Adventure playgrounds pop up in cities

New York City children play at a “pop-up” adventure playground on Governor’s Island.

Urban adventure playgrounds — with adult monitors, but no hovering parents — are giving city children a chance to explore, writes Katherine Martinelli in The Atlantic.

The idea started in Europe after World War II, when children turned bomb sites into do-it-yourself playgrounds.

The primary components of an adventure playground are moveable parts (which can include items like boxes, pipes, paint, hammers, and even saws) and trained, paid grown-up “playworkers,” who oversee and facilitate the play without interfering. Children are free to build their own structures, tear them down, climb, graffiti, create. They are encouraged to take calculated risks in order to learn resilience, grit, and problem-solving skills.

Eve Mosher was frustrated by New York City’s rule-bound parks and playgrounds, writes Martinelli. Her children, ages 4 and 6, “were chastised for digging in the dirt or climbing trees.” She and fellow parent Alexander Khost created play:groundNYC.

“Using an organization called Pop Up Adventure Play as a model and source for playworker training, Mosher, Khost, and their six fellow board members started hosting pop-up adventure playgrounds around the city,” writes Martinelli. They’ll open a seasonal adventure playground on Governor’s Island for kids ages 6-13 in May.

In Europe, many adventure playgrounds are in lower-income neighborhoods, says Robin Meyers, a playground designer and board member. “They become a place where young people can go and have a space that’s safe and has adult supervision. The playworkers become almost like a big brother or big sister or social-worker-type role.”

In New York City, parents will have to take the ferry to Governors Island, making adventure play a “destination” event.

Will play monitors be able to keep parents from hovering? How wild and crazy can an American playground be these days?

Why the copters? It’s harder to pass on privilege

Why so many helicopter parents? asks Megan McArdle on Bloomberg View.

The world isn’t more dangerous than it used to be), she writes. “I grew up in a New York City where kids had a lot more freedom — and a lot more crime to contend with, a lot more pollution, and a lot less safety gear.”

What’s different is that “we got richer, and richer people can expend more effort protecting their kids,” writes McArdle. But does this explain the “radical transformation” in parenting?

Parents are spending more time with their children — and working longer hours — than in the recent past. “Intensive parenting” is most common” among those who could afford to hire others to supervise their kids.

What matters is the way we got richer, she argues. Fewer well-to-do- people have family businesses to pass on. Instead, the upper middle class is made up primarily of the “extensively educated.”

An MBA . . .  is not heritable. Neither is a law degree, a medical degree, or any of the other educational credentials that form the barriers to entry into today’s upper middle class. Those have to be earned by the child, from strangers — and with inequality rising, the competition for those credentials just keeps getting fiercer.

Professional-class parents can pass down their “ability to navigate the educational system that produces the credentials,” she writes. So they hover.

To raise an adult, stop hovering

Helicopter parents are raising fragile children, writes Julie Lythcott-Haims, a former Stanford dean. Colleges are seeing a wave of depressed, apathetic students who can’t make their own decisions. In How To Raise an Adult, she tells parents that good parenting means preparing children to take responsibility for their own lives, learn from their mistakes and . . . grow up. 
In a 2013 survey, 95 percent of college counseling center directors said the number of students with significant psychological problems is a growing concern on their campus, writes Lythcott-Haims. One fourth of students who visit counseling centers were taking psychotropic drugs.

It’s not just a problem for high achievers at elite colleges, she adds. In a survey of nearly 100,000 students at 153 colleges, 84.3 percent said they’d felt overwhelmed in the last year, 60.5 percent felt very sad and 51 percent felt overwhelming anxiety. Eight percent had considered suicide.

When seemingly perfectly healthy but overparented kids get to college and have trouble coping with the various new situations they might encounter—a roommate who has a different sense of “clean,” a professor who wants a revision to the paper but won’t say specifically what is “wrong,” a friend who isn’t being so friendly anymore, a choice between doing a summer seminar or service project but not both—they can have real difficulty knowing how to handle the disagreement, the uncertainty, the hurt feelings, or the decision-making process.

Overinvolved parents deliver a “soul-crushing” message to their children, writes Lythcott-Haims.  “Kid, you can’t actually do any of this without me.”

With her husband, she’s raising teen-age sons in Palo Alto, which may be the epicenter of involved and over-involved parenting. It’s where I raised my daughter, who grew up to be a literary agent for the book.

Free-range mom aids anxious parents

On a new reality show called “World’s Worst Mom,” Lenore Skenazy, an advocate of “free-range parenting,” encourages anxious parents to let their children try new things. That includes a mother who spoon-feeds her 10-year-old son because she’s afraid he’ll choke. The show runs on Thursdays at 9 EST on the Discovery Life channel.

The overprotected child

The author’s 5-year-old son, Gideon, playing at the Land playground in North Wales. (Hanna Rosin)

Overprotective, safety-obsessed parents have “stripped childhood of independence, risk taking, and discovery—without making it safer,” writes Hanna Rosin in The Atlantic.

The “adventure playground,” which gives kids a chance to explore and challenge themselves, is growing in popularity in Europe, she writes. She visited The Land, a Welsh playground.

“Playworkers” keep an eye on children, but try not to intervene. Parents usually don’t come.

It’s still morning, but someone has already started a fire in the tin drum in the corner, perhaps because it’s late fall and wet-cold, or more likely because the kids here love to start fires. . . . Nearby, a couple of boys are doing mad flips on a stack of filthy mattresses, which makes a fine trampoline. At the other end of the playground, a dozen or so of the younger kids dart in and out of large structures made up of wooden pallets stacked on top of one another. Occasionally a group knocks down a few pallets—just for the fun of it, or to build some new kind of slide or fort or unnamed structure.

. . . there are . . .  no shiny metal slide topped by a red steering wheel or a tic-tac-toe board; no yellow seesaw with a central ballast to make sure no one falls off; no rubber bucket swing for babies. There is, however, a frayed rope swing that carries you over the creek and deposits you on the other side, if you can make it that far (otherwise it deposits you in the creek). . . . the kids seem excited by a walker that was donated by one of the elderly neighbors and is repurposed, at different moments, as a scooter, a jail cell, and a gymnastics bar.

A generation ago, mothers were more likely to be at home, but less likely to arrange playdates or drive the kids to swim lessons, Rosin writes. Children had free, unsupervised time. They figured out what to do with it.

On weekdays after school (her mother) just expected me to show up for dinner; on weekends I barely saw her at all. I, on the other hand, might easily spend every waking Saturday hour with one if not all three of my children, taking one to a soccer game, the second to a theater program, the third to a friend’s house, or just hanging out with them at home. When my daughter was about 10, my husband suddenly realized that in her whole life, she had probably not spent more than 10 minutes unsupervised by an adult. Not 10 minutes in 10 years.

It’s not just a U.S. phenomenon. In 1971, 80 percent of British third-graders walked to school alone, a study found. “By 1990, that measure had dropped to 9 percent, and now it’s even lower.” (When I started kindergarten in 1957, two generations ago, my mother let me walk with the other kids — no parents — from the first day.)

Children need to explore, argues Ellen Sandseter, a professor of early-childhood education in Norway.  “When they are left alone and can take full responsibility for their actions, and the consequences of their decisions, it’s a thrilling experience.”

Paradoxically, Sandseter writes, “our fear of children being harmed,” mostly in minor ways, “may result in more fearful children .”  Children who injured themselves falling from heights when they were between 5 and 9 years old are less likely to be afraid of heights at age 18, a study found.

Erin Davis has made a documentary about The Land.

‘I will not check my son’s grades 5 times a day’

I Will Not Check My Son’s Grades Online Five Times a Day  vows Jessica Lahey in The Atlantic. Her son’s high school lets parents access information on their children’s academic progress, attendance and grades.

My husband and I handed the letter over to my 14-year-old son with the promise that we will not be using the system to check on his grades or attendance (or anything else). In return, he promised to use the system himself and keep us appraised of anything we need to know.

More than 80 percent of parents and students who can access student information remotely check in “at least once a week…and many users check multiple times a day,” Bryan Macdonald, senior vice president of PowerSchool, tells Lahey.

When I posted a challenge on Facebook encouraging friends to join us in eschewing PowerSchool, I received many comments and emails, none of them neutral. Either PowerSchool and its ilk are best thing that’s ever happened to parenting or the worst invention for helicopter parents since the toddler leash.

“We just talk to our kids,” responded Elena Marshall, mother of eight.

Teachers and administrators have mixed feelings, Lahey writes.

I like that parents can check grades and I encouraged them to do so. I feel that open communication between home and school is essential in educating children, and only sending midterm and final grades home makes grades seem like a big secret. With parent access on PowerSchool, there are no secrets.  I am bothered, however, by parents who CONSTANTLY check…sometimes 5 or 6 times a day. These parents tend to be the ones who push their children the hardest and are the first to complain when grades aren’t entered on the DAY an assignment is due. As a language arts teacher with 60 papers to grade, I just can’t do that!  I’m not sure parents realize the school can see how many times they access the portal. –Mindi Rench, mother of two and junior high literacy coach and education blogger

Teacher Gina Parnaby tweeted that PowerSchool is a “Bane. Stresses my students out to no end. Freaks parents out b/c they see grades not as a communication but as judgment.”

Let’s assume that crazy parents will use the access to feed their craziness. But there are sane parents who aren’t sure how well their kids are doing in school and would appreciate a heads up before it’s too late to save the semester.

The Ivy rat race

New York City’s “most ambitious, wealthiest parents” start the college-admissions process by hiring a consultant to get their toddler into an elite nursery school, writes Lacy Crawford.

Then come tutors, learning specialists, resume-polishing internships or exotic community service and a recommendation letter from a trustee of the first-choice school.

Finally, after 15 or so years of parents managing every variable, there comes the time when a student is expected to do something all by herself: fill out the actual application. Write an essay in her own voice.

Not really. Parents hired Crawford, an independent college admissions counselor, to help their kids craft Ivy-worthy essays and applications. Her new book, Early Decision, features an “application whisperer” who helps helicopter-parented kids get into Harvard.

In Personal Statement, Jason Odell Williams satirizes the Ivy rat race. As a hurricane heads for Connecticut,  students converge on the coast to win humanitarian laurels that will look good on college applications.

Colleges teach workplace social skills

To help graduating seniors find jobs, colleges and universities are teaching the social skills of the workplace, reports the Hechinger Report.

After final exams are over, MIT students will return from their holiday break to experience something different from their usual studies—but almost as important.

It’s the university’s annual Charm School, offering instruction in everything from how to make a first impression to how to dress for work to which bread plate to use.

Other colleges have started teaching students how to make small talk, deal with conflict, show up on time, follow business etiquette, and communicate with co-workers.

Employers complain new hires don’t know how to act professionally. “This is a generation with an average of 241 social media ‘friends,’ but they have trouble communicating in person,” said Arthur Levine, president of the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation.

“Students don’t really know what’s meant by professional dress,” says MIT’s Hamlett. “Most students just roll out of bed in whatever it is they want to wear. There’s this ‘come as you are’ about being a college student.”

At Wake Forest University’s business school, master’s candidates are required to wear business attire to class, and be in the building from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

. . . MBA and law students at the University of Iowa learn table manners at an annual “etiquette dinner”—where to rest their silverware between courses and on which side of their settings to return their water glasses.

“Helicopter parents” haven’t taught their entitled children what the real world demands, says Aaron McDaniel, author of The Young Professional’s Guide to the Working World. He also blames universities for letting students slide by without working hard. In the workplace, McDaniel says, many graduates “expect that, just for showing up, they’ll get credit, just like they used to get at school.”

Mommy’s college boy

Helicopter-ed kids in the classroom

At 50, after a successful career selling magazine advertising, Rod Baird became a high school English teacher at an affluent high school near New York City. Counterfeit Kids criticizes education fads — Baird thinks the “sage on the stage” makes a lot of sense — but the book’s real target is overprotective, esteem-boosting, college-obsessed parents.

Baird’s privileged students don’t like to read books, think or learn. Victims of the “cult of college,” they’ve been pushed by their parents to earn good grades and get into a “good” college. Nothing else matters.

In his first year, he taught non-honors English to 11th graders — B and C students — who’d figured out they’d already lost the college race.

“A palpable contempt had set in, they way they slouched in their seats, the way they openly cheated. . . . they no longer cared.”

Thanks to their parents, they had way too much self-esteem to blame themselves for their lack of success, Baird writes. Instead, they assumed the system was unfair.

Teachers are too student-centered, Baird writes.

We are trying so hard to teach that we are accepting their responsibilities. With all of our elaborate rubrics and review sheets and methodologies and layers upon layers of special education services and ever-changing pedagogies and assessments, we are smothering them, preventing them from learning the basics, from how to think for themselves, to self-discipline, to English grammar, stunting their growth . . .

Students who’ve been told they learn by doing believe they have no obligation to listen or read, Baird writes. Group work — “collaborative learning” — teaches them to follow the group leader, who does most of the work. “We love group work,” a student tells him. “Usually you don’t have to do anything until the teacher comes around with her clipboard and rubric. Then we pretend we are doing what she asked us.”

His students are good at following specific directions — if there’s a grade to earn. Asked to think for themselves, they flounder.

Baird shares his techniques for jolting students out of their complacency and getting them to think.