A few months ago, the phone rang in the
middle of the day. I recognized the number
as belonging to my children’s school, so I
nervously answered. I have received calls
from the school in the past ranging in severity,
but always with a similar theme. On one
occasion, I arrived at the school to fi nd one of
my kids proudly perched in the front foyer,
icing an injury from a slip on the playground.
Another time, it was a goose egg on the
head from standing up directly beneath the
blackboard in the kindergarten classroom.
It is school policy to notify parents of these
This time, my nine-year-old had fallen at
recess and broken her elbow while doing
a cartwheel. After my first ever trip to the
emergency room as a parent, we returned to
the school hours later, tears wiped clean, arm
in a sling, to hear some surprising news.
Cartwheels had been banned at school.
I was shocked that our school had such an
extreme response to a rare injury by a child
attempting to freely express herself in the
form of a cartwheel. Sure, she had no previous
gymnastics experience, but kids will be
kids. It should be noted that blackboards
are still readily available in every classroom,
despite my child’s previous injury.
In addition to banning the cartwheel and
the more obvious threat – the snowball – the
school has eliminated empty toilet paper
rolls for arts and crafts and implemented
a “no hands, no feet” rule with regards to
Our school isn’t the only one that has
jumped on the safety band-wagon. There
is a board-wide policy prohibiting the use
of skateboards, roller blades or shoes with
roller balls on them. Other schools have
banned skipping ropes and balls of any
shape or size (with the exception of Nerf
products) after a parent was hit in the head
on school property.
With this extreme effort to keep our kids
safe, it makes me wonder, are we actually
limiting their ability to play and stay physically
According to a recent survey by ParticipACTION,
about half of Canadian parents
of school-aged children (50.4 percent) played
active outdoor games, such as hide-and-seek
and tag, every day as a child; however, today only 19 percent of their children do. Almost
half of Canadian children get three hours
or less of active play per week (including
Play is powerful, says Kelly Murumets,
President and CEO of ParticipAction. “It has
the potential to improve a child’s physical,
emotional, social and cognitive well-being.”
Bans are a preventive measure to ensure
parents don’t take legal action against principals,
teachers or an entire board, however,
I fear bans eliminate the creative outlets
necessary for our children’s personal growth,
stripping our schools of the fundamentals
our kids need for inspiration and ultimately,
Rather than banning cartwheels and other
forms of play, shouldn’t we be doing more to
encourage them? The way our kids play at
recess directly infl uences the way they play
during their free time.
Many kids don’t have the freedom to ride
their bikes for hours after dinner or gather in
a neighbourhood meeting spot for a friendly
game of hide-and-seek until the voice of the
loudest parent echoes through the streets.
Parents’ fear of who might be lurking around
outweighs their interest in their kids’ staying
active. The idea is that it’s safer to keep kids
indoors. Instead of active outdoor play, kids
are turning to gadgets, computers and smart
phones to fi ll their free time.
Michelle Silver McKeen, a Calgary mother
of two boys, sets strict limits on screen time.
“It’s amazing what kids will come up with
when screen time isn’t an option.” She also
refrains from over-scheduling her boys so
they have freedom and time to play, which
makes life less stressful for the entire family.
Playing – something that used to be inherent
in all of us – seems to be slipping away,
but experts will tell us it’s worth saving.
“Active play helps kids learn from their mistakes,
make friends, be creative, problem solve,
test boundaries and shape their own identities,”
But, as we eliminate open-ended games and
freestyle play in favour of scheduled activities, I
have this niggling fear: that the bans, excessive
screen time and abduction anxiety will, over
generations, wear away at our instinct to play.
Will kids forget how?
Lorie Walton, a certified child psychotherapist,
Play Therapist Supervisor and owner of
Family First Play Therapy Centre Inc., has spent
her life studying child development.
“Children are concrete learners and learn by
using all of their senses. They must physically
and emotionally experience their world as children
in order to make sense of it as adults.”
How will kids learn these important developmental
behaviours and how to successfully
apply them in the long-term if their heads are
buried in a gaming device? Lorie fears “children
of this generation are not going to know nonverbal
cues provided by facial expression and
as such, won’t understand how to expel their
stresses without knowing the benefits of physical
interaction through rough and tumble play.
“If children continue to interact through electronic
devices, they lose the ability to use social
cues and situations to solve problems.”
Lorie also says the physical aspects of play are
integral to the developing child. “Children learn
how to regulate their physiological emotional
states through positive touch.
“If peer relations throughout the developing
years don’t include facial connections or physical
interactions, then will the next generation be
missing out on key components necessary for
healthy human interactions?”
Kym Grippo and Janet Omstead, co-founders
of LifeSports Inc. (lifesports.ca) maintain hope.
“If you hand kids a stick or a ball, they’ll come
up with a number of ways to play.” We need to
allow them the opportunity to explore. Ultimately
it will get them moving. Kids like being
tasked with a new challenge and are willing
LifeSports focuses on creative movement
programming for all ages and originally began
as an in-school PhysEd program that was based
on having fun rather than team sports or competition,
which can be a turn off for many kids.
Kym and Janet suggest that by being an active
role model and encouraging kids to use their
imaginations, parents can help kids come up
with ways to play and stay active.
In the meantime, shin-pads and helmets at
the ready, I’m working on bringing back the
Tips from Lifesports Inc.
Everyone can get outside and move with their kids.
It can be as simple as using a stop watch and dedicating
10 minutes of your time to unstructured, outdoor activity.
LifeSports recommends that parents:
Be roles models of active living.
- Be open to their kids’ interests.
- Don’t be afraid to make mistakes in front of their kids.
- Keep the environment non-competitive.
- Let kids explore the exhilarating feeling of being scared
(to a point) when they try something new.
Freelance writer Liz Hastings has three daughters. When she’s
not driving her kids to swimming lessons, she’s trying to make
more time for play.
Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, October 2013.