Let kids play outside, and get out of their way

From Shine today,

"Danger on the Playground: Riding the Slide with Your Toddler in Your Lap Could Break Her Leg"

It's not only sticks and stones that may break your bones, but your parents insisting you're too fragile to go it alone. Alex wants you to know he's been saying this for a while. Although given that Wally's been nose-diving down slides for well over three years, it may not have applied to me. (I do like riding down with him on my lap sometimes, but that's only because I get weird looks when I go by myself.)

A more interesting article, in my opinion, was linked from that one, published last July. "Have playgrounds become too safe for kids?" It's not only that they're too safe and therefore boring, but that they're not teaching kids how to be independent, handle fear, and gradually master new challenges. Basically, overprotecting kids doesn't actually protect them, and in many cases does the opposite, leaving them vulnerable to a world they're scared of and don't have the coping skills to navigate. 

It's not just playgrounds themselves that expose this disturbing trend of safety measures that are detrimental and even dangerous, but the whole issue of play and the way its treated. School recess is being phased out or already has been in 40% of U.S. schools due to budget-cuts and need for extra test prep time. Tag is banned in many schools that still have recess because it's considered dangerous. Tag! Dodge ball I can understand. I remember hating dodge ball. I could never dodge. I was always pelted. But I think it's good to suck at things and still be forced to do them. 

This article "Why kids need recess and exercise" by Denene Millner that ran April 3 of this year in parenting and ccn is worth reading.

My sister, a public middle school math teacher, has been writing letters about how the current testing mandates undermine learning and exact a high cost in instruction time (including time for grading the tests) and sending around this petition. Here our current pre-occupations dovetail, a rare occurrence, given that recess time in grade schools is sometimes sacrificed in favor of additional test prep time as it did for the 4th-grade daughter of Ms. Millner as described in the above-mentioned article. Here she writes:

"I could see the toll it was taking on my daughter Mari, when, two weeks before fourth-grade testing, she dragged herself off the bus and into our kitchen--exhausted, tense, and frazzled. Turns out the only break she'd had during her six-and-a-half-hour school day was for a 22-minute lunch (quiet talking only). Recess had been "suspended" for two weeks so the teachers could get in extra test prep--and by this point Mari hadn't seen the monkey bars, bounced across a hopscotch board, or breathed fresh air for days.

She was toast.

And I was fuming.

I mean, prisoners get more time out on the yard than the fourth-graders at my kid's school--and I thought it terribly unfair that my 9-year-old was being denied something as basic as a respite from her classroom. This recess hiatus was a problem. The anecdotal proof was sitting--melting down--before my eyes. And, as it turns out, there is plenty of hard evidence, too. A recent multicenter study of more than 11,000 eight- and nine-year-olds, led by pediatric researchers at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, in New York City, showed that kids who had at least 15 minutes of recess a day (even just 15 minutes!) behaved better in class."

I'm glad there is more awareness about this issue. I loved recess. And I miss see-saws. 


  1. Yes! I came across a similar article almost exactly 2 years ago (funny timing!) http://integrativemom.com/prevention/slides-fractures/ ...i have to bite my tongue every time i see an adult sliding with a baby. I miss see-saws, merry-go-rounds, jungle gyms, and ridiculously tall metal slides. :) but you're lucky- you can frequent the Imaginarium playground near South St Seaport!

  2. The recess thing gets to me, too! Every year, parents of public school kids are given a survey to fill out. Of course, it is multiple choice, with no write-ins allowed. They ask is there too much test prep, not enough, etc, etc. But nowhere on the form do they ask about recess! And every year I want to write in huge letters across the form that elementary school kids need more time outside every day than the 20 minutes that they currently get at PS 39.


  3. Hi Holly. Thanks for writing and sending that link. Yes - we are lucky with the Imagination Playground nearby. What's funny is every time I've gone, part is blocked off for safety reasons. Americans definitely aren't as comfortable as Europeans with risk-taking. Why is threat of litigation so high here compared to other places?

    The (relatively) new Union Square playground is great, too, with some ridiculously tall metal slides, crazy merry go-round, and giant globe thing where kids can just scramble up to the top and hang out, then slide down when they're ready. All the things there seem somewhat, I wouldn't say dangerous, but a little more challenging than the standard, cookie-cutter places.

    d: 20 minutes outside is definitely not enough! Didn't we get that just for snack, and then the main recess after lunch? Sometimes even a third in the afternoon. I'm assuming they have gym as well but they really need MUCH more time to run free, to be OUTSIDE and to play in an unstructured way. Do you make a note on the form? I'm feeling really encouraged about how much attention this issue is getting. It's overwhelming when you look at it nationally, but taken school by school (bird by bird), it's easy to be optimistic. If enough parents at PS 39 mention it, write letters, sign petitions -- who knows? Maybe things will change. What's crazy too is how many behavioral issues might be resolved simply by increasing recess time.

  4. Rachel, Great post! Not sure I can possibly agree more, frankly. I have a fourth grader just finishing up his last day of the math assessments. It's been stressful for him, and it's true that gym and recess are getting shorter shrift lately, but to our school's credit, it's not been done away with completely. As for the unsafe playground issue, DON'T get me started! ;) Here's a post I wrote on that subject a while back: http://deniseschipani.com/are-our-kids-bored-by-playgrounds/

    And thanks for visiting/commenting on my site!


  5. I enjoyed your post on boring playgrounds. Yay! Commented over there but will copy here in the hopes of enticing any stray readers from this site to click over to your article.

    "Love this love this love this!!! Thank you. So great to see you are thinking about these things, too. I love your description of equipment from the past just kind of sitting there, leaving the decision about how to use them up to the kids. “Climb me, or not.”

    It’s really crazy to think that playground equipment that’s too safe is not only boring, but in the long run, dangerous, by not allowing kids to gauge their skills and handle risk. It’s like the new brand of parenting has taken on giant essential piece out of the process of childhood: learning."


Post a Comment

Popular Posts