Nerf recess: No balls, tag, cartwheels

“Hard” balls, tag and cartwheels are banned during recess at a Long Island middle school.

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Kids were getting hurt on the playground, Port Washington Supt. Kathleen Maloney told CBS.

Structured sports are safe, a press release stated. In a smaller recess space due to construction, unstructured play with “hard balls” is not.

Students have been given Nerf balls to replace footballs, baseballs and lacrosse balls. They’re not allowed to play “rough” games of tag or turn cartwheels without a coach’s supervision.

“Cartwheels and tag — I think it’s ridiculous they are banning that,” a student told CBS.

Others agreed they want more than a Nerf recess. “You go for recess — that’s your free time to go let loose and recharge,” a boy said.

Parents charged that fear of  liability and lawsuits — not injuries — prompted the ban.

No time to play

Today’s children don’t have time to play independently – and to develop social skills — writes psychologist Peter Gray on Aeon. The adults are always in charge.

Growing up in the 1950s, Gray had a “hunter-gatherer education” in addition to formal schooling. The neighborhood kids played after school, often till dark, in mixed-age groups. They played on the weekends and in the summer.

We had time to explore in all sorts of ways, and also time to become bored and figure out how to overcome boredom, time to get into trouble and find our way out of it, time to daydream, time to immerse ourselves in hobbies, and time to read comics and whatever else we wanted to read rather than the books assigned to us.

Since then, adult-directed sports for children have replaced “pickup” games, Gray writes. free-to-learn Adult-directed extracurriculars have replaced hobbies. Parents are afraid to let kids play without supervision.

As children’s free play has declined, children have shown more signs of anxiety and depression, he writes on psychological surveys. Since the ’50s, “the suicide rate for young people aged 15 to 24 has more than doubled, and that for children under age 15 has quadrupled.”

In addition, surveys show “a decline in empathy and a rise in narcissism.”

Children aren’t learning social skills through play, writes Gray. At school, an authoritarian setting, they learn to compete rather than cooperate. Extending the school day will widen the “play deficit” even more, argues Gray.

A Boston College professor, Gray writes the Freedom to Learn blog, and is the author of a new book, Free to Learn.

Kids who want to work — mowing lawns — face “safety” barriers, writes Mollie Hemingway. On the neighborhood listserv, someone asked for feedback on “a group of adorable and entrepreneurial kids (young, maybe 9-11 years old)” looking for mowing jobs. “We didn’t see a parent with them supervising.”

A link was provided to Mowing the Lawn Can Be a Dangerous Chore, which recommended “polycarbonate protective eyewear” for anyone mowing — or in the vicinity.

Living like it’s 1986

Blair McMillan wanted to go outside to kick a ball to his five-year-old son, but Trey didn’t want to leave dad’s iPad. Blair and girlfriend Morgan banned all post-1986 technology from their home for a year, reports the Toronto Sun. Both parents were born in 1986.

No computers, no tablets, no smart phones, no fancy coffee machines, no Internet, no cable, and – from the point of view of many tech-dependent folks – no life.

“We’re parenting our kids the same way we were parented for a year just to see what it’s like,” Blair said.

Trey and his 2-year-old brother play Super Mario on an old-school Nintendo in the basement.

Blair went through cellphone withdrawal. “I could almost feel my pocket vibrating.”

Morgan uses a computer at work. At home, she reads books. “We’re just closer, there’s more talking,” she said.

On the down side, Blair and the boys all have mullets.

School is bad for kids

School is a prison that’s damaging our kids, argues Peter Gray on Salon. A psychology professor at Boston College, Gray is the author of Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self Reliant, and Better Prepared for Life.

“Children learn most deeply and fully, and with greatest enthusiasm, in conditions that are almost opposite to those of school,” Gray writes.

The top-down, teach-and-test method, in which learning is motivated by a system of rewards and punishments rather than by curiosity or by any real, felt desire to know, is well designed for indoctrination and obedience training but not much else.

Most students “lose their zest for learning” — especially in math and science — by middle or high school, he writes.

. . . people of all ages learn best when they are self-motivated, pursuing questions that are their own real questions, and goals that are their own real-life goals. In such conditions, learning is usually joyful.

Children’s “amazing drive and capacity to learn” is turned off by coercive schooling, Gray argues. Our schools teach children “that learning is work, to be avoided when possible.”

When children direct their own learning, their “natural curiosity and zest for learning persist all the way through childhood and adolescence, and into adulthood,” he writes.

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More homeschooling families are encouraging self-directed learning, he writes. Others are turning to “democratic” schools where children educate themselves, while having opportunities to socialize. For example, the Sudbury Valley School in Framingham, Mass. lets students, who range in age from 4 to about 18, do what they wish all day, as long as they don’t break school rules designed to keep peace and order.

Sippican Cottage agrees: Public schools are “reeducation camps for people that weren’t educated in the first place, maybe, or little prisons, or pleasure domes for creepy teachers, or places where tubby women work out their neuroses about eating on helpless children at lunchtime — but there’s not much schooling going on in school.”

When a California principal told students to drop to one knee before being dismissed, parents protested and the policy was abandoned. What some called “taking a knee,” others saw as kneeling before the principal.

Boys aren’t welcome in school

School has become a hostile environment for boys, argues Christina Hoff Sommers in TIME.

At some schools, tug of war has been replaced with “tug of peace.” Since the 1990s, elimination games like dodgeball, red rover and tag have been under a cloud — too damaging to self-esteem and too violent, say certain experts.

Tug of peace? Really?

Young boys love action narratives with heroes, bad guys, rescues and shoot-ups, she writes.

According to at least one study, such play rarely escalates into real aggression — only about 1% of the time. But when two researchers, Mary Ellin Logue and Hattie Harvey, surveyed classroom practices of 98 teachers of 4-year-olds, they found that this style of play was the least tolerated. Nearly half of teachers stopped or redirected boys’ dramatic play daily or several times a week — whereas less than a third reported stopping or redirecting girls’ dramatic play weekly.

. . . Logue and Harvey found that “bad guy” play improved children’s conversation and imaginative writing. Such play, say the authors, also builds moral imagination, social competence and imparts critical lessons about personal limits and self-restraint. Logue and Harvey worry that the growing intolerance for boys’ action-narrative-play choices may be undermining their early language development and weakening their attachment to school.

“Efforts to re-engineer the young-male imagination” send a message to boys, writes Sommers. “You are not welcome in school.”

In the last 20 years, high school girls have raised their college aspirations and their grades, while boys have not, new research shows. More girls are earning A’s, while boys’ grades have stayed about the same. “The larger relative share of boys obtaining C and C+ grades can be accounted for by a higher frequency of school misbehavior and a higher proportion of boys aiming for a two-year college degree,” researchers found.

A mom decides: Gun play is good for boys

When her sons were young, Christine Gross-Loh gave them blocks, puzzles and cooperative games, but no guns. She’s changed her mind about toy guns, she writes in The Atlantic.

When her older son was four, he got a plastic toy gun in a birthday party goodie bag.

My son was utterly riveted. I tried to coax it away from him. “Bang bang!” he shouted, running around with the other kids. Just days later my shy little two year old fixated upon a toy sword that came with a pirate toy someone had given him, and would not go anywhere without it. I could see that the ludicrously small sword made him feel brave.

When the boys were three and five, the family moved to Tokyo, where boys play “all sorts of rough-and-tumble war games.”

Our Japanese public elementary school even gave out water guns to all the kids at a summer festival every year. Every single child got one — even three-year-old siblings. The first time I saw the kids screaming with laughter as they shot at each other over and over in the schoolyard, I was surprised by how the adults could be so blasé. They didn’t just tolerate the play: the teachers and even the principal helped fill the kids’ guns with water and ran around shooting and battling alongside their students. They actually encouraged the children, both boys and girls, to play with toy guns.

Almost no Japanese adults own firearms, Gross-Loh writes. There are very few shooting deaths.

. . . ever since living abroad in a society where young kids are allowed so many outlets for their energy, I have come to believe that one of the secrets of Asian boys’ self-regulation is the way that aggressive play is seen as a normal stage of childhood, rather than demonized and hidden out of sight.

Research doesn’t show that gun play desensitizes kids to violence, Gross-Loh writes. “Play helps children learn how to signal each other: this is fantasy.”

Imaginary play hones self-regulation, which is essential for school success but has declined in recent decades. (Today’s five year olds have the self-regulation skills of a three year old 60 years ago). Research has found that incorporating preschool boys’ interest in weapon play rather than banning it entirely leads them to play longer, more elaborate games that go beyond mere weapon play.

Worried about boys falling behind girls in school, the British education ministry has urged preschool teachers to allow boisterous play, including play with toy weapons, Gross-Loh writes.

NYC will subsidize preschool loans

Should Upper Middle Class Tots Get Subsidized Student Loans for Pre-School? asks the New York Observer.

I thought it was a joke, but no.

City Council speaker Christine Quinn, who’s running for mayor, announced a council initiative to offer middle and upper-middle class parents subsidized loans for daycare and preschool.

“Early childhood education is one of the most important investments a parent can make,” said Ms. Quinn in a statement about the program. “But too often, quality child care is out of reach for middle class families. The Middle Class Child Care Loan Initiative is a smart program that will help parents pay for child care and give New York City’s next generation a jump start on their education.”

Families earning $80,000 to $120,000 a year will be able to borrow up to $11,000 a year at 6 percent interest for kids between the ages of two and four. In theory, less affluent parents can access subsidized child care, but the cutoff is $53,707 for a family of three and $64,762 for a family of four,  according to the Observer.

There’s also the question of whether giving a family earning $190,000 a year a pre-school subsidy will level the playing field, or make it even more unequal. Ostensibly, rather than making the difference between sending a child to preschool or keeping him at home, such loans might be used more to help the middle class’s upper crust pay for elite preschools, putting more distance between very young children in a city that is already plagued by income inequality and where competition for gifted and talented slots is incredibly fierce and many would argue, unfair, given the intense coaching and drilling engaged in by families who can afford it.

Preschool doesn’t teach children from educated families anything they’re not already learning at home. It’s fun for most kids to play with others. But it’s not the difference between academic success and failure — or even between the Ivy League and State U.

In San Jose, Harker, a high-achieving private school, is opening a preschool that will charge $22,000 a year. The Mercury News story gushes:

A mural-and-mosaic entrance, multicolored floor tiles and light-filled rooms welcome families. And of course, this tiny-tot heaven features a sandbox, play kitchen and lawns wide enough to do, perhaps, 75 somersaults in a row.

. . . preschoolers will choose from an array of activities based on their interest at the moment. As kids explore, teachers facilitate social skills and encourage curiosity, discovery and problem-solving.

I’ve never seen nor heard of a preschool that didn’t encourage play, exploration, creativity  and learning how to get along with others. This one will have lovely facilities, teachers with advanced degrees — and the children of highly educated, well-to-do Silicon Valley parents, who hope preschool admission will help their kids get into Harker.

Zero tolerance for boys’ play could backfire

Zero tolerance for imaginary gun play is “psychotic” as in “out of touch with reality,” says Dr. Leonard Sax, a Pennsylvania psychologist and family physician. 

“Out-of-touch policies such as these, which criminalize behaviors which have always been common among young kids, are contributing to the growing proportion of American kids, especially boys, who regard school as a stupid waste of time and who can’t wait to get out of school so that they can get back to playing their video games,” Sax said.

Sax is the author of Boys Adrift: The Five Factors Driving the Growing Epidemic of Unmotivated Boys and Underachieving Young Men.

Remember the five-year-old interrogated and suspended for bringing a cap gun on the school bus? Maryland school officials have refused the parents’ request to remove the suspension from the kindergartener’s permanent record.

School holds toy gun exchange

A California elementary school is holding a toy gun exchange, offering students a book and a chance to win a bicycle if they turn in their play weapons, reports the Hayward Daily Review.

Strobridge Elementary Principal Charles Hill sees toy guns as a gateway to the real thing. ”Playing with toys guns, saying ‘I’m going to shoot you,’ desensitizes them, so as they get older, it’s easier for them to use a real gun,” Hill said.

A police officer will demonstrate bicycle and gun safety, a fire crew will discuss fire safety and parents will be offered fingerprinting and photographing of their children.

Kindergarten, play and standards

Teachers are blaming new standards for taking the joy out of kindergarten, writes Deborah Kenny, a charter school founder in New York City, in the Washington PostKindergartners should learn by playing, she writes. But she thinks the standards are getting a bum rap.

Last year, as Harlem Village Academies prepared to open new elementary schools , our principals visited dozens of kindergarten classrooms. The upper-income schools focused mostly on active play, interesting discussions and crafts, including papier-mache projects that delighted children for hours. In the lower-income schools we saw regimented academics, reward-and-punishment behavior systems and top-down instruction. In one South Bronx classroom, the only time children spoke during the course of three hours was to repeat drills of the sounds of letters over and over.

Why the disparity? Many educators are placing the blame squarely on the Common Core — national learning standards recently adopted by 45 states and the District and supported by the Obama administration — and asserting that they lead to poor-quality teaching and take all the joy out of kindergarten.

The standards’ goals —  ”teach students to think independently, grapple with difficult texts, solve problems and explain their thinking in a clear and compelling way” — are noble, Kenny writes. That can be done well or badly.

Take vocabulary, for example. The Common Core standards state that kindergarten students should be able to “distinguish shades of meaning among verbs that describe some general action (e.g., walk, march, strut, prance) by acting out the meanings.” Imagine a classroom full of 5-year-olds marching, strutting, walking and prancing for 10 minutes to different kinds of music while laughing and learning vocabulary. . . . So while some schools might choose to teach vocabulary in a rote, boring way, clearly the standards are not to blame.

Teaching to the new standards demands more of teachers, Kenny writes. Principals need to hire good teachers and then let them learn from each other, try different strategies, learn from mistakes and improve. Principals also need the power to fire teachers who aren’t up to the job.

Via Eduwonk.

This anti-CCSS math blog critiques the standards’ call for kindergartners to “decompose” numbers.