Saturday, December 18, 2010

Pow, right in the kisser

Originally posted on Silicon Valley Moms blog

I read a mommy blog post the other day about how there is no real recess at her daughter’s private school. The school is lovely, but they are not allowed to play with balls or chase boys, and there is such a huge ratio of adult to kid supervision that the kids aren’t really learning how to deal with each other. I nearly choked on my home-brewed coffee, and not just because at the moment I can’t even afford the donation I’m supposed to make to my kids' average scoring public school. Now don't get me wrong, I am thrilled that my kids are allowed to play with balls and run around, but IMHO too many adults isn't the issue at her school.

On our school playground there are the minimum required adults supervising the kids - some hired, some recruited parents, and teachers on a rotating basis.  Some don't seem well-equipped for the job, not that I blame them - I'm not either. (I do realize it once again comes down to money for schools, but from what I've seen the past few years recess and PE are not going to be a priority for schools any time soon.) If I just think about my own kids, one of them hates recess, the other loves it but so far has acquired bruised knees, scraped elbows and a serious bloody nose from a punch to the face. Isn’t it great they are left to their own devices at recess?

Now cuts, scrapes, bruises, even the occasional punch, I don’t have a problem with that. In fact I'm all for play fighting, superhero battles, pro-wrestling uses up a lot of energy and boy do my son and his friends love it. What concerns me is kids learning their limits need supervision, although I'll admit sometimes what that amounts to in my house is "you need to stop when Keegan gets hurt" or "I need you guys to do something for the next 10 minutes where nobody gets hurt."

My son’s teacher was “ blessed” with 7 (that's one-third), extremely active boys in her class. She confesses she cannot let them get away with the smallest infraction, because it sets up a chain reaction. One of Donovan’s early “goals” was to stop throwing himself on the floor (in his classic WWW move), as it caused the rest of the children to jump on him like a football pile. She’s great though, as she explains her reasoning to them, and understands they are active boys, not evil monsters like a preschool teacher seemed to believe. So naturally she wants them to get that energy out at recess.

One result of limited resources is the kinders are confined to small fenced in playgrounds, and total chaos often ensues. Instead of a rousing game of chase or tackle basketball, they play who gets the ball or slide and who gets left out? It got to the point where the yard duty was literally afraid to watch these kids anymore, and our teacher was attempting to recruit a dad to take small groups out and run them around like a bunch of horses.

Why was she so afraid? That brings us to problem 2, the fighting. They aren't allowed to "horse around" leaving them with extra energy and aggression, and with minimal supervision, small problems escalate. Then you've got a fight, but instead of talking to the culprits to find out what happened, they are sent to office since the lone yard duty can't ignore the other kids. Here's a recent example: Boy 1 left out of game by boy 2 and friends, boy 1 gets mad. Boy 1 pushes boy 2 from behind, boy 2 turns around, boy 1 punches him in nose, boy 2 punches boy 1 in stomach. Both hauled off to principle's office and threatened with suspension, with very little discussion of the incident except between the parents of the offenders (shout-out to my husband who took care of the whole thing and only called me later). The punishment was reduced to spending two days in the office. Unfortunately the plan for the boys to actually play together in the office, which I thought was a decent idea, went awry when, ironically, they were told the sit in chairs quietly for the hour because nobody wanted to supervise their play and they weren't trusted to play on their own.  As a disclaimer, the actual principle was not there that day, and the teacher/activing principle made these decisions.  The principle would likely have spent more time on talking, less on dishing out punishments.

I worry that because these kids have punishments immediately thrust upon them without explanation, they don't really learn the proper responses. What should a kid do who's been left out of a game? What about a kid who's been punched in the nose? Clearly I don't have the answer, and I certainly don't think a fancy private school would solve these problems. I'm just glad my husband was not only able to keep his cool when his son was nearly suspended for defending himself, but also managed to get all the blood out of the "Pizza My Heart" t-shirt.

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