Why Johnny Can’t Run

Hi trfzdenyea
Folks! This is my piece that ran in last week’s Wall Street Journal. Have a good week (and some “vigorous activity”). – L.

The Importance of Child’s Play

by Lenore Skenazy

A new study of how preschoolers spend their days may make you want to run around screaming, which is apparently more than the tykes themselves get to do. After interviewing child-care providers from 34 very different Cincinnati-area centers—urban to suburban, Head Start to high income—researchers found that kids spend an average of only 2% to 3% of their day in “vigorous activities.”

Can you imagine that? Children spending 97% of their day not running around? It’s like a desk job, except with cookie time. Excuse me—apple time. When you consider that three-quarters of American kids aged 3 to 5 are in some kind of preschool program and a lot of them come home only to eat, sleep and go back again, this is beyond sad—it’s bad. Bad for their bodies, their brains, their blubber. Baddest of all are the reasons behind this institutionalized atrophy: The quest for ever more safety and education.

“Injury and school readiness concerns may inhibit children’s physical activity in child care,” writes pediatrician Kristen A. Copeland, lead author on the study, which will appear in next month’s Pediatrics but is already available on the journal’s website. Let’s take a look at both these concerns, the twin fears haunting modern-day childhood.

Fear of injury: The centers, the parents and the state regulators are all so worried about injuries that they end up steering kids away from play. They do this in part by only approving playground equipment that is so safe it is completely boring to the kids. As one child-care provider told the investigators, “We used to have this climber where they could climb really high and it was really challenging. Now we have this climber that looks cute, much cuter than the old one, but it’s not as high and . . . scary.”

“Scary” equals “fun” for kids. (It equals potential lawsuit to everyone else.) Faced with this pitiful excuse for a plaything, the kids started doing things like walking up the slide. But of course, that is verboten, too, because a kid could get injured! As several child-care providers told the authors, “the [safety] guidelines had become so strict that they might actually be limiting, rather than promoting, children’s physical activity.”

Uh, “might”?

Fear #2: Falling behind. The trembling triumvirate of child-care providers, parents and regulators also worries that kids must perform at a certain level when they reach school, so play time is sacrificed for academics. Some parents specifically request that their kids not participate in outdoor activities but “read a book instead”—an attitude that spans the economic spectrum.

The funny thing is, if you are really concerned about children’s health and school-readiness, there is a very simple way to increase both. It’s called playing.

Kids learn through play. When kids play, they’re not wasting their time. They’re learning everything from motor skills to social skills and numbers. Think of all the counting that comes with hopscotch, or with making two even teams. Those activities are a lot more fun than flash cards, but they teach the same thing: math. Kids playing outside also learn things like distance, motion, the changing of the seasons—things we take for granted because we got time outside. But many of today’s kids spend all their daylight hours in child care.

Then there are the social skills. The planning (“I’ll throw the ball to you, you throw it to Jayden”) and the compromise (Jayden always wants to go first), and the ability to pay attention. These are key lessons for anyone about to go onto another 12 years of education, not to mention another 50 years of meetings after that.

And on the physical side of things, kids outside literally learn how to move. Joe Frost, a professor emeritus at the University of Texas and author of 18 books on child’s play, has been watching for decades as dwindling time outside and increasingly insipid equipment got to the point where many 21st-century kids “are unsafe on any environment, because they have not developed the strength, the flexibility, the motor skills that come with being a well-rounded child.” They don’t even know how to fall safely, which makes them more likely to hurt themselves. So much for making kids safer by limiting their playground time.

As for the biggest health risk of all: 19% of kids are showing up at kindergarten already obese. They’ve started out on a life of couch potato-dom. Some don’t even know how to skip. “We’re seeing what we used to call ‘adult’ diabetes in children as young as 3, 4, 5,” says Dr. Copeland.

In striving to make our kids super safe and super smart we have turned them into bored blobs. Fortunately, the remedy is as simple as it is joyful: Just see the playground the way kids do. Not as an academic wasteland. Not as a lawsuit waiting to happen. Just the very best place to spend a whole lot of time.

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86 Responses to Why Johnny Can’t Run

  1. Elizabeth February 3, 2012 at 9:42 pm #

    ” When you consider that three-quarters of American kids aged 3 to 5 are in some kind of preschool program and a lot of them come home only to eat, sleep and go back again…” – I find this statement just as sad, if not more sad than the issue of non activity. I think a big hindrance to free range thinking is leaving young kids in organized group care all day. They have schedules and times for doing everything. There are all of these safety regulations that prevent them from just being kids. They are taught “safety” and order because that’s the only way you can survive with that many little ones in one place. Before we had so many working moms – who I know many have no choice – little kids were free to orchestrate their own days, to a point. They could spend hours outdoors everyday. If I were in a position to have to work, I think I would try my hardest to have a work from home job, or at the very least try to see if I could get a trusted, free range minded person to come to my home so my children could have a chance to…..be a kids. 🙁 I realize this isn’t even possible for everyone. But with all the over the top regulations, I don’t see day care facilities loosening up any time soon. 🙁

  2. Edward February 3, 2012 at 10:15 pm #

    Don’t Insurance Employees have children? Don’t they see what these regulations do to their kids? If we have to accept (?!) the ridiculous idea that an insurance company can tell any other industry how to operate – why can’t WE tell insurance companies how to operate?
    My idea of an insurance operation is one that pays legitimate claims, and does not run as a No Risk Retirement Investment Portfolio. Aren’t there any competent law inforcement agencies they can join with to help them accomplish that in the United States?!

  3. Michael February 3, 2012 at 10:25 pm #

    There is a great discussion going on about daycares and parenting based on a recent book from someone who worked in daycares, May Saubier “Doing Time: What It Really Means to Grow Up in Daycare”. It would seem she does not paint a flattering picture of daycares and it has sparked a good discussion.


    Personally, my family’s daycare experience has been wonderful.

  4. Lollipoplover February 3, 2012 at 10:48 pm #

    Why can’t Johnny Run? Because some schools ban running during recess!

    My kids are out of preschool, but the change in regulations from my 1st child to my 3rd was unbelievable. The preschool my son went to was walking distance, he would frequently catch frogs on the way and show to his classmates. He had large fields and woods for free play (his school was on a day camp site) he flew kites, went on “learning” scavenger hunts, and came home happy and tired. Fast forward 6 years, there was a drive-thru drop off implemented “for safety purposes”, and my youngest was restricted to a fenced-in, “age appropriate” play yard with boring plastic play equipment. She was miserable and bored, and we eventually pulled her out.

    I find the “playground years” my favorite time as a parent. Fresh air does wonders to clear their head (and mine) and give their energetic bodies a chance to let off some steam. As a new “mom” of two high energy puppies, I know they sleep and behave better with plenty of physical activity and walks. So, why are we treating our children worse than dogs?

  5. SKL February 3, 2012 at 11:05 pm #

    Well, it sounds like this is at risk of becoming an anti-daycare discussion, so let me try to fix that. Even parents who are at home all day (or a good chunk of it) often don’t encourage their kids to be active. The article notes that it’s often parents who discourage the activity in favor of “safety” and academics. If parents would push for more activity, daycares would respond.

    A couple of weeks ago, my kids brought home a note saying that some parents had asked why the kids weren’t playing outside much. The note said that the problem was kids not being dressed for the weather; so please dress your kids for the weather so they can play outside. That’s progress, I think.

    One thing I love about my kids’ daycare is that they have arrangements with teachers and coaches to come in and give lessons at the school, during the parents’ work hours. If you are concerned about activity levels at your kids’ daycare, please ask about this, because there are a bunch of these options out there; maybe your daycare needs a push to invite them in. My kids do a coached physical activity every weekday: soccer, karate, gymnastics, stretch & grow, and dance – in addition to the large-motor stuff on the KG daily schedule and the free play during “afterschool care.” (They also still get a nap every day.) This is so convenient for me. After I pick them up, weather permitting, we can go do some other (unstructured) physical activity such as go swimming or to the park.

    As far as academics, I think there have been enough studies proving that kids who get plenty of exercise and free play time are better prepared for learning than those who get less. My kids’ daycare/preschool/KG is quite academic, and both of my kids are accelerated in school and reading well for their ages. Their KG teacher told me during orientation that she would adjust the school day to accommodate any kids who were in the “specials” (coached activities). There has been no conflict so far between academics and physical activities. It helps my elder, athletic kid blow of steam and my younger, bookish kid stay healthy. Also, the activities themselves are mind-building in that they introduce information about biology/health and arts and promote vocabulary, eye tracking, muscle control, thinking ahead, creativity, and good discipline.

  6. LRH February 3, 2012 at 11:07 pm #

    I have actually seen parents yell “no running” to their kids–in the park!!

    My goodness, if you can’t run in the PARK, where can you run?

    I actually had someone say to me, in reference to how I let my kids run around in a fenced-in area outdoors unsupervised for an hour or so, “a backyard isn’t a babysitter.” Ugh!

    By the way, what’s with the Toyota Camry commercial? I kind of like the “reinvented couch,” but I doubt my wife would appreciate that, ha ha.

  7. DH February 3, 2012 at 11:23 pm #

    “A couple of weeks ago, my kids brought home a note saying that some parents had asked why the kids weren’t playing outside much. The note said that the problem was kids not being dressed for the weather; so please dress your kids for the weather so they can play outside.”

    My kid’s preschool/kindergarten proactively sends home notes every year reminding the parents that their kids DO go outside in the cold, in the wet, in the snow, thus they strongly recommend that snowpants, boots, and waterproof mittens be kept in their cubbies.

  8. librarian February 3, 2012 at 11:38 pm #

    God bless New York City, where my first-grader can run thirty blocks home from school, stopping only to wait for me at the traffic lights! She’s always been like that, and nobody ever even looked at me funny. Or maybe I just don’t notice…

    I agree that the problem is not with working moms vs. daycare; if daycare providers were pressured by parents to provide more outdoor time, they would respond.

    Back when I was picking daycare for my (then) two-year-old, I had two principal requirements: not forcing kids to nap (my own childhood trauma – and my daughter, like me, stopped napping by the time she was 18 mos.) and at least two hours of active outside play every day, every season (they had a smaller covered outdoor playground for stormy days, in addition to a regular (reasonably challenging) one.

    I found the place I wanted. They did not even teach the kids how to read/write, it was mostly various kinds of play, art and music (mixture of supervised and unsupervised, where the teachers mainly tried to balance things out – e.g. help habitual loners to enter group activities, steering kids to try activities they normally wouldn’t, teaching taking turns-sharing-negotiation skills etc. etc.) . My “illiterate” child had no problem passing the g&t exam, and other kids from that preschool did pretty well for themselves too, as far as I know. Too bad that place was 15+ thousand per year (Manhattan, damn it – so we had to sacrifice family vacation trips and many other things for those three years), but it was so worth it.

    So look for the daycare place with the appropriate philosophy, and push it further in that direction by showing your appreciation. If parents state “active outdoor playtime” as their non-negotiable requirement, businesses will accommodate.

  9. SKL February 3, 2012 at 11:44 pm #

    DH, I think our state has a law against taking the kids out if they are not dressed a certain way when the temperature is below a certain level. But I do wish they could do what yours does. I think it stinks if they can’t take the kids outside, but it’s the parents’ fault, not the school’s. (At least, I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt as long as parents don’t do their part.)

    While playing outside in crummy weather is nice, I don’t believe it alone will make or break a childhood. It’s more the philosophy that outdoor play is “wasted” time as compared to, say, reading indoors. All things in moderation, I say.

  10. SKL February 3, 2012 at 11:45 pm #

    I should note for clarity that my kids’ daycare has an indoor playground (with climbing equpment and space to run), so it’s not like they just sit around if they don’t play outdoors.

  11. B February 3, 2012 at 11:49 pm #

    I found a center for my daughter that was a godsend. They refused to call themselves a preschool, or even a daycare. They were a play-care facility. The kids played, all day, doing pretty much whatever they want. I was SO thrilled when I saw the huge back yard of this place. Things to climb on (tall things!) rope climbing walls, bouncy tires, monkey bars. It was amazing. And my daughter was so much happier.

    I moved back to Iowa, and to a house in the country, largely so I could send my kids outside to play. And I do, a lot. Where I lived previously, it gave my neighbor fits that I would send my five year old out to get the mail. Which was on the back side of the house, away from the street, and less than 20 feet from the door.

  12. Paige Roper Norman February 4, 2012 at 12:01 am #

    I am a nanny, in my home, for kids ages infant through 9 years old. One of the first thing I tell my parents when they are interviewing me is “I may not send them home clean, but they’ll come home tired.” Yes, in the rainy PNW we have our fair share of movie days but if it’s not wet outside, I bundle them up in their coats (sometimes I forget the hats — which they throw off anyways) and throw them outside to play.

    I have a dirt pile, lots of trucks and shovels and horror of horrors, a trampoline (with a safety net). They play outside until they’re hungry, cold or it’s too dark to see most nights (or until their parents come and pick them up and drag them to their cars).

    I am amazed at how some of the kids have no idea how to play by themselves or with other kids. One girl that used to come to me had absolutely no imagination or drive to play. She would watch the other kids play and not even try to follow along. After awhile, she would come inside and pull out a book.

    I agree that playing is excellent learning time, as is wrestling, running, throwing dirt, pushing, shoving, digging, making leaf piles and chasing each other around.

    Thanks for your site and your posts. 🙂

  13. Lollipoplover February 4, 2012 at 12:56 am #

    @SKL- the preschool we switched our daughter to had a great indoor gym for the crummy days. I agree with the moderation part, but young kids need daily exercise in some form. Her old school had over 20 acres but they would corral the kids into “age appropriate” pens for their safety. They had a big ribbon cutting ceremony for the new playground (which was quite cool), but my daughter wasn’t allowed to play on it at age 4.

  14. SKL February 4, 2012 at 2:05 am #

    Where is everyone today? I hope they are playing outside! (The weather here is unseasonably pleasant – maybe I will put the kids’ bikes in the trunk and make a stop at the park before dinner.)

  15. backroadsem February 4, 2012 at 2:39 am #

    I taught with a woman who was so terrified of kids getting injured on the playground she tried to make a rule to keep our 1st graders from doing anything related to running. I say “tried” because it’s impossible to keep a healthy 6-year-old from running around and the official playground monitors were actually pretty cool and only intervened in play if it were legitimately dangerous.

  16. Rachel February 4, 2012 at 3:13 am #

    This is a slight digression, but I’d love people’s opinion on this somewhat related topic. My 3.5 year old has gotten good enough to start using her (3 wheeled) scooter to get to school about a mile away (with my husband accompanying her–we’re not that free range :-). I am very happy about this, as you can imagine. We don’t make her wear a helmet; somehow the scooter just doesn’t feel as risky as biking , she’s on the sidewalk, and it’s flat. Am I being too free range about this? I notice other parents make their kids wear helmets on scooters, but it seems like a bit much to me.

  17. Stephanie February 4, 2012 at 3:15 am #

    It may be telling that my son’s first grade teacher sent all the kids home with tennis balls and a request to play catch with them earlier this week. I told him he needs to try it with his younger sister mostly, so she develops that skill more too.

    I’m looking at a two day a week, three hour each of those days preschool program for my youngest, mostly because I want her to have more social time with kids nearer her own age. She plays with her siblings friends, but I think it would be nice for her to be around kids with similar abilities and interests. I don’t have anything against daycare, though, it’s just that I don’t need it since I’m home anyhow.

    LRH, I hate it when people criticize sending kids out on their own into the backyard. It may not be a babysitter, but it’s also not so dangerous that my kids need me right out there with them. I’ll hear the screaming and/or crying if there’s a problem.

  18. SKL February 4, 2012 at 3:22 am #

    Rachel, my view is that if it’s not that different from walking/running, a helmet is not needed and actually impedes learning (logical consequences of mistakes), unimpeded hearing/vision, etc. I don’t allow my kids to wear helmets when they ride their little sidewalk bikes, either. When they get big enough to really “whiz” around or fall from a significant height onto a hard ground, then I’ll consider it. I don’t wear a helmet on my kids when they walk or run, and most little kids’ biking and scootering isn’t that much different.

  19. Sassystep February 4, 2012 at 3:32 am #

    Daycare vs. Parents… the constant debate. Like everything, there are good day care providers and good parents – and bad day care providers and bad parents. I agree that most kids today are in too many organized activities (gymnastics, soccer, art class, school, brownies, etc), but I know that for my stepkids my DH and I encourage as much as we can – why? Because they watch TV all day long when they are at their mom’s house. At least they are getting some exercise when they are in the activities. They are the kids that don’t know how to play alone – even at 9 and 6. Does anyone have any suggestions for how to fix that?

  20. Amy O February 4, 2012 at 3:40 am #

    When I was returning to work, we looked at a daycare nearby. My daughter was three months old, and we needed care two days a week. The first thing I asked was how often the kids go outside. I was told that you had to be two years old to go outside. We left immediately. Luckily, a family member offered to watch her during that time.

    I am not against day care at all, being a former out-of-school time coordinator for a community center. But seriously? Little ones cooped up in one room ALL day? Yikes.

  21. gap.runner February 4, 2012 at 3:42 am #

    Great article, Lenore.

    The German kindergarten (preschool) that my son attended, like just about all German kindergartens, was heavily play-based. The director believed that young kids learn best through play. She hired teachers who shared her philosophy. The kids were outdoors for a good part of the day. At the beginning of the school year, parents were given an information sheet with the year’s theme. There was special emphasis on telling parents to make sure their kids were dressed appropriately for the weather and to have the kids wear play clothes because they were going to get dirty.

    My son’s kindergarten’s playground was a child’s dream. There were: climbing structures of varying types and heights, a playhouse, slides, a sandbox with toys (buckets, shovels, various vehicles), bicycles, tricycles, picnic tables, and a large grassy area where the kids could run around. There was even a hill that the kids could climb.

    Even the classrooms were set up for play. My son’s room had a bunk bed, a play kitchen, a hammock, blocks, Legos, stuffed animals, dolls, real kid-sized tools, and a quiet corner with lots of pillows. Kids would often jump off the top bunk onto a thick mattress. Sometimes the classes would exchange toys for variety. The kindergarten even had a gym where the kids played when the weather was too bad to go outside. The gym had balls, hoops, ropes, mats, and other fun things. There were some structured activities, such as art projects, hikes, or morning story time. But most of the time the kids were engaged in free play indoors or outdoors.

    There were several other American families who had their kids at my son’s kindergarten. But many of them withdrew their kids for one of two reasons: 1) Their kids weren’t learning any academics and they were afraid that their kids would fall behind their peers; 2) Their children (horror of horrors!) got dirty. When I picked my son up, he and his clothes were almost always dirty. That’s how I knew he had a good time.

  22. SKL February 4, 2012 at 3:59 am #

    Sassystep, the way I would approach the “don’t know how to play” problem is to give the kids extended time and space (with no electronics and no books) and then refuse to play with them. Give them enough time to get bored and have to figure out what the heck there is to do.

    Some examples of places that provide their own entertainment at that age would be a forest, a construction site, a car graveyard, even your own basement, attic, or shed. Basically anyplace where a kid might ask “I wonder what this is and what I can do with it” and go from there. You already have a leg up because you’re dealing with two kids together, not just one. One thing I remember doing when I was around that age was making my “own space” in our unfinished attic, by clearing it out and gathering stuff I could use for furniture, decorations, etc. No adult involvement necessary.

    My kids do know how to play despite being in a lot of structured activiites. It’s about balance. A half hour a day when they are in daycare anyway isn’t going to cramp their style. I’m more concerned about how to find balance once they are in 1st grade, as I have not identified an accessible after-school program with activities, and I would rather not take up our evenings with sports; yet I still want them to have some vigorous activities most days. I don’t expect the school to fill this gap, based on current trends.

  23. dnry122 February 4, 2012 at 4:16 am #

    Back about ten years ago, I was in a “defensive driving” class as part of my work group. Along with two or three other colleagues, we’d go out in a company car with an instructor and trade off time behind the wheel, with critiques about bad driving habits we may have acquired. At one point, we passed a preschool, with a yard full of youngsters running and playing. I commented that my fortune would be made if I could develop a pill that would give us older folks the energy of a three-year old child. Requiring small children to “sit still and be quiet” any more than necessary should be considered child abuse.

  24. Havva February 4, 2012 at 4:34 am #

    My daughter is currently in daycare, and part of the attraction for the large center she attends is the company’s emphasis on every skill including “gross motor skills.” It is in the packet for prospective parents, in the ‘lesson plans’ on their website, and in my daughter’s portfolio. But even so I could see how parental ‘pressure’ could severely limit activity for the children.

    The director always says, “It is my job to make this center what you, the parent, want it to be.” The entire staff responds to general wishes mentioned to a single staff member as absolute mandates. For instance, a few months ago my daughter sucked on her pacifier constantly. I mentioned during drop off that it would probably be good to give my daughter a little time each day without her pacifier. Within a week they had my girl nearly weaned.

    But on the dark side, I think they may respond equally to parental fears, particularly if the caregivers (many young mothers themselves) share any of those fears.

    When I toured the center before it opened, each infant room had a miniature dining table surrounded by matching infant sized chairs (a la Montessori). These disappeared before the center opened. Now even the room for the toddling infants has no chairs. Or at least, it doesn’t when parents pick up and drop off.

    The only exception I know of is my daughter. At some point my baby’s caregiver (Miss M) pulled one of these chairs out of storage. Apparently the other staff members were frightened by how it was getting used. But Miss M was familiar with my love of Montessori, so she showed me. I watched my baby crawl straight to the chair burbling with excitement as soon as she laid eyes on it. My girl climbed in and out of the chair, sat in it, and try to make it rock or scoot. That plain wood chair had her undivided attention for a half hour before I took her home. There are few toys for which she has shown such enthusiasm.

    I attribute her chair to the effort I made right from the start to keep in the forefront my philosophy of letting my daughter explore, even if there is a little risk. It was not easy projecting this attitude. In reality I was a nervous wreck of a mom when I started at that daycare. This was why I so carefully guarded my words to project my philosophy rather than my constant and copious fears. At times it was painful to pretend to be a more calm mom than I truly was. But I am so glad I persevered. It has been beautiful to watch what the caregivers will try when they are confident of my enthusiastic support. My daughter has a new found joy and is developing rapidly. With these caregivers leading the way, I am shedding my terror, and becoming the kind of mom they think I am, and who I dearly want to be.

  25. SKL February 4, 2012 at 4:52 am #

    I think another opportunity for parents to encourage “free range” in the daycares is when they react to an “incident report.” Personally I expect my kids to play and occasionally get hurt. When it happens, I always say something positive about it as I sign the incident report. “Good, she learned ___.” “Glad she was getting some exercise, now she just needs to remember to look where she’s going.” I make no comment when another child is the cause of the hurt, either. It’s a natural part of being a kid. If they were at home all day, they’d get hurt (or hurt each other) there as well. However, I notice that sometimes the teachers seem nervous to show me the incident report, like I’m going to bite their heads off or something. I assume there are some parents who are a little overprotective (or unrealistic) when they find out about accidents.

  26. Lisa February 4, 2012 at 5:09 am #

    Learning through play – provides an endless amount of opportunities for children to explore, discover, create and imagine. Play extends children’s thinking and promotes a hands on approach to learning. Create a learning environment which encourages children to build on children’s learning in positive ways. http://www.aussiechildcarenetwork.com/early_years_learning_framework.php
    This is one of the main principles of the Early Years Learning Framework in Australia – I believe the document will be mandatory in all preschools and daycare centres. Thank goodness – learning through play means will are not stealing these kids childhoods and recognises how important play is for learning.

  27. Christina February 4, 2012 at 8:59 am #

    No wonder everyone thinks my kids are so physically advanced for their age. I just let them do what comes naturally and only intervene if 1) the activity has real potential for a visit to the ER, or 2) whatever they are up to might damage someone else. As a result, they climb, run, jump, slide, swing, invent crazy new games and easily keep up with kids 2 to 3 years older. Oh yeah, and they have a blast. “Academically” (if such a word can be used for 4 years old boys), they are doing just as well as the “make ’em read a book” kids.

  28. Christina February 4, 2012 at 9:04 am #

    @SKL – I’m fortunate that my boys go to Montessori, where they slap on a band-aid and call it a day. The Y camp my boys attend had a very different attitude, right up to the point when they realized that 1) I did not want to be called unless they were calling from the hospital and 2) I wasn’t going to blame them for the results of normal childhood activity. My boys are charming (of course!), but I think one reason they are so liked by counselors is because the counselors know their parents are sane.

  29. Virginia Shea February 4, 2012 at 9:06 am #

    My kids are in their teens now, but I remember how limited the amount of outside time was in all the preschools I looked at for them. I don’t think I was ever able to find a preschool that offered more than half an hour a day outdoors. It was probably healthy for me, because it forced me to take them to the park every day myself. Frankly, I would have preferred to let the preschool supervise the outdoor playtime and let me do the fun art projects at home. 🙂

    I do think it’s ironic that the media are full of exhortations for adults and kids to be more active, and yet when you look at the way our whole society is set up, virtually everything about it makes it hard and expensive not to be a couch potato.

  30. Jenn February 4, 2012 at 9:49 am #

    In Canada, we have `inclement’ weather guidelines. If the windchill is less than -25C, or the temperature lower than -18C, then the kids can’t go outside at recess for more than 10 minutes. Depending on the school community, this is enforced. With some pre-teens, they don’t dress for the weather but learn to wear a hat and gloves when they’re outside for 45 minutes at -15C. My current school is low income so we have many kids who don’t own a hat and gloves, let alone a winter coat. We have a clothing donation centre at the school but sometimes the demand does not meet the supply.

    My classroom is trying to pilot a project where students do not have the traditional desk and chair but have tables at standing height and no chairs (except for at the computer and one round table for conferencing). Apparently, kids burn more calories in this learning environment and are more engaged in their learning. It allows for more discussion, dialogue and collaboration, which also means less behaviour issues in the classroom. Let’s see if it transfers onto the school yard as well!

  31. Jenn February 4, 2012 at 10:01 am #

    @Christina and SKL- I had to tell my son’s school to only call me if he needs to go to the hospital. They were calling weekly with various `injuries’ when I was at work. Sometimes my son just needed to hear my voice and tell him to be brave but why couldn’t they do that? When my students are `injured’ I use my judgement and realize that most kids need a little attention and they’ll forget that they ever hurt themselves. That being said, the one time my son’s school didn’t call, he had a head injury which resulted in a concussion because I didn’t know about it and took him skiing that night and hit his head for a second time. If I had known, I’m not sure I would have taken him skiing (or skiing on the advanced hills!). I don’t want to call parents unless it’s one of the 3B’s (excessive blood, barf or broken bone).

    My kids are the ones that are climbing the playground the way it wasn’t designed to. They climb the exterior, to the top, jump from the top, up the slides and spin in swings. If I happen to be at the park, I get comments (or glares) from parents who are worried about my kids’ safety. I figure that they could hurt themselves, bumps, bruises or broken bones but other than the inconvenience of these injuries, it’s not a problem to me. It’s part of growing up and I figure they have more to learn from their freedom, than lose from a potential (well, in our case, actual) injury. My two kids had four ER visits last year and already had our first this year. This is the ER stage of parenthood I joke to my doctor.

  32. olympia February 4, 2012 at 10:34 am #

    A wise woman once advised me, “Kids need to be run like dogs.” Which I think is 100% true- I’ve found kids to be jerks when they don’t get a lot of exercise. I think depriving them of this is doing both them and yourself a huge disservice.

  33. Jenna February 4, 2012 at 11:13 am #

    This is a great post. I might link to it from my blog, if you don’t mind. It is right up my alley with my beliefs about early childhood education in today’s world.

    And also, when I was a 2nd grade teacher before I had kids, I remember teaching some of the girls how to do a cartwheel once on the playground and was quickly reprimanded by the principal that cartwheels were not allowed on the grounds of “safety first”. I spent my entire elementary school years doing cartwheels and back handsprings all over the playground and never was injured! I was appalled that these girls couldn’t even stand on their hands because of “safety concerns”.

  34. SKL February 4, 2012 at 11:16 am #

    Jenn, my kids’ daycare doesn’t normally call me. They just make me sign the “incident report” at the end of the day when I pick up my kids. It’s often amusing to see what the report says they did for the injury. “Applied ice, patted, hugged, and returned to play.” (The ice is more to give extra attention than anything else.)

    When I get a call from school, it is never a good thing. Usually means my kid has barfed or has a high fever and needs to be picked up. The KG teacher also theoretically calls if the kids’ behavior gets really bad, but so far I haven’t had that kind of call.

    I agree, don’t call me at work unless someone is at risk of dying.

  35. Heather Morgan February 4, 2012 at 1:28 pm #

    Although daycare centers may be hindering children’s play, public schools as well, are limiting the amount of time spent playing on the playground as well as physical activity throughout the day. As a teacher, I’ve watched our school district (in Northern California), lay off physical education teachers and hire aides in their place, and in some schools have eliminated P.E. programs altogether. Physical fitness time has been shortened or eliminated in many schools to focus on test standards. As for the classroom, teachers are being told there isn’t time for students to take a stretching break, or a movement break, and are being monitored often to ensure that students are receiving explicit direct instruction, where any distraction (“let’s stand up and do 10 jumping jacks”) is considered time off task.

    Let’s also not forget time spent at home. How many parents could substitute playtime outside for T.V. and video game time? I know it’s hard to come home from work and entertain your kids, but, parents also need to take action and get their kids motivated!

  36. gap.runner February 4, 2012 at 2:09 pm #

    Like the others above, I always thought that incident reports for minor injuries were over the top. The School Age Center on base is required to fill them out for every skinned knee or other minor injury. When my son “graduated” to the Teen Center last year, it was nice not to have to sign any incident reports for minor injuries. The Teen Center has a first aid kit and ice packs. If a teen gets a minor injury, he is pointed in the direction of whatever first aid supplies he needs.

    My son’s PE class at school is held in one of the gyms at his school. Sometimes the games the boys play can get pretty physical. My son has often come home with a fresh cut or bruise from PE class because of falling on the hard gym floor. The main culprit is soccer tackles. When a kid in my son’s PE class has a minor scrape and complains to the teacher, the teacher usually responds, “Be a man!” But if someone incurs a fairly major injury, the teacher will stop the game and intervene to administer first aid. The message that the teacher is trying to send is that small cuts and bruises are part of the game. He doesn’t want his class to “cry wolf” about every little scrape. That should be saved for real injuries.

  37. Peter Watson February 4, 2012 at 3:13 pm #

    The best way to deal with this madness might well be to fight fire with fire. A few good law suits seeking restitution for lives ruined by enforced and involuntary social, cultural, developmental and physical impoverishment might just be the ticket. Play these so and so’s at their own game. Use the martial arts technique of allowing them to destro themselve with their own stupidity.

  38. sexhysteria February 4, 2012 at 3:22 pm #

    Some parents keep a tight reign on their kids as a form of emotional incest. Kids are more in danger of being injured or killed by their parents than roaming free. http://sexhysteria.wordpress.com/

  39. JennM February 4, 2012 at 9:54 pm #

    At the Preschool I work at the kids go outside from 8am – 9 pm then from about 1030 am to 11:00 (lunch) the they sleep untill 2 then my class goes outside at 2:30 untill 3:30 we come in do some activities and then go back out from about 430 untill 5:15ish these are 3 year olds but I have to spend the whole time telling the kids not to climb and jump off of things.
    My current director says that the reason for accident reports is to document any marks on the child’s body we write observation reports when child come in with a bruise or cut just to protect ourselves so a parent can’t claim child abuse from something they did to their child.

    I have parents who do a full body inspections of their children when they get home and call the school to report any little scratch and ask what happened and why… And it is always those children who are my challenging ones since they are the ones climbing under and over tables and jumping from things. and if i ignore the behavior and keep doing what ever I’m doing then I get reprimanded. The ratios for childcare in Florida are one of the highest in the country my ratio for 3 year olds is 1:15 for 4 year olds 1:20 and for 2 year olds it is 1:11 so i have to make sure 15 kids are all completely spotless and injury free and have their butts wiped when their parents come for them and if they aren’t then I am blamed the center management went so far as to suggest i inspect a child every 30 minutes for injuries (little scratches or bruises) b/c the mom is extremely picky… my thought process is that if you are that picky then you need to stay home with your child.

  40. SKL February 4, 2012 at 10:35 pm #

    I’ve been known to ask about the origin of an unreported cut near my child’s eye when she was too young to tell me herself. That is not the same as accusing the center of abuse or neglect. Honestly, we were new to daycare and I wanted to make sure that (a) the teacher was actually paying attention to what was going on, (b) the teacher knew I noticed these things, and most of all (c) the teacher would not assume that I had hurt the kid at home.

    Might have also been because that particular teacher wasn’t really cut out to manage a roomful of 2yos. I heard her scream at the kids a lot. And she’s the one who took the kids out to recess and told them not to touch the newly painted, shiny red trikes, and then acted outraged when my 2yo did anyway. She left the center not long after. (And no, I did not complain about her.)

    As it turned out, the cut was made by my kid’s glasses lens when another child manhandled her. A little talk about taking care around tot glasses was in order. (Those dang glasses cost $300 – free range does not trump everything!)

  41. Christina February 4, 2012 at 10:51 pm #

    @Jenn – our children sound a lot alike! We’ve had a small foot fracture, a split brow and a split chin so far. Not fun, but par for the course. And far from being traumatized by the events that led to those injuries, they seem to view them as adventures.

  42. C. S. P. Schofield February 5, 2012 at 2:28 am #

    Want to drive a Safety Nanny to gibbering fits? Get them to read the story “The Satisfaction of a Gentleman” from Rudyard Kipling’s COMPLETE STALKY AND COMPANY. Schoolboys duelling with “saloon pistols” (muzzle loaders) and “dust shot”.


  43. Donna February 5, 2012 at 2:38 am #

    Remember that daycare centers are businesses. If nobody used them, they would shut down. As a result, they cater to the wants of the average daycare user. If the average parent was demanding more play and less academics, daycares would provide more play and less academics. But the average parent doesn’t want play. They want academics. They don’t want their kid’s clothes dirty. They don’t want to risk injury.

    Public and private schools are the same. Public schools are not businesses but they do serve the public. If the American public was demanding more play and less academics, schools would provide more play and less academics. But the American public reads all the statistics (again very skewed because we are being compared to much smaller, more homogeneous countries) about American education declining and it demands more and more academics and less and less play. The American public is afraid of lawsuits (which are not occurring) and injury so they demand less and less play to avoid these things so schools provide less play.

    The same can be said about playground equipment manufacturers, parks and playgrounds. If the American public was demanding something different, it would occur.

    To change all daycares, schools and playground equipment, you have to substantially change America. It involves changing work attitudes because many people don’t want their child injured because that requires time out of work that they can’t afford or don’t want to take for fear of falling behind on the corporate ladder. It involves revamping medical care because many fear injury because they can’t pay medical bills. It involves understanding that MOST students in America are not falling drastically behind the rest of the world, but we have a huge and varied population with parts that are failing miserably and time, money and energy needs to be allocated to finding real solutions to our poverty problem because, until it is, our statistics will continue to move downward. It involves doing something about the high cost of childcare so that large inside and outside play areas can be built and care still be affordable to the average worker. It involves paying daycare workers a meaningful wage (most are paid right about minimum wage) so that it can attract high level people who understand child development and learning through play. I don’t see any of this happening so America will continue down the path it has built for itself and those of us who want to jump off will have to find small niches that allow us to do it.

  44. SKL February 5, 2012 at 3:21 am #

    Donna: the daycare I use (part of an incorporated chain) was started by an immigrant entrepreneur and does a lot of the things you suggest. Higher pay, better benefits and leave policies, better reflection of what the parents want and what kids need. Interestingly, the tuition rates are quite competitive. I think it just took a brave woman to take the dare to do what seemed right and see if it would fly.

  45. mollie February 5, 2012 at 3:23 am #

    “The funny thing is, if you are really concerned about children’s health and school-readiness, there is a very simple way to increase both. It’s called playing.”

    Enough said, right there.

    The human tendency to mess with systems that already work just fine informs all aspects of life, including rearing kids. If you think that simulating vigorous play via pixels on a screen constitutes “progress,” well, yeah, that’s why we’re all in the fast lane to Hell, methinks.

    Look at all the other mammals. What do the youngsters do all day before they reach sexual maturity? Play, play, play, play, PLAY. There must be some reason for it. Oh yeah, healthy brain and body development of the organism, which promotes sustainability for the species.

    Spot our error.

    And oh, what I wouldn’t have given for a real German kindergarten for our kids. Sigh.

  46. Donna February 5, 2012 at 3:59 am #

    I agree, SKL, wonderful daycares exist. They are niche daycares. There are many people who follow this blog or similar ones so there are people who want a more free-range, injury-filled childhood for their children and a market will exist around them. But the majority of the American public doesn’t want that now. They don’t want to be called out of work and have to miss several days if their kid falls off the playscape and breaks his arm. There appears to be HUGE parent points in having an early reader, writer or adder (regardless of the fact that, barring a deficit in education, kids generally are where they should be based on natural intellect by about 3rd grade regardless of early achievement) so parents will continue to push academic achievement for 3 year olds. Demand feeds the market.

  47. sunflwrmoonbeam February 5, 2012 at 4:28 am #

    I’ve been noticing this as well. I’m a very pregnant stay at home mom, and we had unseasonably warm weather this week. Despite the fact that it was physically exhausting for me (and boy did I regret it later) me and my 2 year old spent much of this week running around outside, somewhere between 1 and 3 hours at a stretch, which is pretty darn good for February in the midwest! I know there are several other at-home parents on my block with kids that age, and we were the only people I saw outside. I took her to a couple of parks, and the parks were deserted.

    Personally I struggle with balancing my 2 year old’s need to play outside and my need to not run around all the time. Unfortunately she doesn’t play independently yet, much as I’ve tried (for the record, “high needs baby” = “high needs toddler”), so if I have things to do or don’t feel like being outside for whatever reason, she doesn’t go. I can’t wait until she’s old enough when I can just send her to the back yard to play by herself.

  48. SKL February 5, 2012 at 4:33 am #

    I have to say that I don’t get the early achiever concern. Maybe that is a regional thing. It seems to me that it takes very little time per day to expose a preschooler to the “academic” side of things – at least from the visual/auditory learning perspective. There is nothing wrong with doing a bit of it as early as one wants. Since all kids are so different, might as well have a little of that in case some of the kids get something out of it. A few minutes a day – or even an hour in total for older preschoolers – isn’t going to tip the balance away from a healthy childhood. Around here, I don’t see anyone pushing for much time spent on the three Rs in preschool. Sure, many want their kids to know their letters and numbers and how to write their names. How much time does that take to teach over the course of years? If a child isn’t picking those basics up over time, despite being gently exposed on a regular basis, parents need to explore whether their individual child has a learning issue (as one of mine did).

    I would also say that while “free play” is important, it is not “the” answer to obesity. My youngest uses most of her “free play” time for sedentary activities – and has been this way all her life. She needs structured physical activities if she’s going to have enough vigorous movement to keep her healthy. I put her in coached activities to get her moving now and hopefully to encourage the habit. Not sure if the “habit” part will be successful, but I know that leaving her to her books all day isn’t going to do it.

  49. SKL February 5, 2012 at 4:43 am #

    Sunflwrmoonbeam, at that age, I bought some kids’ movement videos to encourage activity when we couldn’t go outside in the winter. It wasn’t perfect for my lazy kid, but it was better than nothing. Some that worked well for us were Baby Ballet and Gaiam’s Yoga for Kids – Silly to Calm and ABCs. Also some preschool song videos model / encourage movement. Baby Genius Favorite Children’s Songs was a really good one. To make things more interesting, build a mountain, balance beam, or obstacle course with the couch pillows.

  50. Donna February 5, 2012 at 5:10 am #

    The problem is that some parents think reading at 3 is a meaningful achievement that will translate into being 2 years ahead of the curve the child’s whole life. That has been found to be untrue. The curve starts to flat line and properly educated kids tend to get where they should be by 3rd grade whether they learned to read at 3 or 6.

    Other than my daughter, none of the children in her kindergarten read. They are not expected to until first grade. The high school averages 150+ points over the national average in SAT scores. The kids are excelling despite not reading until 1st grade (my issue with the school is not that it teaches kids too late but that my kid can already read and is therefore getting bored redoing things she already knows). Writing is largely a matter of fine motor skills. Some kids have them young, some kids don’t. No reflection on the intelligence of the child.

    What’s the rush? Why are we pushing kids to do things at younger and younger ages when it gives them no lifetime benefit whatsoever?

    If the 3 or 4 year old wants to learn to read and is having fun learning, go ahead and teach them. Young children should be exposed to many things and shouldn’t be held back from learning things that interest them even if considered above their age level. Kids should always be somewhat challenged in school so as not become bored and lazy. But PUSHING children into learning things at a young age because you think it garners them some advantage in life is not advantageous to anyone. Branding a child who doesn’t learn at these earlier and earlier ages as learning disabled doesn’t do a thing for them either.

  51. Lisa February 5, 2012 at 5:24 am #

    legislate for learning through play in early years, that way the preschools that jump on the push academic bandwagon will not be allowed to operate under an accredited system. Make it part of the Early Years Curriculum and centres will have to reinvent themselves to meet a nationalised system. Parents are moving away from play based learning as they are failing to see the advantages of play, parents want the best for the children and believe by teaching them to read at age 3 will help them. So if a curriculum was introduced and parents were educated then I think you would see parents accepting the new system. Most experts agree that play is vitally important in development, this is how young children learn about their world, they develop problem solving skills, social skills, fine motor and gross motor to name a few. Push your governments to introduce an Early Years Framework (as Australia is now doing) and accreditation to see a real meaningful change.

  52. Donna February 5, 2012 at 6:44 am #

    America can’t do things the way they do them in Germany, Australia or any other country. We are a unique country with unique problems.

    Some in our country need academic-based preschool programs. Those programs were designed for kids living in poverty. Those who are living in poverty, live a world where academic-based preschool is necessary to bring them up to minimal standards for kindergarten. The kids usually have no access to books. The families are highly transient and live in crime-ridden, dangerous areas where outside play is not always a safe option. Inside is in poor repair and often not much safer. The parents often have a host of problems such as addiction, criminal activity and abuse that lead the children to live without one or both of their parents for much of their childhood. The parents tend to be very undereducated. As a culture, they often do not value education and don’t know teach their children even if they do. They may legitimately not know a single person who has graduated high school or ever held a job beyond day labor. Some don’t speak English at all prior to starting school. They are simply not learning the basics that we all learn (ABCs, colors, counting, how to spell our name, etc) through play before kindergarten. An academic pre-k program has shown to be successful in getting them to reach kindergarten readiness.

    The middle/upper class learns everything they need for kindergarten in play-based learning. Through parents reading, talking and interacting with them they learn ABCs, colors, counting and how to spell their names. Some even learn how to read and do more advanced math. They learn proper socialization through their parents functional relationships with others. They learn to value education by having parents, grandparents, and friends who value education. They learn time management and work ethics by having parents who go to work daily and get things done relatively on time. They don’t need preschools to teach them these things needed to succeed in school and life.

  53. Lana February 5, 2012 at 8:15 am #

    New book out – Doing Time by May Saubier. I agree, anyone interested in this topic should read it.

  54. Sarah February 5, 2012 at 8:32 am #

    Lana, I have read part of the book already and I am shocked with how accurate this book is! I had several years of daycare experience before I graduated college and became a teacher. (And this was a prestigious daycare with a long waiting list.) This book paints an incredibly realistic picture. The one thing I learned from working in daycare is that I would NEVER put my kids in one. Thankfully I’ve been able to stay home with them.

  55. ebohlman February 5, 2012 at 8:36 am #

    Donna: Another problem with trying to introduce traditional academics too early is that at those ages, much of the variability in kids’ “ability” merely represents variation in rate of maturation (and in many cases, variability in the timing of birthdays; a kid whose birthday is one day past the age-cutoff date is going to be a year older than one who was born on the cutoff date, and at those ages that makes a huge difference). Needless to say, these sources of variation are completely uncorrelated with kids actual intellectual abilities in later childhood or adulthood, but the observations of these variations tends to “stick”, leading to self-fulfilling prophecies.

    Ability grouping makes some sense in middle school and high school, but definitely not in early elementary school or, worse, kindergarten or preschool.

    JennM: The whole McMartin nightmare started with a mom who was an obsessive body inspector; she would carefully examine her son’s anus at least twice a day, and one time she saw something that looked unfamiliar (though medical examination showed nothing out of normal) and started wildly jumping to conclusions. She was later diagnosed with schizophrenia; in fact, in most of the 80s daycare “molestation” scandals, the initial accusations were made by a parent who was dual-diagnosis (psychotic disorder combined with substance-abuse disorder). BTW, although anal penetration of a pre-pubescent boy is the image that jumps into most people’s heads when they think of child molestation, it is by far the least common form of child sexual abuse (if you have a hard time believing this, stop to think about the relative sizes of the parts involved and about how difficult it would be to keep it a secret).

  56. SKL February 5, 2012 at 11:47 am #

    I think that reasonable minds can differ about whether it is beneficial to introduce letters, numbers, etc. in preschool (at any income level). I do believe it’s a stretch to say it can hurt kids – as long as it’s just a bit of exposure here and there, and providing play “academic” materials and books in case the children want to take it farther on their own. The danger comes when you force developing eyes to focus on stuff they are not ready for, force kids to sit still more than is developmentally appropriate, hold consequences over their heads if they don’t learn, etc.

    A good early childhood lit program (reading to the kids) really is essential, though – and that involves some structure and sitting. That’s really OK. It still leaves plenty of hours in the day for physical activity.

    The problem I see (around here, anyway) isn’t that kids are doing too much academics, but that there is not enough motivation to get them moving. This is no less a problem in many non-academic daycares (and homes).

    But, it may be regional if some people are seeing an excess of academic push. Which reminds me:

    I hang out at a homeschooling forum, and I noticed a lot of homeschoolers using a particular curriculum with their young’uns. I was curious and googled it. To my shock and horror, I found an online merchant with page after page of test prep courses – for PREschoolers. I sh!t you not. (Or is this common knowledge?) Apparently there are some standardized preschool tests for gifted programs, and you can buy a curriculum to prep your little darling to pass the gifted tests. So now are gifted kids whose parents let them play going to be at a disadvantage because they didn’t “prep” for the placement tests? (I like to think not, as real smarts develop from experience, but it depends on how they design the test, doesn’t it?)

    I am probably still in the dark ages, but I hate test prep. I was taught that it was unethical when I was in grade school and high school. The tests were supposed to gauge your aptitude, not how much you could cram. I hope to resist having my kids do any sort of standardized test prep other than what the schools force.

    Like you, Donna, I have an early reader. She didn’t learn to read at preschool, nor via a homeschool curriculum. She just happens to enjoy books and to have a great visual memory. The other kids at her preschool were not early readers. Even those whose moms are teachers there aren’t early readers. But they have a good foundation for learning. Reading clicks when it clicks, but learning is a lot more than reading.

  57. olympia February 5, 2012 at 12:03 pm #

    I think the urge to learn to read is primal in some kids. I remember being in kindergarten, not allowed in the reading group for some reason, and being so pissed off I refused to participate with other kids in dress up play. Not a huge deal- I learned to the following year, and was soon devouring books. It was what I needed.

  58. AztecQueen2000 February 5, 2012 at 1:56 pm #

    When I had my neighbor babysit my kids, he would (GASP!) make them PLAY BALL! OUTSIDE! He wanted them running, throwing, and catching. He even bought them a ball because ours was getting too deflated. He told me that he hated seeing kids watch TV because they looked like zombies.

  59. Donna February 5, 2012 at 3:31 pm #

    SKL – I only think learning hurts kids when it takes too much precedence in kid’s lives and when they are being pushed to learn – i.e. Spanish flashcards at 3. It is not like we were perpetual moving machines who did nothing but play as children. I knew my letters and numbers (in English and Spanish thanks to Sesame Street) before kindergarten, as did all my kindergarten classmates. My mother used to write out words with dots so that I could trace them to learn my letters when I was preschool age. We also read books and did art projects. Not that different than what kids are doing in preschool today. The setting is just different.

    My point wasn’t to say that preschool is bad for kids; just that middle class kids don’t NEED preschool. They likely get everything they need for kindergarten at home through normal interactions with their parents. Underprivileged kids do need preschool as they do not get these things at home. Making academic preschools unaccredited, as someone suggested, would seriously impact this group.

    On the flip side, you now have reading programs for infants, math tutoring for toddlers, flashcards for tots, academic classes for preschoolers, etc. That is waaaay overboard.

  60. Donna February 5, 2012 at 4:13 pm #

    Not really preschoolers but I went to the beach with a friend and her kindergarten-age son today. There are two good private schools in American Samoa. My daughter goes to one and her son the other. She was telling me about some science project her son had to do for homework last week that required him to stay up until 10:00 on the last night to finish it. At 5! Since my daughter’s school is having its science fair shortly (in which kindergarteners don’t participate), I asked if this was the science fair. She said “no;” that the science fair was a completely different week-long homework science project that he was required to do. Again at 5!!! Week-long science projects and science fairs seem a bit much for kindergarteners who can’t even read yet. My kid gets a worksheet or two and we’ve been told that we need to talk to the teacher if the homework takes more than a half hour.

    She also said that her son and one other boy in the class had the only science fair projects completed by children. Her son’s was about rainbows and he got very excited when we saw the most amazingly beautiful rainbow at the beach.

  61. owen59 February 5, 2012 at 4:56 pm #

    It’s hard to believe. It is quite terrifying. As Tavris and Aronson write in their book on Cognitive Dissonance, the way to make really bad things happens is by incrementally justifying them. I wonder who will be hung out to dry when a generation of adults find they have been sentenced to a poor chronic disease life, a slow but early death, huge medical expenses.

  62. Lisa February 5, 2012 at 5:13 pm #

    Donna – I can assure as in America, Australia has many many children living in poverty who have no access to books, do not speak English, come from refugee camps, have experienced war, abuse and neglect, live in homes that are neglected, dirty, parents do not value education – really don’t think your situation is that unique, sadly it is not. I work in areas where children have to be taught how to hold a book correctly, let alone read it. Pushing academic stuff too early is not the answer.

  63. ebohlman February 5, 2012 at 6:09 pm #

    SKL: The notion that early reading can hurt kids is probably based on an overgeneralization of the observation that a small number of kids have a learning disability, called hyperlexia, in which a kid learns basic reading skills at a very early age, but then gets stuck at a very basic stage and can’t progress, even at an age where most kids are progressing. It seems to be related to autism (though many autistics start reading early and do progress).

    OTOH, pushing kids to read before they’re neurologically ready for it just results in kids who fall behind for reasons unrelated to anything that affects their long-term reading ability. It should be noted that most of the Scandinavian countries introduce reading as an academic subject far later than US/UK/Canada/Australia do, and they also have the highest adult literacy rates in the world.

    So the upshot is that if a real young kid shows a genuine interest in reading (I was one of those), it’s a good idea to accommodate it, but it’s a bad idea to push every kid to read as young as possible, and it’s a horrible idea to assume that a kid who isn’t reading at an early age will never be a good reader.

  64. Donna February 5, 2012 at 7:28 pm #

    Lisa – We are not talking about pushing academic stuff too early. We are talking about getting them to where everyone else is by the start of kindergarten. I don’t know a middle class kid who can’t say their ABCs, count to at least 10, identify their colors and spell their own name by the start of kindergarten, even without stepping foot in preschool. I know few kids living in poverty who can. Yes, they do need pre-k to simply bring them to the level of everyone else starting kindergarten.

    While I don’t doubt that there are poor kids in every country everywhere, let’s compare. Your entire country has a population of 22.8 million (compared to our 312.9 million). The number of children living in poverty in the US comes in just short of that number at 16.4 million. 11% of your children live in poverty while 22% of ours do. 370,000 million people in Australia don’t speak English. 47 million people in America speak a language other than English at home with 22 million not speaking English at all. You have about 35,000 homeless children. We have 1.6 million. The magnitude of the problem is the issue, not the uniqueness (although our high incarceration rate, almost all of whom are poor, does add a unique flavor). Things that work in small, relatively homogeneous populations don’t work in large, varied and expansive populations.

  65. SKL February 6, 2012 at 1:35 am #

    Just to clarify since I mentioned one of my kids showed signs of possible learning problems in preschool. It wasn’t that she couldn’t “read.” After years of (gentle) daily exposure, she could only identify maybe a third of capital letters and maybe 2 or 3 numerals. She could not recognize her own name in print. She was able to write (without tracing) the letter “O” only (and “O” usually looked more like “6”). Other than visual learning, she was age-appropriate or ahead developmentally. For example, skipping, which is considered an indicator of reading readiness and considered a milestone for age 5, was mastered by her before age 3. Further, she has a bio family history of learning and vision problems. Finally, at age 2.5 she was prescribed very strong glasses to correct severe astigmatism. So it wasn’t a matter of “my kid wasn’t the first to read, oh my.” She was tested for vision issues at age 3.8 and some of her visual abilities were far below the 1st %ile for her age. She needed therapy. If I had waited until years later to get her looked at, she would have struggled needlessly.

    I have studied learning disabilities a lot, and my personal family history includes both vision problems and severe dyslexia. So I probably noticed the issues sooner than most. I don’t think that makes me a “tiger mom” – but I guess it depends on whom you ask.

  66. In the Trenches February 6, 2012 at 4:03 am #

    Our city has a wonderful winter carnival on at the moment; they’re celebrating the 25th year of wonderful ice sculptures in a downtown park. New this year, though, is the sign at the entrance to the park that says something along the lines of, “There are inherent risks involved in observing ice sculptures”…risks in OBSERVING things? Like the sunlight is going to blind you, reflected off the ice? You’re not even allowed near the sculptures — it’s not like they could drip on you or anything; there’s a fence! Everybody’s afraid of things happening, and it’s not even always clear what those things are. We’ve settled into a groove of just general anxiousness and suspicion, and it’s getting pathological.

  67. kherbert February 6, 2012 at 5:29 am #

    I teach 2nd grade and was told that kids need some type of movement every 15 – 20 minutes. When they are at centers the kids are often standing around a desk, playing the game rather than sitting. I do insist they sit while using the Ipads (I have 8 in my room so a 2 kids: pre 1 Ipad situation).

    We are having behavior problems after lunch right now because we can’t go outside. Friday, the playground was still ankle deep in water with the drainage ditch knee deep in water. February is our steady rainy season because of cold fronts hitting the warm subtropic air. After last summer’s drought we are thankful for the rain, but hope the playground drains soon. On the upside we got to see ducks swimming in the ditches and crawdads and tadpoles will be up and down the drainage ditches next week.

    In Texas we must have either PE or Recess for 2.5 hours a week. My kids get 4 hours a week (30 min a day recess and 2 45 minute PE classes a week)

  68. kherbert February 6, 2012 at 5:45 am #

    In the US there is a classist/racist part to this read early thing. Head Start is a subsidized preschool program for the poor. Some people got it into their head that this meant that the poor were going to get a leg up on their above the poverty line kids, and started hot housing their kids.

    Actually the purpose was to fill in gaps that the below the poverty line kids were showing. Kids were being put into special ed because of lack of cultural memory. Urban kids not knowing milk comes from a cow, type things. The gaps were often caused by the parents having to work multiple jobs and struggling to keep their heads above water. A lack of verbal skills is often seen in these situations. I teach a G&T class in a title I school. All but 2 are considered native English speakers (some Speak Spanglish at home). Still they don’t have idioms. I joked to one kid if he didn’t sit down (I was handing out delicate science equipment and he was spinning around) that I was going to lower the boom on him.

    His mother came to see me the next day. The poor kid thought I was going to actually hit him. (Thankfully the Mother knew the idiom). Mom is upset now because I moved below the grade of her youngest – she wanted him in my class.

  69. SKL February 6, 2012 at 6:06 am #

    I wouldn’t have known what “lower the boom” meant, LOL.

    Most in my generation did not go to preschool, yet we were very ready for KG. So I agree that preschool is not necessary for all kids. However, you wouldn’t know it if you listened in to some conversations among moms “who care about their darlings.”

    For me, daycare is necessary as I’m a working single mom. I also think it has many benefits for me and my kids*, but yes, my kids could do without it. So could low-income kids if their parents would just read to them. (That was my situation as a kid.) Unfortunately I must admit that doesn’t always happen. However, from what I’ve heard from folks close to Head Start, it doesn’t really do that great a job of preparing kids to learn academics. The kids I know who have gone to Head Start were still unready for public kindergarten. There are many things at play.

    However, no, I do not believe the nanny state needs to step in. That pretty much always just makes things worse.

    *Among the benefits I see in daycare: it somewhat makes up for what we don’t have in our neighborhood: human interaction with a variety of kids and adults.

  70. Donna February 6, 2012 at 7:11 am #

    “However, from what I’ve heard from folks close to Head Start, it doesn’t really do that great a job of preparing kids to learn academics. The kids I know who have gone to Head Start were still unready for public kindergarten. There are many things at play.”

    Head Start does good job at providing academic knowledge. But that’s all it can do. It can teach kids letters, numbers and colors. It can’t make kids to care about education. It can’t make them behave when there are no consequences at home. It can’t force proper socialization when that behavior will get them killed on their streets. At the end of the day, the kids still go home to the same environments that made them ill-prepared for school in the first place. The best Head Start can hope for is to catch those few who do have supportive networks that care about success and allow them to start school not discouraging far behind.

  71. SKL February 6, 2012 at 7:25 am #

    “The best Head Start can hope for is to catch those few who do have supportive networks that care about success and allow them to start school not discouraging far behind.”

    But those folks are the ones who will read to their kids regardless of Head Start.

    Some folks strongly believe that Head Start is a huge black hole of wasted money. Personally, I don’t know enough to conclude on that either way. But a lot of money goes to that program, and if it isn’t doing much, the money should be spent on something more effective.

  72. Donna February 6, 2012 at 8:11 am #

    “But those folks are the ones who will read to their kids regardless of Head Start.”

    Not if the support system is not the family. The support system could be a mentor not with the child daily. My friends are basically raising an underprivileged child. But he’s not with them every day. He spends most weekends with them but they are not there to read to him every night. His mother is a POS and will never make him do homework, study or read. His path in life is still very uncertain but though my friends, pre-k and the wonderful teachers he’s had in public school so far, he just might not end up in prison.

    Not if the parents want better for their children but don’t know how to do it. Not if the parents themselves don’t read. Not if the parents don’t speak or read English.

    Head Start can’t work in a vaccuum. Throwing money at Head Start and not putting money in place to try to change the home environment of these kids is just a huge black hole of mostly wasted money. But few are willing to put money into intensive programs that can help, few are willing to spend their own time to help and few are willing to accept that the gains are likely to be minimal at first (we want the magic bullet, not to invest energy although it took generations to create the problems). It is much easier to dismiss the problems and call them lazy thugs. So we will likely continue to throw money in the huge black hole of Head Start because it’s at least something.

  73. SKL February 6, 2012 at 8:38 am #

    “minimal at first” – Head Start has been around for generations. At the least, it needs a major overhaul. I’m not against the concept of bridging the gaps, but I want to see relevant gaps actually bridged, and I want the cost to reflect the benefit.

    As for people not willing to volunteer – that’s not necessarily true. The schools make it hard to volunteer. I’ve done it a lot, and it gets more difficult over time. Part of this is a liability / stranger danger issue, part is frankly disinterest on the part of school staff. Once you actually get the opportunity to sit down with a kid week after week, the results are really worth it – partly because you’re showing him he’s worth it.

    I’ve worked a lot with literacy volunteer organizations and there really is an interest in helping. I’ve also worked with organizations that provide free books to families. They provide free evening seminars at the schools and libraries in low-income communities to teach parents how to help. They do it in English and Spanish. Very few parents show up, and shelves of donated books are left untouched. I know some parents can’t read, but this is a lot more than that. There are parents who work with their kids and parents who don’t – and they live next door to each other. For that matter, many of the parents who don’t care won’t even sign their kids up for Head Start (it’s not compulsory, for those outside the US).

  74. Donna February 6, 2012 at 10:03 am #

    SKL –

    Again, Head Start is almost completely worthless in a vaccuum, whether it’s been around for generations or one year. Good schools are almost completely worthless in a vaccuum. Literacy programs are almost completely worthless in a vaccuum. That is all like trying to put a band-aid on an amputated limb. The problems are so much deeper than not being able to read well. Intensive work and volunteers are needed in the community, not in the schools.

    These are kids who are growing up in an environment where education is frowned on – by their peers, by their parents, by their neighbors. Kids who want to do well in school are mocked for trying to be “white.” Kids who speak proper English are mocked for trying to be “white.” Kids have to hide their good grades to avoid being beat up on the street. School is competing with gangs for the hearts of the kids and school almost always loses.

    These kids have no roll models for people going to school, working and making a decent living. Ask many inner city kids what they want to be when they grow up and you’ll get a blank stare (once you get passed the fantasy jobs). They have no idea that there is actually life outside of day labor, welfare and the ‘hood for them. They’ve never considered a career so they have no reason for school. They do have lots of roll models for stealing, dealing drugs and getting some bling. And jail and prison is an expectation, not a negative. Nobody’s ever been run out of the ‘hood for going to prison, many have been run out for going to college. It is sad to watch a kid who gets out to go to college only to drop out because they lose the connection to the only life they know.

    The good parents who want their children to succeed are often hindered by their own thinking and lack of education. First, they don’t know what to do, how to do it and where to go. They are easily pushed aside by the more educated people they need help from. Second, there is a systematic inability to problem solve. The smallest derailment is a major obstacle. If things don’t go exactly as lined up, they go off track. People who can’t solve even the minor problems in life certainly can’t overcome the major obstacles in the move from ‘hood to college. Third, there’s also a complete lack of work ethic and sense of responsibility. They haven’t worked for anything in generations. Time, obligations, working hard are foreign concepts to them. And they will take advantage of people trying to help them. It is not that they are bad people; they simply have been given everything in their life and have no concept of enough. Fourth, they are the worst decision makers ever. They have no ability to plan for the future. Their sole interest is solving the immediate problem at hand even if the solution is not in their best interest at all.

    That’s just the tip of the iceberg. These kids need one-on-one mentors to teach them how to make decisions, how to solve problems and that there is a life outside of the ‘hood and prison.

  75. becky February 6, 2012 at 2:45 pm #

    When my oldest son was in the 1st and 2nd grade (2-3 years ago) I would occasionally go eat lunch with him and his class, then go to recess with them. My younger son, aged three or four would climb one particular piece of playground equipment, which was fine with me. It was basically like a very wide ladder that went straight up in the air, maybe to 6 or 7 feet. He climbs everything (and was 5 years old before he ever fell off anything, and wasn’t seriously hurt when he did finally fall). The school kids weren’t allowed to climb this particular piece of equipment, even though it was there on the playground, so they would gather around my little one and marvel as he climbed to the top. The teachers who were monitoring recess were clearly on high alert, but didn’t ever say anything since I was there.

  76. Leslie February 6, 2012 at 11:10 pm #

    Too many women are running the schools now. We tend to protect our babies and I think a lot of de-masulinity of our boys is taking place at the schools. No dodge ball, no running, no rough housing, no climing.

  77. Uly February 7, 2012 at 7:42 am #

    No spelling either, Leslie….

    Lots and lots of gender essentialism, however.

  78. Digit February 8, 2012 at 1:10 am #

    Lack of education is not isolated to inner cities and immigrant populations. I experienced the same thing growing up in rural, California where the old families traced their history in the area back to the gold rush. I was lucky, my mother had a college education and I didn’t have a family clan in the area telling me I’d never amount to anything because none of them had ever amounted to anything, but I was bullied by my class mates because I used four syllable words. Fortunately, most of our teachers were imports, so there was no lack of opportunity in the public schools.

  79. janelle February 8, 2012 at 1:03 pm #

    @ Rachel…in regards to no helmet on a scooter. My 2 1/2 year old rides a little push bike around and it never occurred to me that he would need a helmet. I see many other little ones riding trikes or similar push bikes w/ helmets and honestly it seems so awkward for the kids.

  80. ariel February 8, 2012 at 1:24 pm #

    reading all of these makes me think about my daycare days. Cathedral Park Daycare, in downtown Buffalo, NY.
    in summer, i was an all day kid. some mornings we’d start out inside and move outside, sometimes they’d already be outside when mom dropped me off. sometimes we’d start off inside but then there’d be a fire drill, and instead of going back in, ms lori would let us stay outside. for awhile, we didnt have a playground, just a large fenced in area where we reigned. the daycare was on the metro train route, which had no fare once it got above ground downtown, so sometime s they’d take us down a few stations to other grassy areas, sometimes we’d go in the other direction to the end of the line and play at the waterfront. at the waterfront, there was a lighthouse and some days we’d all climb the stairs to the top. other times we’d go listen to the band-of-the-day that played in front of the nearest bank around lunchtime. point is, most of the time i remember was spent outside ‘playing’ jumanji or butterfly fairies. even during lunch was fun, cause sometimes mom (who worked a block down) would take me out for lunch.

  81. Dolly February 11, 2012 at 2:23 pm #

    I have a son with special needs. He has a severe speech delay and some mild autistic tendencies. I got him evaluated by Early Intervention and the school system. They wanted to put him in Head Start Monday through Friday 9-2, They would not let his twin brother attend school with him. I told them that was too much time for a 3 year old to be away from me and his home and in school. I asked about a part time schedule and they refused. So I declined the offer. I know a lot of parents would have loved free daycare like that but no way. not for my boy. He needs to be with his family and I take my kids to playgrounds, museums, zoos, etc all the time to enrich them.

    I think he has done better with the Tuesday Thursday 9-12 for 3 year olds and Monday Wednesday Friday 9-12 for 4 year olds program I put them both into. It is part time. It is enough prep that they learn classroom routine and get their kindergarten prep, but they also get plenty of time with me and we do other things. They also take them outside on the playground or the gym for 30 minutes every day for part of that 3 hours.

  82. Matthew February 11, 2012 at 10:11 pm #

    Sometimes you need to take a little risk to live. If schools are so afraid of lawsuits that they can’t allow the kids to be kids & give them what is best for them, then why are we even sending them? What’s next?

    “This letter is to inform you that due to liability reasons, the district has decided that beginning next school year, all schooling from now on will take place in the home. We will be sending curriculum home for students to complete. The district wants to ensure the safety of all students (& no longer wants the liability of having them in their buildings).

    Actually, this might be better for the kid anyways. Lol! I know, not all parents can stay @ home. Just a little joke. My point is that school districts keep further restricting their own liability, eventually it will just be too risky for them to even educate your kids @ all, & then what?

  83. Jenn February 12, 2012 at 4:43 am #

    @Janelle -I’ve always worn a helmet skiing, biking, on ice, etc., long before it was the law in my district and make my children do the same for a couple of reasons. In one month I had a friend riding his bike and was waiting at an intersection for the light to change when he got hit my a truck. He fell his skull was cracked, so badly that there were pieces of his brain on the asphalt. Later that month a 5 year old neighbour was riding his trike on his driveway and lost control rolling down the slope of the driveway. A motorist didn’t see him coming and he suffered brain damage from the impact (no other injuries). I know these are freak accidents but the severity of both could have been prevented by wearing a helmet. I always wear mine to set an example to my children. My children have worn theirs as soon as they were riding a bicycle as 12 months. Some people may think I’m paranoid but this is one simple way that people can be protected from a real danger. You versus a car or a tree while skiing, you won’t win!

  84. Lin March 3, 2012 at 11:47 am #

    I heard of a couple of primary (elementary) schools here in Australia where kids are not allowed to run in the playground…


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