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Tag, You're Out!

Three weeks ago, students at Kent Gardens Elementary School in McLean were told tag was out at recess. Too dangerous, said the principal. The move sparked a debate at the school, a committee formed and tag is coming back.

Sadly, Kent Gardens Elementary is far from the only school that has banned tag. County school "no touch" rules combined with too little playground supervision has sparked this kind of ban throughout the area.

The elementary school my son attends is no exception. Early in the year, tag and tug-of-war with jump ropes became off limits. It's hard to blame the principal for issuing the edict. Students were reportedly injured on the playground and the school has only two recess aides supervising more than 100 kids each half hour.

Playground supervision is such a problem throughout Montgomery County that parents at Potomac Elementary School surveyed other schools earlier this year about potential playground solutions. The introduction to the survey indicated that parents at the school were concerned because two monitors are assigned to supervise up to 200 children on three playgrounds and a soccer field at recess.

Three children at the school suffered broken bones at recess, reports Potomac Elementary PTA Treasurer Leslie Greenberg. Before the school and parents worked to implement changes, the playground had unsafe equipment and the school banned soccer and tag. "Soccer was banned but was reinstated after a major backlash and new rules instituted," Greenberg says. And the new playground equipment? The PTA is funding most of it. Plus, parents are now volunteering on the playgrounds.

The issue of playground safety is also reflected in county Superintendent Jerry Weast's 2009 recommended budget:

"A safe school environment requires that sufficient recess coverage is available on school playgrounds. Some schools do not have sufficient coverage, either because of the number of students at recess at a particular time or because of physical obstacles that make it more difficult to see parts of the playground area. Safety concerns require an increase in the number of lunch hour aides available for recess duty. This initiative would get to a 45:1 ratio of students to lunch-hour aides."

Maybe we could just tell the teachers -- or their union -- "tag, you're it" when it comes to recess? That's how it worked at my elementary school.

What are your children's experiences at your schools? Is tag in or out? What else is banned? Who supervises? What's the adult to student ratio?

This Week's Talkers: Video: How Kids Can Make a Difference on Earth ... Take Two on Time Off ... For Children, a Better Beginning ... Want a Boy? Eat Cereal! ... Mommy Makeover Book Is Not a Fairy Tale

By Stacey Garfinkle |  April 25, 2008; 8:30 AM ET  | Category:  Elementary Schoolers
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Good grief. Time to wrap the kiddies in bubblewrap before sending them out of the house, to forstall any bumps or bruises. Let's coddle them to death! No wonder childhood obesity is rampant--kids are now forbidden to play now.

Posted by: Phillyfilly | April 25, 2008 8:46 AM | Report abuse

On a somewhat related note. This week is National Playground Safety week, sponsered by the National Program for Playground Safety (NPPS). And the CPSC just released their latest updated guidelines on public playground safety. The CPSC doesn't really cover supervision in depth, since they consider all playgrounds (parks, churches, communities, and school). But the NPPS forcuses more on schools is very concerned with supervision.

Now about supervision, 45:1 is ridiculous!! On the other hand, surprision will not prevent all playground incidents. Nor will banning certains games that have been played for generations. Ibet kids these days have never played red rover. Bummer.

Posted by: RT | April 25, 2008 8:51 AM | Report abuse

This is so stupid. First all the fun equipment goes away (seen a teeter-totter or merry-go-round in a playground in the past 10 years?). Then, when we make the universe-shaking discovery that kids can still manage to get hurt, the games have to go, too. I mean, jump rope? Jeez. At this rate, in another 5 years, "recess" is going to turn into 20 minutes of walking quietly around the playground single-file.

The problem is that the least common denominator rules. One parent complains about something, and it goes -- because should a kid later get hurt doing that "something," the school has been forewarned about the danger, and can therefore be sued for keeping such "dangerous" stuff around. So one by one, "play" gets a little more circumscribed, a little more controlled, a little less fun.

The danger of this approach is that you take away kids' opportunities to try new things, to run free, to do something a little scary. You teach them that someone else is always going to be there to tell them what to do and prevent them from getting hurt.

Maybe what the school needs is a release form, like they make you sign for anything else fun nowadays -- something that says, I have viewed the playground equipment, I understand there will be X adults present for each Y number of students, I understand games like tag and dodgeball will be played, and I authorize my kid to play under those conditions. If a particular mom or dad (or kid) doesn't agree, then there can be a separate, calmer recess in the cafeteria, where they can play checkers or something.

Posted by: Laura | April 25, 2008 8:51 AM | Report abuse

As an older twenty something with no children who was allowed to be a child growing up, I find this excessive coddling by parents ridiculous. Are you trying to make the children's lives easier, or are you trying to make you're own, unfulfilled lives better?

Posted by: Will | April 25, 2008 8:54 AM | Report abuse

As far as I know tag is still acceptable at our local elementary school. I am not aware of any off limits playground games at all. Kids fall, kids get hurt. I am not sure what the adult:kid ratio on the playground is at lunch. The kids are allowed to go home for lunch and many do. The school had 3 aides that are exclusively lunch supervision and there are several parents who volunteer as well. I know that recess times are handled by the classroom teachers once or twice a day depending on the grade level.

Posted by: Momof5 | April 25, 2008 9:13 AM | Report abuse

Sounds like a perfect opportunity to utilize parent volunteers. Requires little prior training, and brings members of the community into the schools.

Posted by: David S | April 25, 2008 9:15 AM | Report abuse

Aside from the fact that I also believe kids should be allowed to run, play, and get hurt, I take issue with requiring teachers to supervise recess. Your child's teacher spend 5-6 hours a day, in a room filled with 20-30 kids (depending on grade and state/school district). Your 1st grader's teacher probably only gets a 30 minute lunch break, and possibly another 30 minute prep-period every day. Whn do you expect the teacher to eat lunch? Or to re-charge so that she/he can remind your little one of proper behavior without turning into a screaming shrew? By all means - give the kids more time on the playground, and fund the adult supervision through taxes, the PTA, parent volunteers, whatever works. But don't ask our underpaid teachers, whose workday is NOT the 8:30am - 2:30pm your kid is in the classroom, to give up their lunch breaks too.

Posted by: jb in va | April 25, 2008 9:27 AM | Report abuse

You missed the point-- the parents ARE wanting their kids to get more play, it is the principal that is tamping down the fun!

Posted by: to will | April 25, 2008 9:33 AM | Report abuse

"Aside from the fact that I also believe kids should be allowed to run, play, and get hurt, I take issue with requiring teachers to supervise recess. Your child's teacher spend 5-6 hours a day, in a room filled with 20-30 kids (depending on grade and state/school district). Your 1st grader's teacher probably only gets a 30 minute lunch break, and possibly another 30 minute prep-period every day. Whn do you expect the teacher to eat lunch? "

Sorry - when teachers eat lunch is a management issue, not a parent issue. I do expect that the playground will be adequately supervised, NOT in order to prevent every -- or even the majority of every -- scratch, bump or bruise, but to prevent bullying and stupid behavior that goes on for 30 minutes until someone gets hurt.

Back in the day, teachers AND principals were out on the playground with their classes at recess. They had a presence, they knew what behavior to stop, the kids reasonably listened to them, and there were 4 - 7 of them for 150 - 200 kids. Teachers ate lunch before or after recess during special area classes, or an aide came into their respective classrooms to cover while the kids worked independently. Whatever - again -- figuring out how to provide lunch for faculty members is a management issue, but it's simply not acceptable to have two aides whose sole job description is to write up an incident report if someone gets hurt and herd all the kids back in the school after recess, for 200 children, and then to characterize that supervision as adequate.

Posted by: MN | April 25, 2008 9:43 AM | Report abuse

Amazing I managed to survive to adulthood, what with all that life-threatening tag and jumping rope in my childhood.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 25, 2008 9:56 AM | Report abuse

Mrs. Hooker has been at Kent Gardens for THRITY YEARS. She has most likely seen thousands of games of tag being played on her playground since her arrival there. She is not an idiot or a moron or trying to "coddle the babies" as some of you like to think. She is doing her job. Regardless of what the game is called "tag" or "soccer" or "insert any name here" if kids are getting hurt she must stop it. Doesn't matter if it's a game that has been played for centuries or millenia. If kids get hurt, it must stop, bottom line. Clearly she was open to bringing it back to the school which is why it is back. But she needed to send a message to her 900 students that playing rough and agressive tag at recess was not going to be allowed, and that's exactly what she did. How many parents have stepped forward to volunteer to help monitor playground safety? It is absolutely not the teacher's job. Those 30 mins are some of the precious few they have to use the bathroom and eat and maybe make a phone call.

I'm disappointed the Post rushed to nail Mrs. Hooker as an idiot when she has been a public servant doing a fabulous job for 30 years. Shame on you for not reporting that angle and just listening the loud mouthed parents who want Billy to be able to knock over kids at recess.

Posted by: Give this Principal a break | April 25, 2008 10:06 AM | Report abuse

What about the loudmouthed parents who expect that their little Tommy will go through life unscathed by any bruise or harsh remark.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 25, 2008 10:19 AM | Report abuse

This is the kind of thing that made us decide to move our son to an all-boys' school. As far as I can tell, the only recess rule is "Don't throw anything bigger than your head." Judging by how filthy he is when he comes home, I think mud balls are the object of choice...

Posted by: Hill Mom | April 25, 2008 10:21 AM | Report abuse

This has just gone too far - no wonder kids would rather sit inside and play video games and watch tv then go outside...what are they supposed to do outside? stand around, talk, maybe have a couple frappachino things or maybe something from the dollar menu? when are they going to ban running on the playground? or gym? hopscotch poses an incredible risk to your ankles! No!

Posted by: ballgame | April 25, 2008 10:22 AM | Report abuse

Can't speak for this situation, but when I was growing up, the rule was that in grades K and 1, you had 30 minutes of recess a day or 30 minutes of PE a day. The teacher supervised it and she ate lunch got it, lunch. In 2nd to 6th grade you got 30 minutes of PE a day with no recess. The closest thing I got to recess after 1st grade was in 4th grade when my teacher said we can't have "recess," but we can have what she called "Coffee Breaks." We went outside and we could chit-chat under a tree, but we couldn't "play" because that would have been "recess," which in 4th grade wasn't allowed.

Posted by: Rob | April 25, 2008 10:22 AM | Report abuse

I went to elementary school in Fairfax County in the late 80s and early 90s. As far as I can remember, my teacher ate lunch while we were at lunch and then came out on the playground to watch us with the other teachers who had lunch/recess at that time.

When I was in 4th grade my best friend broke her arm at recess when she dismounted from the bars and her feet slipped on the gravel underneath. It was gross and she cried and she had a cast for about 6 weeks. I think that was also the year I got a black eye when a mean boy in my class threw a basketball at my face. He got in trouble and my eye healed. Did both of those things suck? Sure, but we both lived through it.

Some of my favorite memories of elementary school are when my 6th grade teacher would play football with us. He was always the quarterback and would make sure that anyone who wanted to play got a chance to catch the ball. We were supposed to play 2-hand touch, but sometimes we tackled. He would remind us not to be so rough, but we always ended up a little sweaty and dirty anyway. Our games would probably be too rough for today's kids, but I wouldn't trade them for anything. I learned about sports, teamwork, taking turns and that everyone deserves a chance to shine.

Posted by: Jenn in NJ | April 25, 2008 10:50 AM | Report abuse

This smacks of the now too common "punish everyone" instead of dealing with the individuals. Just a continuation of zero tolerance. NO COMMON SENSE.

Posted by: Liz | April 25, 2008 10:59 AM | Report abuse

I can't believe jumping rope was banned. What is going to kill our kids over the long term is heart disease and complications from Type 2 diabetes. That is really sad!

When I was an ed assistant in the early 90s we had two teachers and one ed assistant supervise the school at recess - about 350 students. Was that a great ratio? Not really if the teachers had to be spotting each activity, but it was adequate for being on-call for kids who were getting hurt, stepping in about bullying, etc.

A big part of that being safe was really going over the rules with the students seasonally. At our school they had eliminated "British bulldog" and red rover and murderball (sigh... as a kid I LOVED british bulldog even if it was entirely excessively violent), and there were rules about throwing things and hitting people etc.

At the beginning of the year, and again in the spring, there would be extra teachers outside to set the tone appropriately. It was also a well-designed playground with good sightlines.

One of the principals would occasionally come out as well, and take the opportunity to walk around and talk to the kids. So important for all-around discipline, that one.

As for the prep issue - yes, losing the recess break was sometimes hard (as one of 4 ed assistants I was out 1 day one week 2 days the next or something like that). But it wasn't every day, and I think most teachers saw it as a chance to connect with kids. The worst part was squeezing in going to the bathroom as the kids were coming back in.

Lunch supervision was handled differently.

I have so many opinions about this but my main one is that I personally think recess works best when teachers get out with the students and show them how to play games. It engages the kids in positive play and then they carry on on their own.

The vast majority of serious accidents I witnessed or heard about were related to pushing or climbing on things not designed for it or bad swing behaviour.

I don't think the goal of recess should be zero minor accidents, but safe and quick response to minor accidents, and elimination of as many of the major ones as possible. But wherever there are stairs, there is a danger.

Posted by: Shandra | April 25, 2008 11:12 AM | Report abuse

"But wherever there are stairs, there is a danger."

Let me amend that: wherever there are KIDS, there is danger. :-)

Posted by: Laura | April 25, 2008 11:17 AM | Report abuse

Its not jumping rope that was banned, it was tug of war with jump ropes. And while I think all of the rest of this banning stuff is nonsense, I will side with the schools on this one. Tug of war is too dangerous to even be allowed as a Guinness Book Record activity, because when tuggers use the wrong type of rope or line, such as a jump rope, one that has too much elasticity, the rope can snap, or worse, recoil and there have been many many cases of beheadings and other limb amputations. Google it, it's grisly. Tag, however, should be allowed, as should most other games that children play.

Posted by: mdsails | April 25, 2008 11:25 AM | Report abuse

This is a specific school that had a higher than usual rate of injuries due to the outside activities. The PTA also approved banning these activites, but shock of shocks, only the princiapl gets blames for "taking away fun." Sheesh -- do some research before writing inflamatory columns such as this one.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 25, 2008 11:34 AM | Report abuse

While I agree that the incessant coddling of children is absurd, I find all the criticism of the pricipal and school system somewhat hypocritical and arrogant. The reason schools take these stands now, and didn't when we were all young, is due entirely to the spectre of litigation, not to the coddling of children. When little Johnny breaks his arm on the playground these days, it is not the Principal nor the teachers who sue the school system because the child fell down, it is the parents of said child. The Administrators of the schools have a fiduciary responsibility to the taxpayers (the same parents who have lawyers on retainer ready to sue) to protect the school and the government from needless litigation. If we must lay blame for this type of hypersensitive treatment of children, we need look no further than the nearest reflective surface.

Of course not every parent sues, but enough do that this has become a major issue for administrators. And it is not just schools, but sports leagues, pool clubs, parks and playgrounds and on and on. Sometimes it's just easier to point fingers than blame ourselves.

Posted by: Jeff Redmon | April 25, 2008 11:39 AM | Report abuse

Oh sorry, I misread what was banned on the jumprope issue.

Posted by: Shandra | April 25, 2008 11:51 AM | Report abuse

mdsails -
I didn't realize there have been many cases of beheadings from playing tug of war. I wonder why I've never heard of any. Seems like it would be great fodder for the round-the-clock cable news shows.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 25, 2008 11:51 AM | Report abuse

Teachers supervise students in all FCPS schools with which I am familiar. We eat lunch when the kids have lunch. We have planning time when the kids have "specials." We have preparation time either in the AM for late opening schools or in the PM for early opening schools, or a little of both at middle of the road opening schools.

I've seen teachers (mostly the male teachers) playing football, baseball, etc. with students, teachers actively supervising students, and teachers huddled talking to each other.

When injuries increase, a faculty committee reviews the pattern of injuries and makes a recommendation to the principal, who makes a decision what to do or not do. Banning a game for three weeks and then reintroducing it with modifiend rules seems appropriate to me. You can't just let kids keep getting injured.

Posted by: fcps parent and teacher | April 25, 2008 11:52 AM | Report abuse

Maybe if we had a health care system that covered everyone, we wouldn't have as many lawsuits over injuries.

Also, its not always the parents that sue. Your health insurance company can sue to recover its cost. Same is true at home. A friend's kid breaks a leg on your trampoline. You're covered under your homeowner's policy. Your homeowner's policy goes after the trampoline manufacturer. Don't totally blame lawsuit happy parents. There is a lot that goes on behind the scenes.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 25, 2008 12:04 PM | Report abuse

Quibbling over semantics. Yes, of course insurance companies sue, along with political action groups and human rights organization and many others. But also yes, some parents sue as well, not all, but some.

The point is not WHO is sueing, but the fact that law suits are infinitely more prevalent today then they were when we were children. That is the driving force behind this type of over-reaction.

And while insurance companies and other may sue, I doubt that many of them are on this forum calling the Administrators and school boards names.

Posted by: Jeff Redmon | April 25, 2008 12:20 PM | Report abuse

Nice contrast to the "9 yo independent son" issue

Posted by: Liz D | April 25, 2008 12:55 PM | Report abuse

This isn't anything new -- I'm in my early twenties and my elementary school in Montgomery County, MD banned tag (and any other "chase games") for similar reasons when I was in 4th grade or so. This may be another wave, but it isn't a new concept (unfortunately -- I was among the first generations to have swings banned at recess because someone might get hurt by them; my elementary school didn't even have any built into its playground).

Posted by: I wish this was a new phenomenon.... | April 25, 2008 1:32 PM | Report abuse

I'm with Hill Mom. My daughter attends an all-girl independent school and these kids get filthy during recess (twice a day). I had to laugh the other day when a few of my daughter's friends were reprimanded for eating wild onions at recess. My daughter did it too (didn't get caught, though) but thought that they were in trouble for eating school property! I laughed so hard! I explained that they weren't really "in trouble" but the teachers didn't want the girls randomly eating weeds etc. because some are poisonous and they've not been taught which are safe yet. Kids will dare each other to do the weirdest things, though!

Posted by: 21117 | April 25, 2008 2:00 PM | Report abuse

That's funny about the girls chewing on wild onions. I did that as a child also, and we used to chew on what was known as sourweed. It was a plant that, as I recall, grew about a foot or foot-and-a-half tall with a rigid stem and reddish fuzzy-looking flowers (??) on the top. We would chew on the stem and drink the sour-tasting juice inside. We survived that, so it must not have been poisonous. :)

It's a good idea to be quite cautious about what the kids put in their mouths, even though we did such crazy things way back in the day. I'd really hate to hear of a kid ingesting a poisonous plant, whether or not it was on a dare.

Posted by: Lynne | April 25, 2008 3:07 PM | Report abuse

I think that many of these e-mial repsones are missing the point. If Mountgomery County Schools would allocate more teachers/aides/employess to overseee the large number of chldren on the playground, many issues including bullying, safety, rough play would be addressed. I don't think any logical parent thinks that some of the dangers on the playground are unavoidable. It's all about increasing the SUPERVISION during this much needed time of play.

Posted by: Tammy | April 27, 2008 12:58 PM | Report abuse

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