Brothers in the school yard

by DaniGirl on November 12, 2010 · 23 comments

in Mothering without a licence

So here’s an interesting situation that I did not see coming. The boys have been discouraged from playing together in the school yard. Apparently, a Grade 1 student is not supposed to play with a Grade 3 student at recess, even if they are siblings.

In their old school, we would have been facing a similar sort of problem had the boys stayed. Tristan’s best friend was in a grade ahead of him, and when they were in Grades 2 and 3, they were allowed to play together at recess. However, the school has a rule that forbids primary kids from playing with junior kids, and even allocates separate parts of the yard for them. While it was fine in Grades 2 and 3 when they were both in the primary grades, once they reached Grades 3 and 4 they’d have an invisible wall between them. Seemed rather silly to me at the time, and I’d been steeling myself for an argument with the school to allow it.

Well, I solved that problem rather unintentionally by yanking the boys out of their comfortable friendships and dumping them into a new school. I was very surprised, though, to hear that brothers were being discouraged from playing with each other. In fact, I ended up speaking to both their teachers this week on a separate issue, and both teachers emphasized the importance of each of them playing with their same-grade peers.

On one hand, I get it. They’re new to the school, and it’s important that they make friends with their classmates. They need to be open to the other kids of their own age groups. On the other hand, I’m concerned about the idea that they are not “allowed” to play with each other, and that cross-grade friendships are discouraged.

It’s the elder who seems to be having the most trouble settling in, and the one whom I think would most benefit from making an extra effort to make his own friends. And it’s the younger who is most resistant to the idea. Just in the past week or so, the elder has found a little niche of friends and I’ve heard happy reports of recess shenanigans revolving around playing characters out of Super Mario Bros. The youngest is desperate to be included, and in fact has always seen himself as his brother’s peer.

For all I know, this rule is universal and would have been the same at the old school, and we just never encountered it because Simon was only in afternoon SK the year we left. I’m curious as to whether any of you have experienced a bias against cross-grade friendships in your kids’ schools? What do you think of the idea of kids being discouraged from playing with kids outside of their grade? Should exceptions be made for siblings? Is it healthier to encourage them to form separate peer groups, or to let them rely on each other? While it might not seem it at the time, elementary school is really just a tiny portion of a child’s life — but siblings last forever.

What do you think?

{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Fawn November 12, 2010 at 12:33 pm

I’m not a teacher, so perhaps it’s not my place, but I think that kind of policy is bizarre. I remember we always played separately when we were growing up (my sister was a grade behind me) but that was more of a school culture kind of thing, not a rule, I think. In fact, I distinctly remember making friends with one older girl, and sometime chatting with my younger sister, and there was no supervisor interference because of it. I don’t see any reasons why *all* the kids shouldn’t be allowed to mingle. Would bullying really be a much bigger problem if they did? Or what’s the big concern?

When I lived in Fort Liard, NWT, one of the things that we always observed to be unique and heartwarming about the school is that kids of all ages play together at recess. Since the school goes from kindergarten to Grade 12, that could sometimes be a concern, as some of the older kids *did* make poor choices in their personal lives, but more often the older kids were looking out for the younger ones. Of course, the hamlet is tiny (about 500 people) so it’s not practical to segregate the grades… after all, all the kids interact with each other in all other activities in town.

I know some of my friends who homeschool do so partly because they feel the artificial segregation of ages is not a natural learning environment. I still plan to send my kids to school… but I wonder what *our* schools’ policies are on different age groups playing together?

2 _Don November 12, 2010 at 12:41 pm

When I was a kid in school, there was none of this stupidity.

I’d like to know their reasoning, because whatever it is, it won’t stick. I suppose they don’t want the random older troublemakers influencing the younger ones? Rather than dicipline the troublemakers, change the rules to affect the entire school? Should’nt there be some sort of chance for mentoring older and younger classes?

This year we took our son OUT of the public school system and put him in private school. Hearing crap like this makes me all the more happier about it. Their teaching was terrible, and I hope in his previous school this too isn’t a new rule.

In his new school, the classes are smaller, and not only is intermingling grades allowed, its encouraged. This school goes from grade 1 to 12. The grade 3s, 4s, and 5s all intermix in teachings and activities, and after school when I pick him up, there are older kids (by a few years) playing with the youngers. What better way to foster respect?

The school system has to stop saving the kids from themselves and learn to teach appropriately.

3 Gwen November 12, 2010 at 12:44 pm

I completely disagree with this policy. Part of socialization must include playing and interacting with children of different ages. What better place to do this than in a supervised school yard? Or does your school feel that they lack the ability to adequately supervise the children? Secondly, to discourage siblings from playing together seems to go against what most parents try to teach their children: take care of each other, get along with each other, you are all equal, you are each other’s best friend.

In your case, it seems like your sons would benefit from playing together. Helping to ease this huge transition into their new lives. Recess is supposed to be a “break” and a chance to “let of some steam”. It is an opportunity to have some laughs and relax. For a child under stress, it will make a huge difference in his day knowing that at recess he can play and interact with his brother. It will make things just a little bit easier, a little bit better.

4 coffee with julie November 12, 2010 at 1:20 pm

I don’t “get” this policy at all. I wonder if it’s at all schools? Your boys should be able to play with each other at all recess breaks, as far as I’m concerned. Like Gwen notes, during this transition especially, it would be comforting to see a familiar face when you are the “new kid” in school. During recess, kids should be allowed to do whatever the heck they want, as long as it does no harm. I see recess as a break from all the structure and rules that are necessary to keep a classroom functioning well.

5 liz November 12, 2010 at 1:35 pm

This rule seems incredibly foolish and short-sighted.

If they really want to segregate the kids by ages, then they should have separate recess times.

6 Lee-Ann Sleegers November 12, 2010 at 2:37 pm

Seriously! That doesn’t sound real life to me. I have friends that are older and younger then me and always have. Think I would have lost something if this was the rule when I was in school. I haven’t heard of it at any schools around London, but I do know there are some schools with different breaks for younger and older grades.


7 angela November 12, 2010 at 3:01 pm


in all my years as a parent to elementary school children, this remains a rule i have a hard time understanding. and i have heard it many times, as both my big kids have had friends in lower and upper grades. the teachers ,for supervisory reasons, often have the yard divided by grades, to allow for proper supervision. this i understand…but it is very hard for kids to understand it. and often, the kids are dealt with brusquely as their friends, 10 feet away, are not allowed to play with them. it is weird and confusing for us, can you imagine for the kids?

and then throw in the older kids who are designated as peace keepers, and then you have *some* older kids who are allowed with different aged kids and some who are not.

it makes sense on paper but not in reality or execution. i am sure the teachers are frustrated by it.

and as for encouraging your children to play with same aged peers? i would question further…are they worried about the boy’s adjustment to their individual peer groups? or should you be asking if either of the boys are struggling within their peer groups and if so, then what is the school’s plan to help them….other than cutting off the familiar ( and familial ) support they have.

and as for “making” your kids get along with their peers? sometimes peer groups suck:). one of the worst mistakes we made was forcing our son to *make friends* with his peer group. ever.

i am not sure you will get anywhere in changing school policy on this one…but keep and eye on it.

8 Valerie November 12, 2010 at 3:43 pm

what a sucky rule. My kids’ school has it a little bit – the preschool and elem have different outdoor times and areas. So, since they’re 4 yrs apart, they will always be in a different group. Otherwise, though, cross-grade friendships are encouraged as there are always 3 grades together. Sarah had older friends when she was younger and now has younger friends since she’s the oldest in the class.

All my life I’ve had friends both younger and older than myself, and never been told not to.

9 Coco November 12, 2010 at 4:29 pm

I am just puzzled by this rule. School should reflect real life. Imagine mingling with only your age group at work…….boring and everybody would know your age!

10 alison November 12, 2010 at 4:47 pm

My girls’ school doesn’t have that policy. Leah is in Grade 5 and Rae in Grade 3 and they play together often at recess. No one seems to mind this. Also, the prevalence of split-grade classes at the school means that both my girls are in class with kids either a year older or a year younger than them. I guess it’s not a board-wide policy. I just asked Leah if there was any rule about who you can play with and she said no there isn’t.

11 chichimama November 12, 2010 at 4:50 pm

I’m going to be the minority opinion here, but our school has the same policy, and while it has been painful for A to separate from C, I think in general, I agree with it. I know that when C was in 1st grade I didn’t want him having to try to keep up with 4th and 5th graders on the kickball field, it would have frustrated him to no end trying to keep up with them. And now that A is in 1st grade, I want her sheltered from the shenanigans of the 3rd and 4th grade girls, she will learn all about cliques and mean girls when her friends reach that stage. It was painful for A the first few weeks of school as she desperately wanted to play with C’s friends who she knew, but now she is happily playing with girls her own age, and I don’t know that she would have ever found them if she had been allowed to continue playing with the 3rd and 4th graders.

12 freemommiestuff November 12, 2010 at 5:08 pm Brothers in the school yard: So here’s an interesting situation that I…

13 DaniGirl November 12, 2010 at 6:14 pm

So interesting to see your various perspectives — but I was surprised at how vehemently some of you disagree. I can see both sides quite clearly, so I’m rather ambivalent. I do see Chichimama’s point, that they may use each other as a “crutch” instead of forming new friendships. On the other hand, if they’re really feeling insecure, I don’t think it’s the school’s place to dictate who they can or cannot play with. Tough call. What’s interesting is that it seems to be the kids and not the teachers who are most emphatic about enforcing the rule.

14 Carly November 12, 2010 at 9:45 pm

This “you can only play with kids of a certain grade” thing bothers me SO much and yet when I try to see both points of view, I do see merit in the concept. Yet, it still bugs me.

At my elementary school, the younger kids (Grades 1-3) played in the front yard, while the older ones (Grades 4-6) played in the back. I don’t remember being bothered by that as a child, except that the bigger kids had swings and a huge play structure that we didn’t have in the front yard.

My son’s closest friends are the children of his Godparents. One is two years older, one the same age and the other two years younger. They play together very well and I think it’s important that they learn to adapt their play to accommodate everyone – both from an ability (the youngest not being excluded because he’s not physically capable of participating) and a desire (different kids wanting to play different “games”) point of view.

On the flip side, I can see merit in kids being encouraged to make friends their own age. Although my little man doesn’t have recess yet, I can also appreciate the fact that when he does, I don’t have to worry about him being pressured to engage in play that’s beyond him and/or encourages him to grow up a bit too fast. Which is something I already see happening with the neighbourhood kids and I have to say, it makes me really uncomfortable.

Which brings up a whole other issue for me personally. Am I doing my son a disservice by “protecting” him from the games, TV shows, movies, toys I (we – hubby too) think are too old for him? Because I see his confusion when other kids talk about super heros like Spiderman, Superman or Ironman and he has no idea what they’re referring to . . .

Hmmm . . .

15 Anonymous November 12, 2010 at 10:02 pm

I think it’s an odd policy–I see the point about it being hard for younger/smaller kids to keep up with older/bigger ones on the field, but I’d rather let them all sort that out themselves. At CG’s school, there’s rhetoric about being one big school community. I think that recess is often staggered so that only 1 grade is out at a time, actually, but in other ways there are activities that promote cross-grade relationships. I think it makes for a better school community.

16 Susan November 12, 2010 at 10:03 pm

Whoops..that last comment was me–didn’t mean to be anonymous, just having trouble with the captcha.

17 bea November 12, 2010 at 10:52 pm

When I was in school, I only ever played with my same-grade classmates – it never would have occurred to me to do otherwise. But I’ve found things much more fluid at my kids’ school – I thought perhaps it has to do with the fact that there are three classes for each grade, so grade divisions don’t seem as important. In the school I grew up in, there was one class per grade, so you had the same classmates year after year, so there was a huge gap between the kids you’d been with every year since Grade 1, vs. the ones you only see occasionally on the schoolyard. But for my kids, there are grade-peers that they hardly know (because they’ve always been in a different class), and then there are kids a grade ahead or behind that they know well from church or swimming lessons, etc.

It does seem perverse to me for teachers to be the social police based on grade. It’s one thing when there are separate playgrounds – I can absolutely see that a kid on the “junior” playground would be expected to remain there rather than going to a “primary” playground on the other side of the school. But if the kids are all together in a single space, don’t the teachers have something better to do than breaking up games and conversations on the grounds that the children are not in the same grade?

18 Sarah Gardiner November 12, 2010 at 11:31 pm

@danigirl brings up an interesting situation – should siblings play together during recess?

19 Amber November 13, 2010 at 12:00 am

My first child is just in kindergarten, so I have no idea about school policies. I certainly haven’t heard of any, but kindergarten kids aren’t out on the playground with any other kids, anyway, so it wouldn’t come up for them.

Regardless of the policy at our school, I can say that I have never heard of this kind of same-grade-only playing rule before. I know that a lot of kids tend to stick with their classmates naturally, but forbidding them to cross age barriers seems artificial and bizarre. This is not a real-life situation that you would encounter, where kids who may only be a few months apart in age (in the case of being 1 grade ahead) are somehow barred from interacting.

20 Marianne November 13, 2010 at 9:12 am

I’m an elementary school teacher, and there are a lot of reasons to keep different age groups segregated on the school yard. However, if the boys are allowed to spend the recess in the same play area, then they should be allowed to play together.

The school I teach at has separated the school yard into 2 areas: The Primary yard for Grades 1,2, and 3 children and the Junior yard for Grades 4, 5, and 6 children. Benefits include:
– anti-bullying measure — helps to rpevent the bigger kids from bullying the smaller ones (intentionally or not)
– allows for better sharing of yard equipment and basketball nets, etc. As it is, generally the grade 3’s dominate the younger yard and the grade 6’s the older yard just by the fact that they’re bigger and more physically adept at the sports games.
– spreads kids out over the available playspace making for better supervision sight lines and for safer play as they don’t run, bump, slide into each other as much
– keeps kids on age-appropriate playstructures thus allowing for safer play — not to mention better sharing
– helps promote age-appropriate play and social interactions.

21 Nat November 13, 2010 at 11:00 am

Well, they are being “discouraged” not barred from doing so. As scary as it may be for them, I think, there may be some advantages to encouraging the kids to make new friends.

If the boys are good friends, and would have played together at the other school then I see no reason why they shouldn’t be allowed to keep doing it, however (and it does sound that way) if this is a new thing, I agree with the teachers.

As for cross-grade friendships, it does seem a bit weird to be disallowing it. The Boy has a few friends in higher and lower grades (usually just one grade above or below) but it’s a much smaller school and private.

22 Jody November 14, 2010 at 3:00 pm

Well, that just seems silly to me. But it’s a moot point in our family AND at our school, since (a) my kids are all the same age, and (b) our school sends each grade out to the playground at a different time.

I see the point about not using siblings as crutches, but what do they do for twins and triplets? (I know, I know: arbitrary and irrational policies about separation.) If it’s a safety/grade-level supervision issue, that makes slightly more sense.

But still: silly.

(And actually, in general, the whole “separate children according to their birthdate” system in school seems not just silly, but positively counter-productive. Being part of multi-age groups SEEMS like it would be a GOOD thing, slippery slope of queen-bee behavior notwithstanding.)

I tend to let a lot of silly stuff slide. I like to keep my powder dry for the important engagements. But this would sort-of drive me a tiny bit crazy.

23 karen November 15, 2010 at 10:55 am

When I went to school we all tended to play within our grade levels. I don’t think we had to, it just happened.

At my kids school they are separated in the yard as well by grade level. They do play with kids in other grades so long as they are in the same area of the yard. I often see siblings playing with eachother. My kids are 4 years apart in age so this has never been an issue for us as they have never been in the same part of the yard together.

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