?

  12. Meg December 10, 2011 at 1:50 am #

    It seems that the real fear here is of trusting children/aides/proctor’s judgement. Better to make a bright-line rule that requres no interpretation than to assume the adults and children on the playground have common sense and can use it. Plus there is the assumption that any “injury” from bruise to skinned knee to head trauma is of equal gravity. So sad.

  13. Momofthree December 10, 2011 at 1:51 am #

    I can’t believe schools not allowing children to play in the snow. We live in southern Maine, and if anything, the school pushes outdoor recess a little too far. (i’m originally from Tennessee so when my kids first told me they were playing in 10 degree weather while it was snowing I was a little perturbed) now in a seasoned Mainer and rejoice the fact that the school is like this. Short of a hurricane or tornado the kids play outside, as long as the PARENTS provide the proper clothing. I’m certain many schools have banned snow or puddle play because of parents who are apparently unaware of what the weather channel is.
    The only complaint I have from this school system is the peanut and tree nut ban, but that’s a whole ‘nother story and i’d need hours to complain about that one! 🙂

  14. Tracy December 10, 2011 at 2:08 am #

    I think the fear is that
    1/ we may cause a stink if our child gets hurt
    2/ somehow we’ve decided that hovering and enforcing endless rules shows somehow that we care more about our kids.
    What baloney!
    What is this generation gonna do if they ever get called into service? Get a written note from mom excusing them? I don’t think so…

  15. Kathy December 10, 2011 at 2:09 am #

    So one solution to this is replacing the asphalt with rubber matting or shredded bark.

    I did know someone of my generation who died of a concussion after a bad fall from a jungle jim (my absolute favorite equipment at the time.)

  16. Andrew D. December 10, 2011 at 2:15 am #

    I think the overarching issue is how we, as parents and teachers and children’s mentors, respond to real or perceived problems/risks. Is the answer to overly aggressive play and bullying to ban the play in which it manifested itself, or to teach kids to treat each other with respect?

    Do you avoid Lord of the Flies by enforcing restrictive rules and regulations that are random at best, or by actually teaching and leading and facilitating civilized behavior.

    I think everyone who reads this blog knows their preferred answer, and at the heart of it is the idea that everything in life is learned and slowly mastered through DOING, not through being told what to do.

  17. Brooks December 10, 2011 at 2:16 am #

    I enjoy seeing these articles here and similar ones elsewhere, and they bring up very important concerns. However, I don’t see much evidence of action, mostly just expressing exasperation. What would happen if a group of parents got together, downloaded the student manual, redlined it, and then went to the school board? It might start a good, albeit long-term discussion about the the future of the school. Of course the lawyers would freak out, as they are the cause of most of these policies, but you gotta start somewhere.

  18. mollie December 10, 2011 at 2:18 am #

    Time for Free-Range schools, I guess.

  19. gap.runner December 10, 2011 at 2:19 am #

    In German schools the kids go outside to play in all sorts of weather except for pouring rain or hail. Even in kindergarten (preschool) the kids get outdoor free play time in the winter. Germans are very big on children having fresh air every day. When it was raining, each class at my son’s kindergarten would have time in the school’s gym to run around. When my son went to elementary school, the kids played outdoors all year, whether it was hot or cold (it doesn’t get hot too often here). Each class (there were 4 classes in that school, one for 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th grades) had a designated day for playing soccer at recess. The other days they had to “make do” with playing on the playground with balls or running around in the grassy area behind the school. In the winter the older kids would build snow forts and throw snowballs. The kids often made up their own games and rules.

    Now that my son is in secondary school, there is no formal recess. There are 15-minute breaks after every two 45-minute periods, plus a 45-minute lunch break after 6th period for those who have afternoon classes. Most of the time the kids in my son’s class (he’s in 7th grade) will join other 7th graders in the school’s courtyard to play short games of soccer, American football, or some variation of tag that they make up. In the winter they go outside and throw snowballs. Some of the kids incur minor injuries, but they dust themselves off and keep playing. My son got a black eye from one of his recess games (getting hit in the face with a ball) and thought it was great because it was a real attention-getter.

    I can’t imagine what my son would be like if he had to go to a school in the States that had no recess or banned running games. I’m sure that his teachers would suggest that he be put on Ritalin. I’ve noticed when he has study breaks where he can run around or kick a soccer ball, he concentrates on his homework better than if he had to stay indoors.

  20. cherubmamma December 10, 2011 at 2:43 am #

    I just wish my kids actually got recess every day.

  21. Maureen December 10, 2011 at 2:52 am #

    Next on the list for this school is banning men from volunteering in kindergarten.

  22. Lollipoplover December 10, 2011 at 2:54 am #

    I enjoy the kidspeak of this, and agree that those clever kids will always find some way around the rules, to get in their fun. Good for them.
    Maybe soon they will switch to “Who Can Climb to the highest on the Barbed Wire Fence”. See, you can take away the risk of one activity (running tag) and you will just transfer it to something else. Kids are supposed to run and play- their bodies crave it. Limiting it is like keeping a high-energy German Shorthair Pointer and leaving him in a crate all day. They go nuts and do destructive things. They need to move and run to stay happy and healthy.
    If I were these kids, I’d Occupy Recess. They are the 99% who won’t get hurt doing normal activities like running and tag (besides the common knee scrap), and more importantly they will learn valuable social skills like playing fair and having clean fun.

  23. Steve December 10, 2011 at 2:57 am #

    Time to post this again.
    If you have not read John Taylor Gatto’s book:


    Read it. You might be sorry you did. Because you won’t feel comfortable leaving your child in school.

    Although you can buy a hard copy, you can also read the entire book on his website here:


  24. Andrew D. December 10, 2011 at 2:59 am #

    occupy recess! Awesome. Love it.

  25. Havva December 10, 2011 at 3:01 am #

    I’m glad the kids play tag despite the rule. But so sad that they have too. The kids will eventually be fine, after a bout of learning the hard way which rules are sane, and which aren’t. The adults on the other hand better get their blood pressure checked, because they could be headed for a heart-attacks when these kids become assertive.

    I’m starting to see why so many people think teens are uncontrollable brats. The poor young men and women have to be if they ever want to grow up.

  26. Suzanne December 10, 2011 at 3:01 am #

    I don’t think they can play tag at my kid’s school either. The do play a lot of kick ball at recess so I’m happy for that. They are allowed to play in the snow if they wear snowpants and boots, I’m ok with that rule, I wouldn’t really want my kids to sit in wet clothes all afternoon because they were rolling in the snow at recess. I have been reasonably satisfied with the recess rules at my kid’s school, especially after reading what some other schools are restricted to on here. I have to agree that the school playground is probably not a good place to run around with sticks, it’s going to lead to poking and crying. I think they should be playing with sticks in the yard at home and that is part of learning appropriate behavior for different environments (ie it’s good to play with sticks but not at school.)

    I agree with Brooks, we are expressing our exasperation but not doing anything to change it. What can we be doing to make changes. The school my kids attend is a “4 star school” which means its test score are top 25% of the state. This is the 4th or 5th year they have had that recognition. This year they eliminated the kids 2nd recess to allow for more learning time. I don’t understand why the kids are being punished for being one of the best. I had wondered if the parents signed a petition demanding that it be reinstated if it would make a difference but still did nothing more than think about it. What can we do to make changes for the better to try and combat so many changes that have all ready been made for the worse?

  27. Peter Michie December 10, 2011 at 3:04 am #

    In the building trades all construction specifications are defined in something called “The Architectural Standards.” The standards written describing school buildings almost EXACTLY mirror the standards written describing PRISONS. I agree, Occupy Recess!

  28. Tracy December 10, 2011 at 3:05 am #

    I’m with Brooks. Expressing all the exasperation finds comfort in like minded people, but what of the action? Unfortunately I have found that when I’ve stepped out to speak up at school, all the people who agreed with me in private conversation are now passively nowhere to be seen. Things won’t change unless people are willing to confront those who push the rules and in an effective way, not a whining complaining way. Schools already act at times like the parents are an inconvenience to their judgment.

  29. Stephanie December 10, 2011 at 3:06 am #

    So far, so good with my kids’ school. We had a pretty serious cold snap for our area, and the school gave the kids the choice of whether or not to run around outside or play indoors. There was a PTA meeting that night, and the principal was commenting on how many kids chose to play outside. He was a bit surprised, but sounded pleased too.

    We get snow maybe once a year here, so we’ll have to see how rules go then. Last time we had snow on a school day, two years ago, school was canceled, but that had more to do with the ice beneath the snow that even heavy vehicles were having trouble with. It wasn’t all that much snow, but it had rained heavily before it snowed.

    In hot weather, they also encourage indoor play, but even on 100 degree F days they haven’t enforced it. Kids can stand the heat if you don’t insist on keeping them in air conditioned building all the time.

  30. Quincy December 10, 2011 at 3:21 am #

    It is funny how the rules vary due to location. We just moved to Vermont where the kids have recess everyday as long as it is above 20 degrees. They do have a rule that you must have appropriate clothing- snow pants, boots, coat, gloves, etc or you can’t play in the snow, but must stay on the concrete. My mom is a teacher in Virginia and their rule is no outside recess under 40 degrees. Of course some of her kids don’t seem to have coats or won’t wear them (she teaches high school).

  31. Maciej Adwokot December 10, 2011 at 3:28 am #

    My wife is a teacher. At her school, the students get fifteen minutes of recess after lunch, but it is canceled if the temperature is below 50 degrees. Not sent indoors, but canceled. Back to book-learning canceled. Recess is also optional, and several teachers bring their students back to the classroom immediately after lunch. And forget about snow. If James Spann even mentions snow, the entire county closes schools.

  32. Jenny P. December 10, 2011 at 3:45 am #

    Here in South Dakota, the kids go out for recess unless it’s below 0F. They have to let them run around or they’d never survive 😉

  33. Lollipoplover December 10, 2011 at 3:56 am #

    My kid’s school has recess at all temperatures without restrictions unless it is heavy rain. This is as it should be. The students are expected to have the appropriate dress (hats, gloves, boots) to play.
    My daughter once begged to wear a pair of “high-heeled” boots that she got from our neighbor and loved. I explained she couldn’t run in them at recess, but she wore them anyway saying she wouldn’t run. Not surprisingly, she wiped out and got a bloody knee. The nurse told her it was for wearing those stupid boots. She never wore them to school again and usually wears sneakers nowadays. I wish adults got recess!

  34. DKD December 10, 2011 at 4:28 am #

    Sad reality for many kids (I wonder why childhood obesity is such a problem?). Having once been a young boy back in the swinging 70s, I can attest that tag games that appear as rougby games are a BLAST! And to those who fear that playing in snow could lead to frostbitten statistics among those kids whose mommies forgot to pack their heavy gloves, rest assured that if a kid’s hands get cold in the (likely) under 20 minutes of “free” play they are permitted, they’ll probably put them in their pockets before they require amputation.

    After giving 6+ hours a day to the man, the least kids can get is 20 minutes of doing whatever the heck they want to outside as long as they aren’t being cruel or excessively dangerous. And by “excessive dangerous” I am not referring to brandishing a stick while walking fast on wet asphalt (you could put an eye out!).

    I thank the Lord my kids aren’t being treated like herded animals during recess. My 8-year-old son comes home almost every day with muddied pants and often is adorned by torn pants cuffs and unidentifiable sweat jacket stains. I like to think of them as recess badges of honor. It makes me remember and smile.

  35. Michelle Potter December 10, 2011 at 4:43 am #

    Crap like this makes me so glad I don’t send my kids off to spend 7 hours a day in paranoia based bureaucracy. People say homeschooling is “over-protective.” I say, at least my kids are allowed to play tag!

  36. Cherilyn Michener Reno December 10, 2011 at 5:11 am #

    The only playground rules I remember from my childhood elementary schools were, “Don’t jump off the swings that are above asphalt”, (the ones in dirt/sand areas were fine to jump off of), “Don’t push people off the slide ladder.” “Do not deliberately hurt another student”, and “No skates at lunchtime”. (The outdoor basketball court was flooded in the winter and made an ice rink. Phys Ed. classes could skate and you could skate on it after school, but there were too many kids out at once at lunchtime. We played crack the whip in shoes on the ice at lunchtime…)

  37. Heartfruit December 10, 2011 at 5:21 am #

    This will result in kids like the ones in this Jeff Lewis 5-Minute spot…http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M0VOVuxiahk

  38. DB December 10, 2011 at 5:48 am #

    Stop blaming the schools for this trend. It’s not their fault. The blame lies with the parents who go out and hire a lawyer and sue because their kid got hurt playing the EXACT SAME GAME THE PARENTS PLAYED WHEN THEY WERE KIDS, and the idiot jurors who are persuaded by those sleazy lawyers’ arguments. These lawsuits are costing schools very real money, what choice do they have but to limit their liability by banning the games?

  39. EricS December 10, 2011 at 6:01 am #

    WTF?! Why don’t they just put them in a plastic bubble, and have the teachers stream their education. No toys, no books (paper cuts), everything must be pureed (don’t want them choking on that carrot). And everyone in the family must wear haz-mat suits (can never be too careful with germs). That’s just f’n ridiculous. No tag, no playing on snow covered ground, no sharp objects…it’s pretty no anything. Let me rephrase that, it’s pretty much anything the adults are afraid of happening to themselves…not the kids…to themselves. Why have kids in the first place? Why have schools in the first place? If all the idiotic adults want to do is please THEMSELVES.

    DB, the blame goes on the schools as well. They empower those parents whenever they give in. So more parents become inclined to follow suit. Stand up for the children, not yourselves. It’s the children who are affected by all of this. Sure, they can go to court, and some may loose, but most would win. Unfortunately, places like schools, don’t even give themselves a fighting chance, and just roll over instantly. If they did, I’m sure these frivolous lawsuits would thrown out of the courts more often. That’s what most lawsuits are about, take a few scripts from the law books, and hope that they win. But because many people rather give in, than fight, their are always more wins for the plaintiffs. Fight back for the children. F’k the parents and any holier than thou paro adult.

  40. EricS December 10, 2011 at 6:06 am #

    @Lollipoplover: I agree with your sentiments. But the flipside to that is that the children learn to circumvent authority, to rebel, instead of working with and enjoying relationship of student and teacher. It’s the kids who pay dearly for the actions of these adults (teachers and parents). And these adults don’t even realize it, because they can’t get pass their own arrogance and ignorance. Sad era for kids. More and more, children are being treated as property rather than human beings.

  41. FrancesfromCanada December 10, 2011 at 6:24 am #

    No going outside under 35 degrees? That’s Fahrenheit, right? Wow.

    When I was a kid, elementary school was CLOSED at recess and lunch. You went out, unless it was colder than -23C (that’s about 20 below); colder than -18 (10 below, I think) I was allowed to take my lunch, because we lived outside the half-mile boundary. One block closer and I’d’ve had to go home regardless.

    That rule presupposes someone is at home during the day (no, I don’t think 5 and 6 yo kids should have to walk home & prepare their own lunches) so it wouldn’t fly now, but the assumption was that kids could be out in all weather and parents could dress them appropriately. And I sure didn’t grow up in a particularly affluent neighborhood.

    I was completely unfamiliar with the concept of a snow day until the movie came out.

  42. kiesha December 10, 2011 at 6:41 am #

    Snow days were fantastic. The area I lived in didn’t have a lot of sidewalks and many students lived on actual dirt roads. Two inches of snow was enough to shut the school down because the buses couldn’t manuever on those backwoods, curvy, steep roads.

    There was one year, maybe when I was in 8th grade, when we missed 21 days of school in January. It would snow between 4 and 7 a.m. just enough to get school canceled. Then it would clear up all day. The next day, it would snow between 4 and 7 a.m. just enough… This went on for quite some time. It was amazing.

    We had to make school up in June, but I was fine with that. I am a winter girl and would much rather have had December, January and February off from school.

  43. KD December 10, 2011 at 6:51 am #

    My kids have had their share of recess and playground accidents and funny enough? I never stressed, its part of being a kid. Thankfully they attend a school where there are no temperature restrictions or restricted play, except Red Rover and that is one I can actually understand because truthfully, we had a LOT of broken and dislocated arms and elbows when I was in elemntary school and we played as a class:). The school my youngest two previously attended had all sorts of rules and restrictions on play, both indoors and out, and I am happy we found another area because my kids were ALWAYS in trouble for some “playground infraction.”

  44. Jess L. December 10, 2011 at 6:51 am #

    To be fair, we actually have banned tag in the outdoor ed programs and summer camp I run because it’s one of the more dangerous things kids can do! Keep in mind that this is a place where we DO let kids age 6+ carve with real knives, climb trees, play awesome mock-battle games with foam arrows, and plenty of other so-called “dangerous” things. But tag is one of the more risky things kids can actually do, as absurd as it sounds, and we’ve actually had more injuries from tag games before we banned it than almost anything else we do!

    …that said, somehow I doubt this school is taking the same pragmatic approach to risk management that we do, eh?

  45. Bronwyn Trewin December 10, 2011 at 7:11 am #

    Lenore – Were you aware of this article?

    I’m in New Zealand and we are heading into summer. High Schools have had their last day and primary schools have theirs next week. The newspaper with the highest daily circulation in the country (It services Auckland, the largest city, and the wider region, there are no truly nationwide papers here, but 4-5 regional dailies) ran a feature in it’s weekend section on free-ranging and is super positive about the movement. It even says how barmy the USA has become, and thankfully sees it as a foreign thing.


  46. Matt December 10, 2011 at 7:41 am #

    Well Gee:

    I suppose the playground monitors at my school were just awfull in their negligence of my safety. I was allowed on jungle jims! Despite having cerebral palsy and no balance to speak of, must have fallen off o things dozens of times. Only stooped when it became painful for me in about the sixth grade.But oh god even the falling was good

  47. Jenn December 10, 2011 at 7:47 am #

    I don’t allow tag but it has nothing to do with safety…. I just got tired of the whining and complaining that went along with it for some reason the kids in my class love it be “it” so they will only chase the other kids but not tag them… so the kids are whining “he wont tag meeeeeeeeeeeeeee” or “they won’t let me play…” I’m all for any game I don’t have to be involved in I don’t play referee.
    also i was having a problem with a mean girl (yes at 5 years old) who wanted to play tag but only with specific people… so if i forced her to let the other kids play she would stalk off crying taking her posse with her…. So no more tag for my own sanity…
    and no sticks either because they hit each other with them and then i get in trouble for letting them play with sticks…
    No snow here so I don’t know what the policy would be with that…
    but we are not allowed to let the kids get dirty because then the parents complain to the front office if they pick up their kids and they have dirty hands and faces from just walking in from the playground… If it were up top me the kids would be able to run around and fall and go down the slide backwards and hang upside down from the monkey bars… maybe some day when i have my own school….

  48. Cheryl W December 10, 2011 at 9:19 am #

    I will second that everyone should read John Taylor Gatto’s Underground History of American Education. It explains exactly how and why our schools are the way they are today. A lot has to do with training kids to be good compliant workers who never second guess the boss and are willing to work on meaningless (to them) work at the sound of a bell. Of course, the teachers is the expert and should never be second guessed.

    Perhaps if every parent who questioned the silly rules went to the principle with “But what about the children????” and a few reasons why perhaps they should teach the kids some social skills or boundaries instead of all or nothing, things would get better. But it would take this happening every time. Which doesn’t happen because of the history of schooling in our country and how it got to be how it is.

  49. Cheryl W December 10, 2011 at 9:29 am #

    Jenn, what about banning just the mean girl (and mean friends) from playing tag for a while instead of everyone? Why not explain how games have rules for a reason and that bending the rules by not tagging makes it no fun for anyone? Aren’t these useful lessons? Yes, with young kids it does take a while to learn these lessons and they need to be repeated, but kids need to know that stuff, if they don’t practice, they won’t learn.

    Yes, I will acknowledge that it does make your day harder, and it is a pain to listen to whining kids. Give them skills to work it out though. There is nothing I hate more when on the job than a whining co-worker who doesn’t have the social skills to get along. Please, do us all a favor and teach them.

  50. chris dad of two boys December 10, 2011 at 9:33 am #

    Well, in tag someone has to be “it” and that’s dehumanizing and demoralizing. JK!!

  51. Cynthia December 10, 2011 at 9:55 am #

    When I was in 6th grade (elementary school at the time), we played tag every day for nearly the entire year. It was an ongoing thing. We also, for some odd reason, had recess with the kindergarteners, and I remember using them as shields, to block the slide, etc. We all had fun together. Another complaint I have about the school my son is about to start going to is how small the playground is. No wonder they have issues with kids getting in each others’ way. My e-school playground was huge, probably a couple of acres, so there was plenty of room for kids to avoid one another if they wanted to.

  52. Alex M December 10, 2011 at 10:06 am #

    With nowhere else to post this, I’ll do so here. This article, http://www.nzherald.co.nz/youth/news/article.cfm?c_id=107&objectid=10768489, deals with boyish behaviour. Note the lack of zero tolerance, knee jerk reactions, and emotional perceptions overriding facts.

    Lenore, could you create some type of link on this page so that we can forward you relevant articles, or allow users to post a link with a brief summary?

  53. Jonathan HOCH December 10, 2011 at 10:08 am #

    These people are really mental cases that belong in treatment. How things evolved to the point where it became the school’s domain to control “snow play” is beyond me. Parents need to take back their schools from this sort of institutional culture that bars fathers like me from any decisions, values, instructionals that we teach our kids and to dilute and destroy a kids feeling of “freeness” in favor of this manufactured culture that tells our kids that they have to subscribe ton sort of alpha life or they will end up dead or kidnaped or worse.

  54. Eleanor (undeadgoat) December 10, 2011 at 10:49 am #

    And more importantly, when tag is against the rule then rules are bad and stupid and we don’t listen to grown-ups and we convince someone to lick a metal fence post because we’re so freaking bored and the punishments won’t be that much worse than if we got caught making snow angels one too many times. It’s almost like they don’t want kids to respect authority . . .

  55. 3MGirls December 10, 2011 at 11:27 am #

    My daughter got a ‘red slip’ once for playing tag – the infraction box that was checked off? – “Physically abusive behaviour”. For playing tag. No phone call from the school, and when I called to inquire, ‘just following policy, not really an issue, we realise they were just playing.” I instructed them to take it off her record then. Ridiculous.

  56. Jenn December 10, 2011 at 11:41 am #

    OK so let me say I tried to set up rules about tag and tell them they had to tag each other but it turned into that i had to actually tell the kids when it was the next kids turn to be it and there would always be crying kids who didn’t get a turn. The problem came in when i had to be paying attention to the tag game when i really needed to pay attention to the kid who liked to run around and punch people and some other kids who always seem to be in trouble… Recess has to be completely injury free…. at least that’s what they tell me…. too many falls and bumps and bruises and scrapes and I’m in trouble and there are some kids we have to watch harder than others because their parents like to start problems…

    Oh and here is another thing to put on my list of things not to do


    love how comment number 2 went straight to the pedophiles that are lurking around the school waiting for just this situation… and I’ve had to do that before not outside but in the area that is used to fill up the mops because he was to big to use the sink that i would out the 2 year olds in at the daycare i was working at the time believe me it was necessary 3 year old diarrhea in underwear is nasty.

  57. diana hampo December 10, 2011 at 1:31 pm #

    hi there, a friend sent me a story you wrote about the end of childhood. he said it reminded him of my blog, “Let that boy be a boy”
    so here,s the link and i hope you enjoy it. I loved your piece. Boooo Amtrack.
    Thanks again, Diana

  58. Ruth December 10, 2011 at 8:13 pm #

    Sigh. My son got hurt at school playing tag this week when he fell over a hula hoop. And if they try and ban or curtail either activity I’ll be raising merry hell. After all he’s been hurt worse just walking along the road holding my hand! He’s naturally fearless and has hia mother’s slightly dodgy balance. And if he doesn’t test out his body by hurtling around the playground now then when will he? When he’s bigger and there’s a lot further to fall?

  59. KMary December 10, 2011 at 9:24 pm #

    This sort of free range issue (not allowing children to play tag, for God’s sake) is the most infuriating type of all. While stupid things like knee pads for crawling babies and unnecessary crib recalls may fall under the “silly” or “inconvenient” categories, this one is just plain tragic. I think I can actually hear the sound of the kids’ spirits and creativity being killed slowly by these heinous playground rules.

    And that doesn’t even begin to get into the obesity issue, which is also frustrating. Parents and schools feed kids total garbage, put their faces in front of screens all day, don’t allow them to RUN outside (or have recess at all!) and then we complain that they’re fat. Hmm.

  60. Violet December 10, 2011 at 11:22 pm #

    Andrea: I live in Florida. I swear to God that the children don’t to go out when it is too cold here either! And by too cold, I mean 60 or below. Of course, can’t go out when it is too hot which mean most Florida days.

  61. Violet December 10, 2011 at 11:30 pm #

    Brooks: I have taken action. My son had no recess for weeks at a time due to test prep. I confronted the school administration and heard about the tests, and middle school, and a whole host a garbage. I then started a FB page on how kids need music, art, and PE, and I researched the law. Florida requires 150 minutes or PE a week and that sure as hell wasn’t happening. (Recess and PE are not the same, but the law allows recess to count as PE). I wrote to the Governor, the State legislators and my school board members. I met with district administrators. I made public records requests that prove that some schools are lying about compliance with the law. I had more than one article published in the paper, and I had one letter to the editor published. I tell my neighbors, too. My son is in 7th grades. After two months, my neighbor ( who used to think I was nuts) asked for help when his 6 year old daughter got no recess for two months because it was too hot. We can all do this!

  62. Jennifer Hansen December 11, 2011 at 1:55 am #

    Two stories from my old elementary school.

    We used to have a playground that went into the fringes of the boreal rainforest. It was second-growth forest, but full of logs, berry bushes, rotten stumps with fascinating tiny plants growing on them, and interesting holes under the spruce roots. Kids built lean-to play houses from fallen branches, ate salmonberries, picked interesting leaves, “painted” with volcanic ash and dirt, “shot” each other with sticks, etc. Then somebody up the chain decided that play needed to be (a) less dangerous (splinters and collapsing lean-tos and tripping on roots, oh my!) and (b) “productive.” I do believe they actually told us kids that we had to have “productive play.” So they fenced off the playground, ripped out the stumps and bushes inside the fence, and installed exercise equipment with little signs explaining the sets and reps expected at each one. Result: packs of kids standing around sulking. Nobody ever used the equipment, not even the active boys who liked to show off. By the time I moved up to junior high, there was moss growing where kids were supposed to put their hands. Even during that awful six weeks when the rickety old swing sets had been removed but the new ones were late, nobody wanted to do what the mean, boring, clueless grown-ups defined as good safe play.

    On the other hand, the non-organic play equipment, so to speak, was still permitted to remain, including freestanding metal slides–the kind where you had to climb a barely-inclined ladder to get to the top of the slide. One day a girl fell off and broke her arm. Result: Every class was reminded of the rule that only one person at a time is allowed on the ladder to the slides because if you start crowding onto the ladder somebody will fall off and break their arm. And that was all.

  63. Jeff A Johnson December 11, 2011 at 2:10 am #

    Lenore, thanks for sharing my story and thank all of you for the wonderful conversation.

    In an effort to do something about this issue I am interested in finding names and locations of elementary schools that allow tag, snow play and/or other “dangerous” activities during recess so I can contact them and try to learn how they can make such play work while other schools can’t. Then I can share that information with my local school and any others that could benefit from the policy and operational ideas I compile from play-friendly schools.

  64. Taunya Richards December 11, 2011 at 2:34 am #

    Wow, I’m glad my kids are homeschooled. They spend at least an hour outside playing, riding bikes, climbing trees, making mud pies, chasing the dog, throwing knives (just my 13 yo) at a target, using sticks for swords, selling lemonade AND if it ever snows, sledding down the middle of the street.

    If I was a kid I’d be mad that I couldn’t play in the snow. I remember when it was snowing, that we’d all do our math as quick as we could and the teacher would let us go outside for 5-10 minutes just to relish in the falling snow. She was pretty smart…she knew we were all looking outside and not listening to whatever it was she was saying.

    People say I’m over-protecting by homeschooling, but I disagree more and more as I see these stories. At least my children are given the opportunity to enjoy the wonder of childhood and the beautiful world around us.

  65. hineata December 11, 2011 at 2:57 am #

    @Bronwin – wonderful article! Only issue for me regarding sending the kids off on public transport is the cost…..just ridiculous for 3 kids, cheaper to drive into the city and just drop them off – the kids are 15,12 and 10 now and have plenty of experience being out and about by themselves, so can puzzle out the city alone together.

    American parents, I really think it is time you stood up for a change in your schooling system. Down here we have 15 to 20 minutes for a morning tea break, 1 hour for lunch (with 10 minutes of that usually used for supervised eating of lunch) and the Govt, courtesy of the Minister of Ed, has what is so far a request I think rather than a mandate for 20 minutes of fitness on top of that. As a result of this we have few children on Ritalin, though there will always be boisterous kids for whom this amount of activity is still not enough. Academically, although we are not top in the world, I believe we score above the US across a lot of indicators. We also have a 40 week school year which is divided into 4 terms of roughly 10 weeks each, with 2 week breaks in between 3 of the terms and a 6 week break across Xmas. School starts for primary schools at about 9am and finishes at about 3pm.

    While no system is perfect, and ourrs’ certainly isn’t, the amount of breaks it provides seem to stimulate learning. The timing of the school day has been the same, I believe, pretty much since compulsory education started in the late 1800’s, and NZ has, for its population size, produced a disproportionate number of the world’s best scientists, innovators and inventors, as well as the occasional artist and a few brilliant sportsmen.

    What a long diatribe! The point I was trying to make is not that my country is wonderful, though of course I love it 🙂 , it’s that recess doesn’t detract from a kid’s learning – it absolutely adds to it, so it might be time for you to all band together and demand more of it!

  66. hineata December 11, 2011 at 3:30 am #

    And ours’, of course, has only 1 r!

    Also, tag, which was the point of the original post…..Why stop there? Why not ban smiling, laughing and fun?! I draw the line at large sticks, unless they’re being used for building shelters, because the kids I’m currently working with like to thump each other anyway, lol, and why add deliberate broken bones to the mix, but tag is wonderful -lots of run-off of pent-up energy. The kids at my school love it.

  67. vzwriter1 December 11, 2011 at 3:57 am #

    If this happens in NYC, you’re lucky they get recess at all. I tried talking to NYC’s DOE about the lack of recess, classroom play, imaginative play, but the only responses were: 1) to call “my” principal and “tell on me” for being a complaining parent, and 2) to say that the demands of the 21st century require that we “begin” academics in kindergarten.
    Never mind the tons of research and hundreds, if not millions, of years of experience that tells us kids learn better if they have freedom of mind until age 7 or so.
    No recess, and no snow playing, is about making things easy for the powerful teachers’ aides’ union. Ditto recess cancelled if the temp is below 50. Ditto no books or coloring books allowed in the auditorium when recess is cancelled.

  68. vzwriter1 December 11, 2011 at 3:59 am #

    And BTW oddly, while the NYC DOE finds it necessary to subject 4- and 5-year-olds to full-time, passive, desk-based “education” for all 6-7 hours of a school day, they don’t find it necessary to actually supervise these kids during the school day.
    Four- and five-year-olds, who still believe in fairies and think they can fly, are allowed to roam the school’s hallways. Heck, if a 4-year-old feels like free-ranging himself right out of the building through an unmonitored door and into the neighborhood during a supposed “bathroom break,” no one would be the wiser.

  69. Christy Rachelle Ford December 11, 2011 at 4:21 am #

    And the War on Fun continues.

  70. dfg December 11, 2011 at 5:31 am #

    I work at an elementary school. At the first school I ever worked, fifteen years ago, we had heated discussions about banning tag, due to the “danger”. I argued that there is a lot of value in a game that requires no supplies, can be played anywhere, and any number kids can play. Unfortunately, many of my coworkers disagreed and tag was banned.

  71. The other Donna December 11, 2011 at 7:16 am #

    Good heavens! I remember chase and tag being the most fun games we played in grade school.

    This sure explains why my (homeschooled) kids don’t really have anyone to play with. The schooled kids don’t know how to play! I’m having to give lessons in tag, chase, hide and go seek, hopscotch……

    Mine play outside every day, rain or shine. Especially in the snow. We live in Utah, so we get lots of snow. My kids are always out in it, catching snowflakes on their tongues, chasing each other, sledding, having (gasp) snowball fights, building snow men (and women), making snow angels.

    The weird thing is, they know when they get cold and then they come in for hot cocoa. The other weird thing is, they’re usually the only kids out.

  72. FrancesfromCanada December 11, 2011 at 11:43 am #

    @Taunya Richards: sledding down the middle of the street? Um. Big fan of sledding. Whizzing down a hill below the sight level of drivers…not so much.

    Please tell me you have spotters and a very quiet street!

  73. Laura K. December 11, 2011 at 12:16 pm #

    Yep. Back when my ds was going to the local grade school, they weren’t allowed to run on the playground. And they wonder why kids are all antsy in class. Bad enough they only get to go outside for 15 minutes at a time. Sheesh. Now we homeschool, and he can run, jump, and wrestle to his heart’s content.

  74. Janis December 11, 2011 at 1:31 pm #

    We use to live in Maine and my 2 oldest went to school there and LOVED playing outside no matter the weather. Snow sledding, tree climbing, puddle jumping all at public school. POh yeah the school also aimed for 3 recesses a day 2 at 15 mins and 1 at 30 mins. Then we moved to NJ and my son was mad when he was told no they cannot go outside it was to hot( 80 degrees) to cold(60 degrees) to week(rained the day before) ect. We then moved to another school distrcit where there is NO recess at all for any grade. Gasp the Horror. So now we homeschool and have class outside, recess when the ants in the pants need a release, and no holds bar on discovery what that is. lol. We have been asked if we need any “assistance” there is a local food bank here and a shelter here if we need it. Its that odd to see kids getting dirty, in play clothes( yup stained and ripped) in the middle of the day at a park with their mom.

  75. Joy Noll December 11, 2011 at 5:36 pm #

    When I was in 5th grade in Lower MI, we had Recess Mothers-Volunteers who watched the playground. We had a grove of trees, monkey bars that kids got hurt on, a very tall ladder, a kickball field and tons of room to run around. Yes, children did get hurt once in awhile. So what! All children get hurt. We threw snowballs at one another, and sometimes they had a little gravel in them. This was discouraged, but no one got into any real trouble. Over-protection, once again. Some of us could even sneak away to a path in the woods that led to the penny candy store. LOL We, of course, did that very rarely, but we never got caught. Kids will be kids. Let them be!! Tag, oh my gosh!! No balls! Oh my..the sky is falling, the sky is falling…..

  76. Jamie December 11, 2011 at 9:09 pm #

    My daughters school has a NBC rule. No Body Contact. I think it’s the stupiest thing I have ever heard. And because of that they cannot play tag. They do have a lot of playground equipment so I am thankful for that. I’m not sure on the snow policy…we just moved here and it hasn’t snowed yet. We shall see.

  77. In the Trenches December 11, 2011 at 10:49 pm #

    Children’s rights are being ignored in the name of safety. Kids have the right to fresh air and exercise. Those are two of the things that we as parents have an obligation to provide them. Like food, or shelter. We also have the obligation to protect them from permanent harm or injury, of course, but that does not trump our other obligations. Stand up to those stupid rules. Push it, and get them retracted. Don’t stand for it. Your kids have the right to play. If one parent objects, she can be dismissed as a crank. If ALL the parents object, what’ll they do? Close the school?

  78. Donna December 12, 2011 at 12:03 am #

    Tag is allowed at my child’s elementary school but not at the school one of her friends attends. I guess it’s a school-by-school thing here. My daughter’s school has 3 different play areas and there is one that the teacher won’t let her play on. It is where the climbing wall and that kind if thing is. I don’t know if this is because of “safety” or because she can’t watch the kids if they are over there. Either way, it annoys me.

    By the way Lenore, I think you mean “down low” and not “low down.”

  79. Brian December 12, 2011 at 9:42 pm #

    I am more outraged by some of the answers here then the original post. Let them fall and pick themselves up, whether emotionally or physically; there is no better way to learn how to succeed in the world.

    The “injuries” caused by tag are hardly what I would consider a childhood injury. Injury is broken bones. Scraped knees, bruises and torn jeans are the essence of being a child.

    Same goes for letting kids figure it out when playing tag and some people don’t get tagged or get tagged too much. That is why we as social animals play. We learn to resolve differences and interact with the world around us.

  80. geistdesfritz December 13, 2011 at 10:11 pm #

    this sounds like my nephew’s school to the extent I wonder if it actually is. They’re confined to an asphalt slab for recess and not allowed to run because there are too many kids because a new school is being built which they will move into next year and it’s going to be a big combined school instead of the “Open Magnet” which it supposedly is now. Which is not and I know because the curriculum has vastly changed from when I went there!

  81. Cheryl W December 14, 2011 at 10:39 am #

    Brian, I have to agree with you. Games are wonderful opportunity to learn to interact. Yes, some kids get it much sooner than others, (how to play appropriately.) And some may be like Ralph Wiggums on the Simpsons who runs around the empty chairs saying “duck, duck, duck, duck, duck, duck, duck, duck, duck, duck, duck….” because everyone got tired and left.

    But that experience does teach the others how NOT to play, and if the same kids are constantly trying to be “it” and stay “it” then that child needs intervention, not the rest of the class. Or the teacher needs to introduce new games to the mix, to give the children something to do without taking away the whole run and tag thing.

    Did you know you can play “Duck, duck, goose” with two people? It takes the “Ralph” out of the equation. Or play amoeba tag or pairs tag, or many others that switch things around more. Kids won’t learn these games by themselves in our age segregated schools – they need the teachers to actively look for and teach other games to play.

    Banning a game without giving the kids something else to do is a cop out in my opinion. Which is what most of these banning things try to do, and any parent of a two year old knows it is much more successful to give the toddler something else to do than to tell them not to do one particular thing. Get the gym teacher to teach some new games (if the school still has one) or get some teachers to rotate leading a new game each week during recess.

  82. Maureen December 14, 2011 at 10:52 am #

    Cheryl – it’s fine for adults to teach games. However, free play should also be adult-free. First, kids can and do learn games from each other. I was the oldest child, but I had friends who weren’t, and they knew games I didn’t because their older siblings had taught them.

    Also, if left to their own devices, children can and will come up with their own rules. This is so important to their development, and is a big problem because schools and hovering parents have stunted this. I remember playing so many made-up versions of tag. We also had rules for baseball/whiffleball depending on whether we were in the street, a yard, a field, etc. This actually makes more flexible adults who can problem solve. Something I don’t see in the middle school children I currently teach. They want me to tell them what to do every step of the way. It’s maddening.

  83. Cheryl W December 14, 2011 at 11:06 pm #

    Maureen, the teaching of games (which would ideally only be part of the play time) refers only to those who want to ban certain types of game because the kids are whining or won’t play by the rules. If the adult doesn’t like what is happening, then the adult should either tell the kids to work it out (which they will, but there may be tears when everyone walks away from the “it” who won’t tag (but then a lesson is learned) or the adult can step in and provide something else just as enticing for the kids to do. Kids should only join in if they WANT to, not because they have to.

    As an adult I have gone into a group of kids and said “Who wants to learn to play a new game?” Many will join, some won’t. Some may join in after they see the other kids playing. (Some may leave when they see it doesn’t fit what they want to do.)

    My kids’ experience in school has been that sometimes older kids will play with the little ones. It has also been “You can’t play with us because you are the opposite sex and not the same grade.” That attitude does not foster exchange of ideas. Many of the games that I played as a kid the kids no longer play.