Playground etiquette - Letting kids be kids?

Filed under: Big Kids, Tweens, Health & Safety: Babies, Playground Bureau, Day Care & Education

This week there was frost on the ground and the sky was strewn with wind-tattered clouds, V's of honking geese, and the last wayward monarchs heading toward . At recess the kids would pause for a second, mid soccer game, to look up at the sky and yell LOOK! LOOK! Their faces full of wonder and glee.

It was the kind of weather that called us outdoors every day for an extra mid-morning recess.

Even though I'm theoretically sacrificing academic time by heading outdoors for a handful of minutes with my class, I find I mostly gain time because the children are less restless and more willing to settle down with a good chapter book or a math activity when their bodies have had some time to run outdoors. But I also like going outdoors with them because it gives me a chance to watch them interacting together in an unstructured way.

I keep noticing how uncertain they are in their play together without an adult intervening for them whenever something doesn't go their way.

I know. I've probably exhausted you with my posts about play and children, but it's my obsession. I can't let it go.


I can't shake the feeling that playing--as we knew it when we were kids--is being forever altered by the cultural landscape of today. Some of you will argue that as long as there are kids, kids will play, so what's the big deal? And you might be right. But the way kids play today is so much more stilted and cautious and dependent on adults than it was twenty years ago.

And I'm wondering if somehow, as parents and teachers, we couldn't be doing more--or less, really--to help our kids thrive in their play together.

Is it our job to protect them obsessively, or let them take risks more? Are we hovering and micro-managing too much, or are we too absent from our kids lives, and in school (as teachers) too focused on academic outcomes to pay any heed to social shortcomings?

Take an incident that happened this week, for example. Two kids scuffled. They were long-time friends, close like siblings really. Push came to shove and one of them ended up falling awkwardly out of the sandbox and breaking a bone. Either of them could have fallen; but the way the chips landed one fell and broke an arm, and the other one was fine, and both sets parents were naturally aggrieved. Then they started blaming the other...

And well...because this is a recent and somewhat unresolved incident, I won't go any further into the details. But I'm wondering--how would you respond in this situation? What would you do if your kid was pushed by her best friend and broke her arm? And what would you do if it was your kid who did the pushing?

Who is to blame? (I mean this as broadly as possible here.) And what is the right way for adults to respond? Should kids be allowed to work out their disagreements for themselves-apologizing, etc, as they deem necessary? Or should adults always intervene to orchestrate their interactions-or prevent them from interacting entirely?

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.