John Leo

A: No, the teacher has to "deceive and entrap" players by tricking them into moving before he or she says "Simon says." This is demeaning, and it teaches children not to trust. Besides, like musical chairs and tag, it's an elimination game that singles children out for ridicule. Tag can be violent. Some kids actually fall down. And besides, the least skilled and fit children are usually the first to be "caught, banished, punished and embarrassed," as Williams points out.

Q: I had no idea that schoolyard games are such a living hell. What can we do?

A: We can adapt. For instance, why not make sure each child has a guaranteed seat for musical chairs? With proper seating, the source of tension is removed. Children can just relax, enjoy the music, and talk about the positive feelings that come from being included.

Q: What about tag? How do we modernize that?

A: Some schools already have no-touch tag. A child may be tagged with a soft ball of yarn. Or each player can wear a Velcro strip the tagger removes, so there's no legal problem about unwanted touching of another child's body. Of course, the person tagged is still singled out for humiliation. But if teachers could arrange for all players to be tagged simultaneously, that would work.

Q: With no loss of fun! How about dodgeball?

A: In Florida's Miami-Dade schools, children now throw small balls at a large deflated ball in the middle of a circle, trying to push it along.

Q: That's not bad. A little short on empathy for the deflated ball, perhaps, but surely high on excitement. I have another idea.

A. Yes?

Q: Each class puts a deflated gym teacher from the '60s in the middle of a circle and playfully throws croquet balls at him until he goes into another line of work. What do you think? It's inclusionary, non-competitive and just plain fun. Hey, where are you going? Mr. Answer Man, come back!

John Leo

John Leo is editor of and a former contributing editor at U.S. News and World Report.

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