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Warning: The Game of Tag is Not Allowed Here

by on October 14, 2013 6:50 AM

I almost spit out my coffee as I read the morning's headlines last week. A school district in some part of this United States has determined that the game of tag will no longer be allowed on the playground at recess.

In case you've forgotten how tag works, one person is identified as "it" and then has to chase around the other players in an attempt to tag another person who then becomes the chaser.

There are all sorts of variations on tag such as freeze tag (the caught person has to wait until someone who is free comes along and unfreezes the player) and blob tag (the caught person has to join hands with "it" and two, then three, and so forth run in a blob around the playing area).

Tag has been a staple at recess, summer camps, and any other place where children have gathered since the beginning of man.

The school board in question reportedly decided that the game of tag put the children at risk of injury and therefore the district at risk of lawsuit. The decision? No more tag.

I think my head may explode off my shoulders.

And we wonder why our nation's children are so sad, lonely, and disconnected. We wonder how and why they are so fat. Adults keep getting the way.

(Insert story about the games we used to play at recess back in the day while walking to school, uphill both ways, barefoot, in the snow.)

If I were a parent in the school district that made a "no Tag" policy, I would point out that life is not without risk. We can only mitigate so much. Sure, a kid might turn an ankle in a game of "TV tag" but he or she could do the same thing on a walk to the cafeteria. The benefits of play are so much greater than the risks.

Those of us with backgrounds in recreation learn about the benefits of play but professionals in human development, psychology, sociology, education and healthcare know it too. Play serves a purpose in all areas of our lives – physically, spiritually, emotionally and intellectually.

The benefits of engaging in play have been documented throughout history and are almost as important to our survival as those bottom level and basic needs of Maslow's Hierarchy. Time and activities away from our work and obligations is key to our personal, relational and community health.

Without play, our world is a pretty bleak place.

While leisure and play in adults is very important, in children it is crucial. In play, children learn about themselves, about their environment and how to interact with others. Skills as simple as taking turns and concepts like "out of bounds" are the foundation for psycho-social development. From conflict management skills to self-expression, play provides children with the opportunity to have fun (i.e. quality of life) but also to learn. Play in children serves as a means of practicing roles, working through issues around them and in developing a sense of self.

Some of my fondest memories of my elementary school days at Radio Park Elementary were of recess, the big rock behind the school and the variety of games and tableaux we made up around that rock. We copied Wild Wild West from the TV show. We played Star Trek. It became a pirate ship after Swiss Family Robinson. It was home base for any number of games of Tag.

Running with scissors is a bad idea. A pick-up game of Tag can be a blast.

Sometimes, it seems as if our culture is almost intentionally trying to kill the concept of play. We schedule play dates and tell kids when and with whom they can play. We organize sports leagues, athletic competitions and team sports in which adults make the rules and determine who gets to play and when. Our fears keep kids indoors, under close supervision and away from any potential risk. Our insane work schedules and other demands make it easier for us to plug our kids in then to provide them with the opportunity to move, think, create and play.

Studies show that kids today have much less free play time than they did even a decade ago.

When my kids were younger, a few hours or a day of nothing planned usually meant a chorus of "I have nothing to do." We would tell them to go outside and play, make a tent out of sheets or get the neighborhood kids together for a game of kickball. They would look at us like we were aliens. In the instances that we could actually convince them to "go play." we would hear creativity, conversation, negotiation, conflict, problem solving, and most of all, laughter. Play through games like Tag is so much more than just fun.

Shifts in our nation's education policy have meant greater scrutiny on school districts and pressure for test scores. Administrators have responding by targeting recess. Another headline last week said that a middle school administration was eliminating hard balls, cartwheels and other recess activities unless "supervised." (That school is apparently under construction so the available play area is temporarily impacted).

At any rate, eliminating that time during the school day when children can get outside and take a break from "learning" is just counter-productive. Most teachers will tell you that recess not only lets the teachers have a break but it provides kids with the energy and enthusiasm to engage in the classroom.

Our legal system is partially at fault. Our litigious society increasingly looks to "make them pay" when someone gets hurt while they are in our facility or on our grounds. If my kid falls off my swing set and breaks her arm, I take her to the doctor's office and have it treated. If that same kid falls off the swing set at the school or in the public park, it's a lawsuit. Yoy.

I don't know which is more disturbing about a "no Tag" policy - the ridiculous attempt to manage risk for our kids or is the continued efforts to kill the concept of play? Either way, the decision by this school administration is decidedly shortsighted.

Tag. You're it.

Patty Kleban is an instructor at Penn State, mother of three and a community volunteer. She is a Penn State Alumna. Readers of State College Magazine voted her Best Writer of 2010 and 2012. She and her family live in Patton Township. Her views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State.
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