I’m 49. My birthday was last week. The last time I had recess, Jimmy Carter was president. Words like playdate, organic, and sensory were pretty much unheard of…because they hadn’t been invented yet…or at least they weren’t popular or relevant in the context of stuff moms talk about.
So, it’s been a long time, but I still remember recess. I was a really awkward kid. In fourth grade, I was a short adult who read John Irving novels, although I didn’t quite understand all the “grownup parts.” Awkward or not, when that recess bell rang, my pigtailed, knee-sock wearing self was out there on the playground running around with all the other kids.
Tag. Freeze tag. Dodge ball. Kick ball. Red rover. Hide and seek.
We ran around or approximately 15 minutes while the designated teachers supervised us…which in the 70’s, I’m pretty sure meant taking a smoke break and gabbing about Watergate or whether gaucho pants would ever go out of style. They kept an eye on the playground to make sure no one needed to go to the nurse’s office. Back then, the solution to any cut and scrape was that red mercurochrome stuff that hurt worse than whatever scrape landed you in her office…we used to call it monkey blood.
The playground isn’t always a battleground but when active kids get together to release pent-up classroom energy, accidents happen. Kids fall down, get knocked around. Sometimes there are tears…sometimes there’s blood. It’s part of being a kid…right?
My two boys are in kindergarten this year. They come home full of tales about the things that happen on the playground…they’ve mentioned “tag” a couple of times and in this age of digital everything, it makes me smile to see some things don’t change.
But will they? It looks like tag might be on the chopping block.
I read an article last week in the Washington Post that discussed how a school in Washington state banned tag because it posed a threat to the student’s “physical and emotional safety.” Tag involves tagging, right? Touching.
The article didn’t go into detail but there were apparently some instances of tag-related injuries that prompted the tagging ban. Student safety and the need to enforce respect for the personal space of others…blah blah blah. Here’s the gist:
“The Mercer Island School District and school teams have recently revisited expectations for student behavior to address student safety. This means while at play, especially during recess and unstructured time, students are expected to keep their hands to themselves. The rationale behind this is to ensure the physical and emotional safety of all students.”
I know times have changed. I know the world my five-year-old boys live in today is not the same world I lived in when I went to Kindergarten in 1971. But banning tag goes too far…especially when the reason behind the ban is to “protect the emotional well-being of children.” I call bullshit on that.
Kids have structure in school, in sports and extracurricular activities and probably at home. There’s more pressure than ever involved in being a kid. Kindergarten is the new first grade and parents are starting to think about football scholarships and Ivy League education in about the fifth grade, which is way too early, in my opinion.
Leave the playground games alone and let them enjoy being children for a few short minutes a day. Everything doesn’t need to be structured, and while safety and emotional well-being are certainly important, we don’t need over-zealous watchdogs creating problems that don’t exist.
Participation in a game of tag probably isn’t going to result in childhood trauma. I mean…it’s pretty unlikely that some kid is going to grow up to be a twisted, degenerate adult who cries “it’s all because of that game of tag in second grade” as he leaves the courtroom in shackles and an orange jump suit to begin his new life in maximum security.
There’s a huge gap between a game of tag and unnecessary roughness or inappropriate touching. Our kids need time to just be kids without educators with a bunch of fancy letters after their names making a playground game into something it’s not. Some people might call that “borrowing trouble.” I just call it stupid. If it’s happening at an elementary school in Washington state, is my school next?
I mean…think about it: how many kids do you know who are overweight? Inactive? How many kids do you know that spend all of their free time playing video games? It seems to me there are a lot more pressing problems facing our youth than whether tag is going to damage emotional well-being.
But things have a happy ending. The parents of kids in Mercer Island, Washington thankfully have better sense than some of the people making policy for the elementary schools in that district. The parent-led movement to reinstate tag at recess was a success and the school administrators kind of sort of not really admitted they made a bad call in banning the popular playground game in the first place.
The red flag for me is this: the school board made the decision to ban tag without any attempt to get the parent’s take on this “issue.” The parent reaction to the ridiculousness of banning tag on the playground was swift and effective. Hopefully the educators in the Mercer Island schools are paying attention to the fact that the parents are paying attention.
Should a kerfluffle at a school clear across the country concern this mom in Texas? Should it concern you? Maybe. I’m almost two months into the new school year and I’m to the point where I’m complaining about the PTA moms and rolling my eyes because I’m tired of hearing about Box Tops for Education and the crap they want my kid me to sell for important stuff my school taxes don’t cover…and no, I’m not exactly clear on what kind of important stuff.
But just maybe reading crazy shit like this was good timing. Maybe I do need to get a little more involved and suffer through some of the PTA politics and long, long discussions on whether scented candles beat out ready-made pizza kits for a successful fundraiser. Maybe I need to be involved and more aware.
The people making the decisions at the school my kids go to seem like reasonable people. But I think I’m gonna start paying more close attention…because if I start hearing crazy talk about banning tag at recess, you bet your bippy I’m gonna raise that bullshit flag.
You can count on it.
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