Ban on 'Tag': Are school children getting the right playtime?

Different modes of thought on school work, play, and safety clashed at an elementary school in Washington where 'Tag' was temporarily banned during recess – until parents objected. 

Robin Zielinski/The Las Cruces Sun/AP
Andy Baccei, 5, center, screams with his classmates at a schoolyard in Las Cruces, New Mexico. A debate occurred this week over what children should be doing in schoolyards and if the game "Tag" should be part of recess.

The playground game of "Tag" was temporarily banned at a Washington elementary school, but the ban was met by parent protests at a time when school recess is considered by many educators as one of the keys to better test scores.

Parents at Lakeridge Elementary School protested when they learned that the school's new "hands off" policy – designed to reduce injuries during recess – also banned "Tag," reported the Bend Bulletin.

"While at play, especially during recess and unstructured time, students are expected to keep their hands to themselves. The rationale behind this is to ensure the physical and emotional safety of all students," Mary Grady of the Mercer Island School District told Q13 Fox News.

Many Mercer Island parents protested that rousing recess game of chase and touch was not only safe, but also healthy. 

"Good grief, our kids need some unstructured playtime," a concerned mother Kelsey Joyce told Q13 Fox News. "I totally survived tag, I even survived red rover, believe it or not."

The district's vague response did not precisely ban "Tag," but hinted at touch-free alternatives. Details were not provided.

"We want to initiate a new form of tag-like running games to minimize the issues of ‘you were tagged/no I wasn’t’ or ‘the tag was too hard and felt more like a hit,’ " wrote Mercer Island School District Superintendent Gary Plano in a statement Thursday.

After further pushback, the school district caved Friday and announced "Tag" was back, reported the Seattle Times.

"Tag, as we know it and have known it, is reinstated," the school said in a statement. 

Educators are under pressure to help children succeed on standardized tests, to use new technology, and to stay safe in a globalized world. But many teachers face a new mandate – teach students to relax. Some educators want to increase the time children spend in unstructured play, emphasizing recess over content review. 

Many schools tried to improve standardized test scores by cutting recess time several years ago, but elementary school principals realized that play time had actually helped test performance, The Christian Science Monitor reported in 2010. At that time, more than 80 percent of principals said recess improved academic achievement, according to a Gallup survey. 

Meanwhile, some schools, like Lakeridge Elementary, are attempting to find the right kind of playground play.

Rather than banning "Tag," a non-profit called Playworks suggests using the game to teach conflict resolution, or even just for fun. 

"I think a game like tag is wonderful," Playworks Director Jonathan Blasher told the Seattle Times. "You can play it almost anywhere, it’s universal. It’s important for kids to have that free-range play, where adults aren’t micromanaging, but there is the need for assurance that the kids have a basic understanding what the expectations are."

Playworks was started in 1996 to prevent the sort of fights and disruption at recess that prompted the ban on tag at Lakeridge Elementary School, The Christian Science Monitor reported. Rather than forbid certain games, the group places coaches in schools during recess to suggest new ones. The idea was to both free teachers and administrators from breaking up fights and help children return to class rejuvenated and with a few life skills.

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