In the news this week, a Long Island middle school bans footballs, baseballs, soccer balls and softballs at recess, and forbids cartwheels without coach supervision. In Michigan, an elementary school outlaws games of tag and children "running in packs" on the playground. Said a school department spokeswoman, "We want our children to treat each other with respect, kindness, and with safety in mind."
The National Recreation and Park Association estimates that 200,000 children are injured each year in playground accidents. Understandably, parents and school districts want to do their best to minimize those injuries. Yet outdoor play and physical activity are crucial to combating childhood obesity, and to developing resilience and confidence in children. Encountering and overcoming the physical, social and emotional challenges of play is essential to conquering fear and developing mastery, social competence and conflict-resolution skills.
The most frequently cited factor in the disappearance of monkey bars, see-saws, and now cartwheels and baseballs, from America's playgrounds is "fear of lawsuits." But that dodges the real problem, which is that cash-strapped school districts are unwilling or unable to ensure that equipment is properly maintained and children adequately supervised at recess.
Unless we send our children to school in a protective layer of bubble wrap, the scrapes, bumps and bruises of childhood are inevitable. But the emotional, social and physical skills learned through childhood play are essential. I'm in agreement with the Long Island parent who said, "children's safety is paramount, but you have to let them live life."
Mike Bottaro is founder of The Bottaro Law Firm, a Rhode Island personal injury law firm.