A headline in the Nashua Telegraph last fall proclaimed: “School Yard Game of Tag Banned.” This caught my attention! What was the harm in this playground game? The principal stated that “the game of tag seems innocent enough, however the force with which students tag varies greatly and this game, in particular, has been banned in many schools in the U.S. due primarily to concerns about injuries.” This wasn’t the only headline like this in recent news. A school in Long Island banned balls from the playground this past fall, and you can read similar examples from other towns across America. Have these decisions gone too far? Some parents thought so.
Children's play has long been understood to have a key role in the development of their future life skills. Real play, when children are in charge, instinctively making hundreds of decisions as they assess and determine the levels of risk they want to take—physically, emotionally and socially—allow mastery, day by day, in an increasing repertoire of skills which add to their bank of experience.
What had changed so much since my own childhood of climbing to the top of the monkey bars and playing king of the hill? Modern fears and anxiety, in a world much safer than ever before, has led to a risk-adverse culture that can express itself in what some perceive as overbearing safety policies. What’s forgotten are the benefits of learning about and discovering risk. Fears of litigation increase tendencies to err on the side of caution, often creating standards that lack real play value.
Through play, children acquire confidence, but also an awareness of limits and boundaries. They learn, in short, how to be safe. For our children, we must remove the bubble wrap of overprotectiveness and grant them the opportunity to play in ways that challenge themselves.
So, to my own children, who have much loved the opportunity to climb trees, cross creeks, and climb as high as they are comfortable, I pledge to continue giving you the opportunity to challenge yourself, for it is only through your own experiences and choices that you will truly learn the skills for this game of life.
We want to hear from you! What do you think about playground risk?
Read the Atlantic Monthly article here: The Overprotected Kid