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  • Annie Friday

Tag is Dead. What the Hell?!

I start this post with the disclaimer that I recognize there is no one-size-fits-all in education. I know that large class sizes, teacher unions, and other barriers create all kinds of real life challenges for teachers. I think in general we can do better by the kids in our care. Asking ourselves, “who is this rule for?” needs to happen more frequently. The death of tag has nothing to do with kids and everything to do with inconveniencing adults.


For a long time now, I have known that recess has become weaponized by educators across the country. I have heard of recess being removed as a punishment for unrelated offenses like forgetting to bring in homework or talking out of turn in class. I have seen children be made to stand against the wall of the building during lunch recess if they acted out in the cafeteria. I have known third graders to become depressed because their recess has been removed so often as a punishment for a restless body.


In both my personal and professional life, I push back against recess being used as a punishment (or a reward for that matter). It is ineffective. It is not developmentally appropriate (for any level of development). It is cruel. However, I’m starting to dig in more to what happens even when there recess is allowed.

A young child in a rain coat runs after a colorful rubber tire on a school play yard.
Playing games and chase are an integral part of school.

Many, if not most, schools and playgrounds have rules for where certain games, equipment, or spaces are closed off to children, mostly because they’re thought to be hazardous. I’m not talking about merely avoiding Broken Glass Hillside. I’m talking about not being able to access beloved childhood games such as tag.


Think back to childhood for a moment. Think back to the playgrounds, schoolyards, and/or parks you played at as a child. Think of the games. Think of the laughter. Think of the fun. Does any one of your memories involve the game of tag? Complete a simple internet search and you will see picture after picture of children smiling and laughing and chasing each other, some dating back hundreds of years. You probably will also find links to many variations on the game because sometimes you have to even the playing field or just change it up for fun.


So recently when my second grade child told me about playing Air Tag on the playground, I was very intrigued. My second grader went on to explain that tag isn’t allowed on the playground because too often a tap turns into a push (clearly something heard multiple times from the educational professionals at school). Instead, these kids created a version called Air Tag that they play in stealth mode on the schoolyard. They get within inches of each other and say “Pew, pew” when they are tagging a fellow competitor. Ingenious? Yes. But really, what the hell?!


A young child crosses home plate while a field of kickball players resets.
Games like kickball and tag need to be part of childhood for brain development, social skills, and for fun.

One reason tag (also called tig, it, tips, tiggy, tip, tick according to Wikipedia) is such a great and universal game is that it requires no equipment or very little set-up time. Nearly anyone can play it and it can be easily adapted for accommodating various needs and fitness levels. I know as a 40-year-old mom, I appreciate the breaks to catch my breath as provided in Freeze Tag.


The benefits of tag may even outnumber the many, many iterations of the game itself. To learn more about the benefits of tag, read this post by Darryl Edwards of Primal Play. All of these benefits are just left on the table when we ban tag. And at what cost?


Yes, injury is a possibility of playing a game like tag. Yes, maybe even a fight could break out over a game of tag gone awry. Is that a hazard that should be avoided at all costs? Or is it a learning moment for the players involved? Or is it a chance for adults to connect and care for a child who becomes hurt, physically or emotionally? Right now, the possibility of a child being hurt is seen as an inconvenience mostly due to constraints on educators.



What are the obstacles preventing children from being able to play tag? How do we get past them?


Are these questions you are willing to ask at your school as a parent or teacher? If you’re a teacher who wants to ask this question but is afraid of losing your job, is there a parent or another advocate who can ask for you? (If not, totally call me, I love firing off strongly-worded emails on behalf of children’s play!)


Remember, we can’t expect children to problem-solve if they’re only given word problems on a worksheet. Let’s give them real life moments where life gets messy and might need to be worked out. Let’s give children a chance to navigate risks versus hazards. Let’s give our kids an authentic childhood.


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This post was inspired by the life of wise educator, Dan Hodgins, who always encouraged parents and educators to really think about what we value in our relationships with the children in our lives. Dan recently passed away and while I’m heartbroken to lose such a valuable voice in the field, I’m grateful for the many resources that Dan left behind. He has two books, a couple of blogs, some online training sessions, and many incredible episodes of podcasts on phenomenal series like That Early Childhood Nerd and Child Care Bar and Grill. I encourage you to find anything by him and learn to ask, “What the hell?!” more often.



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