Rules for Recess in Elementary School: No Tag, No Running, No Fun at Any Time

Montgomery County, Md., is one of the richest suburbs in the United States. It’s also one of the most “progressive” school districts in the country.

If that sounds like trouble for parents, you’d be correct. But perhaps you aren’t familiar with how bat-guano crazy things have gotten in the suburb of Washington, D.C.

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A family moved into the Montgomery County school district unaware of what they were in store for. The first inkling of trouble came when the daughter came home from school and reported that they do recess a little bit differently than they did at her old school.

“My daughter was taken aback by how many rules there were,” said the mom.

How many rules? Four pages of rules governing the activities of children while on recess.

Some may think that oppressive and overwhelming. But it’s obvious that you don’t think like a progressive. Otherwise, you’d recognize the “Montgomery County Public Schools Playground Supervision Recess Procedures for Playground Aides” for what it is: guidelines that suggest anything they don’t much like is verboten.

The “Recess Procedures” state, among other things:

  • Baseball and football games are not permitted at any time.
  • Haphazard running, chasing, and tag games on the blacktop are not permitted.
  • A student may not begin to swing on rings and bars until the student ahead of him/her has finished.
  • Once they do swing or climb, they must use an “opposed thumb grip.” (As opposed to their teeth?)

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Otherwise, have a ton of fun, kids!

“It really feels as though maybe we’ve lost touch with what’s developmentally appropriate,” the mom told me.

The mom said she felt a bit sorry for the administrator, who had no say in these rules. (Just like the kids.) And she added that today’s children really do seem a little rough when they play tag—probably because they’ve had so little practice at it.

I have heard this from other people who work with children, especially occupational therapist Angela Hanscom, who notes that when kids don’t move enough, they fail to develop proprioception, the ability to know where their body is in space and how much force it needs to do something physical.

All the more reason to let kids start adjusting to each other in the easiest, most natural way possible: through play.

There’s an old Arthur C. Clarke science fiction short story about how humans eventually evolve to live and work in space. The problem is that they can never come back to Earth because their bodies have adapted to zero-G and life aboard a spaceship.

Being unable to play tag correctly is one of the saddest things I’ve heard about the current crop of children. It’s almost as if I’ve landed on another planet. 

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The author of the Reason.com piece, Lenore Skenazy, has some good advice for schools.

“Depriving kids of play in the name of safety is dangerous. Even more dangerous than two kids using the climbing rings at once,” she quipped.

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