Questioning the Rules

I recently gave a professional development presentation about natural play areas. As sometimes happens (ok, it happens quite a bit), there were comments of "But we're not allowed to..." However, most of the time the rules the person is referring to don’t actually exist, but instead are an urban legend of sorts within the preschool. Sometimes the rules do exist, but based on very different contexts (For example, children aren't allowed to play on climbing structures when there is ice on the ground because of fall zone/surfacing issues, but that gets translated to never going outside when it's icy). I’m amazed the number of rules that people assume exist because so-and-so told them that’s how it was, and don’t ever take the time to find the actual rule in black-and-white print.

Any time a policy or practice seems odd to you, makes your gut say “that’s not right!”, or you know is just plain crazy, I strongly encourage you to ask the powers that be to show you the rule. Of course you should ask in a respectful manner, but also a persistent one. Too often silly rules, or worse yet urban legend, become gospel in early childhood programs, and as a result limits the opportunities that children have to play and explore.

As I said, I have MANY conversations at workshops that start something like, “That’s great, but we’re not allowed to…” At some point during the conversation I almost always reference Lisa Murphy's article on shaving cream. It’s definitely worth the read.

Yes, we want to provide safe learning environments for young children, but sometimes rules that are supposed make children safe are just silly. WE have to be a rational voice for children when they can’t be that voice for themselves. Case in point, going outside below 10 degree wind chill is not unsafe if children are dressed appropriately, and yet I have talked with many professionals who work for programs where children aren’t allowed outside in those temperatures—even if they have the right clothing.

Check out Lisa Murphy’s article, ask questions, and keep fighting the good fight--children are counting on you!