Lenore "Free Range Kids" Skenazy brings us the story of the Moorestown Children's School in New Jersey, a school that opened in 1981 on farmland, where kids are invited to learn by playing with logs, splashing in the mud, taking care of the cat, and messing around in a barn. But now, Moorestown's director, Sue Maloney, is considering shutting down the school, because inspectors (who already required her to fence off the stream and get rid of the logs) want her to cut back all tree branches that hang below the seven foot mark, due to the notional hazard they present.
"But they play with the trees!" school director Sue Maloney recalls telling the inspection crew. The children "touch the trees! They shake the leaves. It's what they do…"
The 10-year-old tabby sleeping in a basket, for instance. From now on, she had to be leashed or caged or evicted. Then there's the fact that some of the 15 students, ages infant to 8, were padding around inside in stocking feet. By law, they are required to wear shoes. And there were some other concerns Maloney was happy to fix: a patch of uneven surface on the playground, some mildew in a storage building. Finally, as it said on the Dec. 20 "Inspection/Violation" report, the center had to "cut back low-hanging tree branches."
That's where Maloney drew the line. She called me to explain why. "This is a country environment! I grew up here. Honestly, that's what I wrestle with: Do we even want to remain a child care center if we have to eliminate all the parts we love?" Do away with the cat, the stream, the logs, the bare feet and the branches — what's left?
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