ANNAPOLIS – Maryland elementary schools are restricting the types of games students can play at recess, causing some people to worry that administrators are eliminating the very activities that let kids be kids.
Although most schools already prohibit games like dodge ball and tackle football, stringent no contact policies are, in some cases, affecting more basic childhood games as well. Tag is one game being questioned at more Maryland schools.
Proponents of the restrictions cite safety concerns and the need for students to act respectfully. Opponents argue that scrapes and bruises are a regular part of childhood and children should be able to play actively without strict regulations.
At West Annapolis Elementary School there had been a controversy over whether to allow tag at recess under Principal Joan Briscoe. Current Principal Christine Stockett does not forbid children from playing the game.
“We don’t ban anything,” said Stockett, although she said teachers and recess monitors do not promote the activity to students. “They’re encouraged to play other games.”
Swansfield Elementary School, in Columbia, does not allow students to play tag or other contact sports at recess because the games violate the school’s no-touching policy. The policy requires students to respect each others’ personal space to avoid disputes.
“I just think it led to problems among the students,” said Marcia Tallman, the school’s registrar. Games can result in arguments among students upset over the outcome.
Even with the possibility of conflict, some Swansfield parents do not agree with the restrictions.
“I think limiting their play in terms of running and chasing is not appropriate,” said Kelly Klinefelter Lee, who is a member of the Swansfield PTA and has two sons at the school. “I think there’s an attempt to control behavior that I don’t think is necessary.”
Although restrictions on tag are growing more common, not all policies are black and white.
“We do allow some tag as long as it’s appropriate touch tag,” said Carol Kamp, principal of Bayside Elementary School, in Stevensville. “Kids need a release just like adults need a release.”
At Bayside, the authorization to play tag is determined by the maturity levels of the children involved.
That school, however, imposes other sorts of restrictions on students.
“The kids have to pump themselves to make the swings go,” Kamp said. Bayside students are not supposed to push each other on the swings.
Some parents see the merit in the school’s restrictions.
“If there’s good reasons behind it then I don’t see a problem with it,” said Diana Spake, who had two children graduate from Bayside. “You’ve got some children that might be stronger than other kids, somebody could get hurt.”
Spake has worked as a substitute teacher at the school and helped monitor children at recess.
“It doesn’t even seem to be that children were looking around for things to do,” Spake said. “There was no lack of fun out there.”
Some childhood development experts, however, disagree with the growing limitations at recess.
“It really does not make sense to me that children are being restricted from games and activities that children have been playing for hundreds of years,” said Olga Jarrett, an associate professor in early childhood education at Georgia State University.
According to Jarrett, interactions between students at recess teach them how to behave in an acceptable manner. Games such as tag are a valuable part of the physical and social development process.
“If there’s a problem with aggression, that’s something they need to work on,” said Jarrett, who is president of the American Association for the Child’s Right to Play. “Forbidding children from doing something that children normally do is not going to teach them when they’re being too rough.”
Despite school restrictions, administrators, parents and activists do agree on one thing.
“Children need to play,” Jarrett said.