Friday, January 7, 2011

Kids, snow and safety rules

Kids and snow go together like peanut butter and jelly. It's like Mother Nature sends it down from the heavens just for them. It has an almost magical effect. A morning of arguing, frustration and crying disappears the moment their feet hit the white fluffy stuff. Tears are relaced with smiles, and grumpiness with laughter. I hate driving in it, but it always makes me smile because I know the kids are going to have a great day.

The flipside to this joy has been rearing it's ugly head this week. We've had a few challenges with the yard supervisors this week and today was my breaking point. I had a long chat with our school principle this morning about the rules around the kids playing the snow. I started the conversation by saying "This is going to sound like a complaint but it isn't. I just need to understand the rules so I can help the kids respect them."  He and I have had many conversations over the years, so I trust that he knows that I'll respect whatever rules they put in place, as long as they are consistent and I know what they are. I even volunteered to help suprvise if they need help. I'm not trying to be super mom. I just like to put my money where my mouth is, and be part of the solution.

Here's a short list of the school snow rules, as we've discovered them this week: The hill at the side of the school yard is out of bounds, even though it's in-bounds, "because someone might get hurt sliding down it." The sandbox in the middle of the yard is out of bounds "because it's covered in ice and someone might slip and fall." If it's not covered in ice, it's still out of bounds "because the sand is wet and someone will get dirty." They can't make piles of snow "because it might fall on someone and suffocate them." And, of course, they can't throw snow. In fact, they "aren't allowed to pick it up at all." Making snowmen seems to still by up for debate. Sometimes they can and sometimes they can't. It depends on who's holding the whistle.

Even though I don't agree with some of them, they are the rules, and I will teach my kids to respect them. This morning the rules didn't make sense though, so I had to say something.

Jonas got in trouble today for making a snow angel. That's right, a snow angel! In fact, it didn't even get that far. The yard supervisor asked him "not to lie in the snow", reguardless of the fact that he was bundled up well enough to survive an overnight in the arctic. "You might get wet" she said. Are you kidding me?!?!  Like when I walked in on Jonas' meltdown at school on Tuesday, I was so thankful that I was there to witness it my own eyes. I never would have believed it if he had told me later. Shame on me, but I would have assumed that he was leaving something out of the story. (Now, I'm wondering which of the other school yard challenges he's been having are a result of this kind of thing.)

Jonas is very sensitive, and he feels picked on a lot. We're working with him on controlling and expressing his emotions better, but this time he was absolutely right. There were at least 100 kids playing in the snow around the yard, breaking all the rules I mentioned above. Six or seven of them were making snow angels in the same general area as him, but he was the one asked to stop. I'm not sure if his "trouble-maker" lable was part of the problem or not, but the supervisor took a visable step back when she realized that his mom was standing right there. She looked to me for back up, and back her up I did. Jonas said it wasn't fair. I looked at her and said he was right. Then I reminded him that the supervisor is the boss. If she says stop, he needs to stop. Period. Then I told them both that I'd talk to the principle to make sure we all understand the rules.

Beware the lurking dangers of the snow angel!
I understand that those teachers and parents who wear the orange vests are on the hook the for the safety and well-being of all the kids in the yard. I also know that it only takes one parent to complain because little Johnny got a boo boo. I understand that kids need to be safe. In fact, I only have two rules for my kids: Be safe and be nice. Be safe always comes first. Mitigating their risks is one of my most important responsibilities as an adult. Believe me, I get it.

I also haven't forgotten what it's like to be a kid. Kids need to play. They need fresh air and exercise, and boo boos are going to happen. It's part of learning to take risks. That's part of our job as parents and teachers - to help them learn to weigh risk and reward, to look ahead at the consequences, and then decide if it's worth it. Yes, they have to be safe and they have to learn to respect authority and follow the rules, but we do them no favours if we don't teach them to think for themselves and make smart choices. And we hurt them just as much if we're overzealous and don't let them be kids and have fun.

Thankfully, the principle and I are on the same page. He's going to have a staff meeting at lunch to talk about the snow and the safety rules. He's not happy with it either. "Of course snow angels are ok!" he said. "What good is winter if we can't have fun in the snow?" Then he did something I wish Jonas could have seen.  He dropped to the ground with my five-year old niece, and made a snow angel with her.  He then thanked her and said it's the first one he's made all year.  That's the spirit!!



  1. Thank you for writing about this Jacqui!! I wish that our culture had not turned into such a helicopter culture. Kids need to be able to experience life just "being kids". I am all for the safety of our children but NOT at the cost of not letting them learn life lessons. And really, what is soo wrong if they get a little wet or dirty? I would be very suspicious if my kids came home from school in the exact same condition that they left in, it would mean that they experienced or did very little during the day. Love this post.
    You might want to read this blog... writes about this very issue.
    Have a great day,

  2. Thanks Sandra! I know the schools are in a tight spot and they're never going to make everyone happy. We have the same problem in Scouts. We lose kids after camp because they come home dirty, or after a hike because they scratched their knee. Kids need to be kids and bumps, bruises and dirt are part of that. We've made a lot of improvements in this generation but we've also taken a huge step back. In my opinion, keeping our kids in bubbles doesn't keep them safe. If they are afraid of the world, or don't know how to think for themselves, they are going to be a whole lot worse off.

    Have an inspiring day my friend - and enjoy that snow!

  3. WOW! I just checked out that link, Sandra, and it makes me shake my head. (Not to mention being thankful that I'm not a Scouting leader in the UK.) What the heck is wrong with our society?! I'm a bad parent if I let my kid spend time on the couch but I'm just as bad if I let him play, especially outside or in the dark. It's rediculous!

  4. Here's some compelling evidence about the consequences of keeping our kids safe inside> It's a book called "Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature Deficit Disorder.

  5. Hey Sandra!

    I took it one step further and went out and bought her book. "Free-Range Kids: How to Raise Safe, Self-Reliant Children (Without Going Nuts with Worry)" I'm only a little way into it but I LOVE IT. Thanks for the tip!

  6. Oh, good gawd. Do they not realize that this is CANADA?? (My daughter was 6 months old the first time that she went on a multi-hour ski trip. She was 18mo when she first was thrown into a snowbank. And you better believe that we throw snow in our backyard.) GAH. Thank goodness for principles who aren't afraid of SNOW?

  7. Thanks Natalie! Our school principle is fantastic. All the kidsw love him and it's not hard to see why. He's so down to earth and approachable, and he always tries to see their point of view. Too bad more adults aren't that way!

    Take care and keep playing in the snow!