How can I demonstrate that gymnastics is a reasonably safe recess activity?
September 11, 2012 10:18 AM   Subscribe

My children's school implemented a no "gymnastics" policy at recess, including somersaults, cartwheels, and the splits. On the grassy area where they are allowed, they can sit but cannot put their hands down. My child loves gymnastics and is devastated. The reason for the policy is that one child injured her wrist while attempting a cartwheel. I would like to have some data to take to the PTA about why this is an overreaction to one incident. Sure children can get injured by doing cartwheels, they can also trip and fall but we don't tell them they cannot walk. Any thoughts?
posted by turtlefu to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (36 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Where are you located? Does your child go to a public school or a private school, or something in-between?

The playground at our child's school is dominated by large, smooth boulders and other rock formations that are great for climbing, scaling and sliding, plus a oaks groves and woods. Every year at least one kid breaks an arm, but there have been no moves to abolish playing on the playground.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:26 AM on September 11, 2012

Response by poster: Where are you located? Does your child go to a public school or a private school, or something in-between?

It is a public school. There are no district policies like this - it is an individual principal's decision.
posted by turtlefu at 10:28 AM on September 11, 2012

Speak to the principal, follow up with a letter, then letter to the superintendent's office.
posted by tilde at 10:28 AM on September 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

You might also want to consider the detrimental health effects of the sedentary lifestyle more Americans have these days and ask about the relative risk of restricting physical activity.
posted by grouse at 10:28 AM on September 11, 2012 [28 favorites]

Playworks has several reports on their website that might have related and/or helpful information. You might also consider contacting them to ask for additional information.
posted by OrangeDisk at 10:33 AM on September 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

That's not gymnastics, that's playing. Reinforce that with the principle - little kids have been turning summersaults and cartwheels since we were stalking mammoths on the steppes. There's no need to put a fancy technical term for kids playing on the grass, there's no need for safety equipment or a qualified instructor to let them tumble and run and fall. Accidents happen, kids trip and fall all the time. It seems unreasonably cruel to force them to sit quietly on the grass - it's not natural, healthy or humane.

If the principle won't listen, go to the Superintendent. If the Supe won't listen, then raise a ruckus with the school board.
posted by Slap*Happy at 10:41 AM on September 11, 2012 [29 favorites]

Interestingly, Free Range Kids recently posted this: "School Outrage of the Week: No Cartwheels Unless “Trained Gymnastics Teacher” Supervising". There is mention of a parent-led petition to allow them once more.
posted by MonkeyToes at 10:41 AM on September 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Good related discussion by the NY Times: Can a Playground Be Too Safe?
posted by susanvance at 10:41 AM on September 11, 2012 [6 favorites]

Came in to recommend that recent NY Times article. The article links to a European study on childhood development and the value of risk that should be of some use to you.

I've had to do research in this area for work in the past; I've got some additional resources I could share offline, so feel free to email me if you'd like to discuss this further.
posted by saladin at 10:44 AM on September 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Ah, and MonkeyToes is right to point you toward Lenore Skenazy; you should consider emailing her your story, to see if you can't leverage her network to your benefit.
posted by saladin at 10:46 AM on September 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

In your letter, feel free to include this anecdote as happening to you or "a friend" if it will help your argument:

While running in gym class in 3rd grade, a girl in my class tripped and fell. And then the clumsy kid in the class (who was running a fair distance behind her) failed to notice and tripped over and fell right on top of her. His fall broke her wrist.

Did we ban running in gym class? No. Did we ban clumsy kids? No. Why? Because clumsy kids and being able to run in gym class are more important than one broken wrist.
posted by phunniemee at 10:47 AM on September 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Take it to the media. The local papers would eat this up.
posted by blue t-shirt at 10:51 AM on September 11, 2012 [10 favorites]

On further thought: If you have an orthopedic practice in your area, perhaps you could call and ask how many playground-related injuries (due to cartwheels, somersaults and splits) they've seen over the years. Be specific that you are *not* asking about team-sport-related injuries, but about events during normal play at recess.
posted by MonkeyToes at 10:52 AM on September 11, 2012 [5 favorites]

Suggest a liability waiver by which parents can formally allow their children to play this way? I bet even money that the principal is scared spitless of getting sued a the parent of an injured child.
posted by smirkette at 11:01 AM on September 11, 2012 [7 favorites]

Nthing contact the media. They love to print stories about how one dumb school made a dumb decision. (Recently, there was one about how a 3-year-old got suspended for sexual harassment when he tried to touch a girl in class.)
posted by Melismata at 11:04 AM on September 11, 2012

Whenever a kid gets hurt, officials are under tremendous pressure to DO SOMETHING!!!!! to address the perceived problem. They will never, ever chill out until you satisfy the DO SOMETHING!!! wing of their constituency. Nobody wants to be the school official who just sits idly by as heaps of bloody broken-wristed children pile up outside their office.

Could you suggest having a gymnastics instructor come and do a class for the kids during an assembly or something like that? That way you are selling it as increasing safety for everybody - student athletes, kids on the playground, etc - while at the same time encouraging safe physical fitness. Everybody wins! As a side effect, your kid also gets to play on the grass like a normal kid, but don't emphasize that too much. Instead, focus on how we need to make healthy fitness fun and safe for everybody, because fitness, obesity epidemic, etc.
posted by selfmedicating at 11:05 AM on September 11, 2012 [5 favorites]

As you pursue other strategies outlined here, be sure to have a small comment at the ready regarding kids' desire to have fun no matter what the rules are, and so a "no-hands-on-the-ground" policy is likely to increase injury, when some kids try to do splits, cartwheels and somersaults without using their hands.
posted by davejay at 11:15 AM on September 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

They did this with soccer when my kids were in elementary school. Same with your school, it was an individual principal's decision. The parents raised hell and got it reversed. Took nearly a year though. It is absolutely ridiculous that kids have recess and can't be physically active so the school won't get sued. Physical activity is what recess is for. You can fight this, get together with other parents and push back, there is strength in numbers.
posted by headnsouth at 11:17 AM on September 11, 2012 [6 favorites]

This is such an odd story that it may interest your local media. And I'm sure you're not alone in thinking this is bizarre and unnecessary - talk to the other parents.
posted by futureisunwritten at 11:35 AM on September 11, 2012

I wonder whether it would be worth finding out whether this is the result of a ruckus raised by the parent of the child who was injured. I say that only because if it wasn't, if it was the school's own spontaneous reaction (or their lawyer's, or whoever), it might be quite powerful to have the other parent say, "Obviously, these things happen and it was never my intention that you ban cartwheels just because my kid hurt herself." On the other hand, if that parent DOES think this stuff shouldn't be allowed, that's a piece of information you'll want to keep in mind, because the principal will have it in mind. That would mean, for instance, that you would probably strategically want to keep your argument really moderate in tone, as opposed to ridiculing the idea of banning cartwheels, since the principal will feel more pressure, I think, if it's something the other parent raised.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 11:51 AM on September 11, 2012 [4 favorites]

Do you know the problem is the principal? It may be the case that the parent of the injured kid has actually threatened to sue the school district and this is the arrangement they've come to with the family in order to avoid what would be a protracted and expensive experience for both parties, even though the school wasn't really at fault. (xp: what Linda_Holmes said.)
posted by escabeche at 11:52 AM on September 11, 2012

That's crazy. And you should tell the principle so. It's like telling a 9 month old not to walk because he/she might fall down. Kids must be allowed to be kids...risks, dirt, and injuries come as they may.
posted by Dansaman at 12:18 PM on September 11, 2012

From a teachers perspective, this seems like a bad idea - not just because kids need to be active, but because its one additional frivolous policy to enforce on the playground... However, what IS DEFINITELY needed, is a greater level of parental understanding when kids get hurt. Kids WILL fall on the basketball court, kids will smash into each other playing tag, kids will occasionally bleed and cry etc. Less parental freakout and finger pointing will help prevent the institution of absurd policies. I have no idea if that's what led to this policy in your school, but I've been teaching for a long time and seen this many times.
posted by blaneyphoto at 12:30 PM on September 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

I agree with contacting the local media.

And in your communication you could cite all the statistics - everything from Michelle Obama's "Let's Move" campaign to all the American Academy of Pediatric research - on the horrible dangers of sedentary childhood habits.

And then I'd take it to the Board of Superintendents, because that Principal is a moron and maybe ought to be fired maybe.
posted by fingersandtoes at 12:31 PM on September 11, 2012

Going to the media is the nuclear option in this scenario. It will inflame the situation and burn bridges. I say hold off on talking to the media until you've pursued the school administration directly. They are likely reasonable folks, trying to make a lot of different people happy here. If they are uncooperative, then consider it.
posted by dry white toast at 12:46 PM on September 11, 2012 [5 favorites]

American Academy of Pediatrics: Tips to keep gymnasts’ health from taking a tumble
American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons: Jump, Flip, Twist and Enjoy Gymnastics, Safely

I can't find anything on either site about casual playground gymnastics; both of these advisories deal with formal gymnastics training, and preventing injury in physically intensive programs. Surely if these organizations were worried about playground gymnastics lasting just a few minutes each week, they would say so--? Again: Do your local physicians and surgeons worry about this? Is your local ER just hopping with sprained wrists during school hours?

This is one more ban for the playground supervisors to enforce. Surely they'd rather be giving their attention to preventing fights and bullying? And the teachers are presumably aware of problems related to inactivity? It would be interesting to know what the district's lawyer has to say about liability, because the principal's reaction sounds like a knee-jerk response. Frankly, if your district still allows sports like soccer and football, it's going to be hard to justify preventing a cartwheel here or there.
posted by MonkeyToes at 1:52 PM on September 11, 2012

I teach in a public school, and I'd advise against taking things to the media, or to the school board until you get a chance to talk to the principal, and I'd hold off on doing that until talking to someone influential in the PTA (because these people REALLY know how the game is played) in private about how to proceed and whether this is an issue that has traction.

Keep the conversation constructive, look for a win-win, avoid negativity or grandstanding, and speak from a place of assuming that your principal probably wishes that kids could play more freely, but is implementing the policy either because s/he fears for kids' safety, or is worried about liability. If you talk to the principal, it would probably be a good idea to get clarification on the reason for the policy, step away for a few days to think about it, and then go back and ask for something.

Maybe it would work if the playground had an area with rubber mulch, and maybe this is something the PTA would be willing to get behind and fund-raise for.

Also, it's possible that the policy was changed because of one incident, but are you sure that there aren't a bunch of similar incidents that happened and led to the policy change? You may have reliable information, but it's also likely that there's a history to this that you're not fully aware of.

TL;DR: My guess would be that your district's administration will circle the wagons if you escalate quickly or in a manner that appears to marshal negative public opinion for use as leverage. If this is an issue that the PTA is willing to help you with, they'll know how to take care of business. If not, that's not a good sign, and if you're not careful, the "just one kid" people associate with this will be your daughter instead of the child who hurt her wrist.
posted by alphanerd at 3:13 PM on September 11, 2012 [7 favorites]

Contact the national education press and ed-related interest groups, too. (I also mean major outlets like the Wall Street Journal [Stephanie Banchero], the New York Times [Sam Dillon], and the Washington Post [Jay Matthews] in addition to trade pubs.) The Education Writers Association will be helpful.
posted by jgirl at 3:22 PM on September 11, 2012

Kids get hurt in gym class all the time, but they still have to do that... even if they don't want to. This seems super-illogical! Maybe you could point that out. If they say it's because of supervision, well, recess is supervised. Unstructured play is sooo important for physical and mental development. It's not as if these kids daily activities aren't regimented enough already. Maybe you could point that out too. Plus, if the kids aren't allowd to burn off some energy and actively use their imaginations and make decisions in deciding how to play, they'll probably act up more in class. It might cause behavioural issues. Maybe you could point that out, too.
posted by windykites at 4:03 PM on September 11, 2012

Kids get hurt in gym class all the time, but they still have to do that... even if they don't want to.

As much as I am in favor of kids doing tumbling at recess, this is a bad comparison. Supervision in gym should be totally different from the supervision in recess.
posted by grouse at 4:08 PM on September 11, 2012

Ok before you do anything, make sure you know they intend this to be a long-term policy.

Sometimes it's only part of the process. Example: crane accident at work. The obvious short-term immediate action is to shut down all crane work. That's designed to keep it from happening again while we investigate. Typically, there will be some sort of mitigating bridging action developed pretty quickly because that's obviously unsustainable for long. So maybe we can use cranes, but only with the senior manager's permission and a safety watch on station.

The investigation will determine whether anything needs to be changed in policy, and if so, what. maybe nothing. This meeting will involve all the stakeholders like teachers, admin, legal. This is not a super fast process sometimes. Once the long term action is decided, the short term action can go away.

It's easy to make fun of the short term action as an overreaction, but it's not supposed to be The New Way of Doing Things.
posted by ctmf at 4:36 PM on September 11, 2012

It's easy to make fun of the short term action

Bonus, you get to ridicule them again when the reasonable long-term action replaces the extreme short-term one. You call that "backing down under pressure," when really it's just the way the process works.
posted by ctmf at 5:01 PM on September 11, 2012

This is a cop out on the Principal's part. Rather than research or come up with a plan for safety, he banned it. Throwing the baby out with the bath water.

I would appeal to the principal first. Then to the Superintendent and then go to a school board meeting and ask them. IF all that fails, I would instruct my child to do the cartwheels anyway and tell them that there will be no repercussions in your house regardless of what the district thinks.

I had a similar issue with one of my sons. He and a friend were wrestling at 6th grade recess. THe assistant principal wanted to give him in school detention. I told the principal he was nuts. My son and I discussed it and while we recognize that some people make arbitrary decisions, he had to live with it or not if he was willing to accept the consequences. My son chose to wrestle and then have lunch the next day in principal's office. He insisted on bringing in tuna fish to smell up the office. THis went on for about a week. One day wrestle at recess, next day lunch with principal. I was wondering how long this would keep up. I know my son is stubborn enough to go for a while. After the 3rd or 4th tuna fish lunch in his office, he changed the rules back to letting the kids be kids.

I think the key lesson was that one, my son knew we supported him, and two, that he was willing to take the punishment in pursuit of his own civil disobedience.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 7:18 PM on September 11, 2012 [3 favorites]

As a gymnastics coach of 10 years (and classroom teacher of 2), I just want to add my thoughts. I often get asked by parents whether I recommend their kids do cartwheels etc. at home or at school, and I always err on the side of caution. If it's literally only cartwheels, front rolls, and the splits, it's not a problem. The problem is when one kid who has taken acro or gymnastics decides to show or teach her group of friends how to do a bridge, and then it escalates to handstands, to walkovers, to trying to "spot" each other, to injuries. I've seen that happen, and the accidents that result as a result.
posted by hasna at 7:19 PM on September 11, 2012

I'd look up literature on Occupational Therapy and argue the case that physical play and sensory integration are both essential for healthy development, particularly of the nervous system. Perhaps literature on psychological effects of risk aversion. There are benefits to tumbling and gymnastics which help children experientially understand how their body moves through space. This, in turn, positively impacts their visual-spacial skills (i.e. increases comprehension and learning in math & sciences). Perhaps research Waldorf education? I seem to remember reading about this somewhere and I feel like that may be the source.
posted by luciddream928 at 7:20 PM on September 11, 2012

My child loves gymnastics and is devastated
There are probably a whole lot of other kids who feel the same way. How cool would it be if they were to get together and make their case to the idiots in charge? A simple petition might do the trick.

Could be a very educational experience for everyone concerned.
posted by ZipRibbons at 1:24 AM on September 12, 2012

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