- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 19, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The press has been reporting for several years now how schools are becoming overly restrictive about what children can and cannot do during recess — stopping children from being, well, children.

The latest case springs from Kent Gardens Elementary School in McLean, Va., where the principal recently banned tag because it brought out “intense aggression” in children. Some parents support the principal’s move; some parents don’t. (We fall in the latter group.)

By the time youngsters hit the school playground, they’ve probably been inside for at least three but perhaps four hours. Allowing them to run, scream and otherwise exhale when they hit the out-of-doors is a good and necessary thing.

How much have we read and heard in recent years about increasing child-obesity rates? How much have we heard in recent years that adult couch potatoes are raising younger versions of themselves whose proclivity is not so much manic TV viewing, but wasting hour upon hour playing video games? The younger generation also has begun another sedentary trend: social networking online. It’s one thing when letter-writing falls to technology. But virtual networking and online chatting mustn’t replace face-to-face chit-chat.

The lack of physical activity can cause problems for children and adults alike. Both groups need to get up and move. Also, school recess aids youngsters with their social skills. They learn very early on that whether playing tag, dodgeball, shooting marbles, jumping rope or participating in team sports that success on any level means compromising and negotiating as you play along. Conflict resolution, as many school districts call it today.

Adults need to learn something, too — that playing games like tag and dodgeball are as American as apple pie. Yet our schools are banning such schoolyard traditions.

Here’s what USA Today reported in June 2006: “Elementary schools in Cheyenne, Wyo., and Spokane, Wash., banned tag at recess this year. Others, including a suburban Charleston, S.C., school, dumped contact sports such as soccer and touch football.

“In other cities, including Wichita; San Jose, Calif.; Beaverton, Ore.; and Rancho Santa Fe., Calif., schools took similar actions earlier.”

The bans were passed in the name of safety, but some children’s health advocates say limiting exercise and free play can inhibit a child’s development.”

Some of parents at McLean’s Kent Gardens welcomed the principal’s decision as a needed safety precaution. Others said it’s over-reaching. “We are regulating the fun out of normal childhood activity,” said Jan van Tol, who has a sixth-grade child at the school. “In our effort to be so overprotective, we are not letting children be children.”

And Joe Frost, emeritus professor of early childhood education at the University of Texas-Austin, told USA Today that such playground restrictions are harmful: “You’re taking away the physical development of the children. Having time for play is essential for children to keep their weight under control.”

The principal at Kent Gardens said she will likely reverse the ban. Parents and students certainly hope she sticks to that proposition.

Warm temperatures have come early to the D.C. area, and anticipation by children and parents everywhere is that the weather will stay accommodating to outdoor activities. Schools should let the children get up and move.

There’s a most important lesson for school officials who want to continue the trend of banning fun and games like tag and dodgeball and team sports like soccer from the playground. It is this: Schools are for learning — academics as well as the art of sports.


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