Free-Range Kids

Did This Daycare Really Have to Dismantle Its Swing Sets to Score Higher on a State Test?

An investigation

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Swing
Romrodinka / Dreamstime

Twin Rivers Christian School, the early childhood center tearing down its swing sets so that the kids won't be tempted to swing for more time than regulations permit, has misinterpreted the state's new early childhood mandates, says Rachael Brown-Kendall, quality rating and improvement system (QRIS) administrator in Washington's Department of Children, Youth, and Families.

"I love swings," said Brown-Kendall. "Children in child care should be swinging. There is no time limit on swings, if they're actively swinging."

Brown-Kendall suspects the center didn't understand that kids can swing as much as they want, as long as infants are not left unattended in bucket swings.

And yet Erin Hart, the school's superintendent, sent me the results of a mock investigation done using the state's new regulations, on which the school had received a "low range" rating on its play schedule. The reason for this, the trained inspector wrote, was that she observed one child, between the ages of 1 and 2, "contained in the swing outside for 15 minutes, plus she was held multiple times, which limited her access to materials."

It's not that the girl was left unattended in the swing. She wasn't. "Contained" simply means that she was in the swing. The regulations are written to ensure that kids get a wide swath of play experiences throughout the day, and if a child is "contained" too long—even in a swing—that means the child isn't playing with other materials, like sand. The fear is that the kids won't be stimulated enough if they aren't able to access different toys and activities all throughout the day. And since the child was also "held multiple times," this too was "contained time." More demerits. That's how the inspector interpreted the rules.

The inspector also observed that one of the toys was a Beanie Baby with "beady eyes." A no-no. And the inspector noted that "there was not a set of blocks that measure 2×2."

Speaking of size, the inspector found another egregious infraction: By regulation, the cribs are supposed to be three feet apart. But when measured, the distances between the cribs at Twin Rivers were as follows: "41 inches, 36.5 inches, 39 inches, 34 inches, and 38 inches." Those two cribs, two inches too close, earned the center another low mark.

It also received a low "indoor space" grade because when the inspector entered the center, which has been running for two generations and cares for about a third of the county's babies, she encountered overlapping "bags and items on the hooks." Backpacks touching? For shame. What's more, not all the high chairs had a footrest. "There can't be any dangly feet in a high chair," the inspector wrote.

In order to receive government subsidies, centers must past with an overall rating of at least three out of five. Brown-Kendall says the regulations are designed to ensure that "children have access to developmentally appropriate, engaging materials," and have "adults who are supporting them in engaging activities throughout the day." These are great goals I enthusiastically share. We all want engaged, loving people caring for our kids in a nice environment.

But that is not something that can be achieved via second-by-second, inch-by-inch regulation. Hart tells me Twin Rivers also got marked down in the mock evaluation because the caregivers declined to narrate the children's activities during play time, receiving points off for "prolonged moments of silence."

Obviously, it's quite possible that another inspector—the real one—will take a less rigid view of what constitutes stimulation, wasted time, good toys, and loving care. That next person may not even use a stopwatch to time all adult-baby interactions, as this one did. But it's also possible the next one will be even more obtuse.

Observing whether a child care center feels warm, homey, clean, and stimulating makes more sense than measuring the inches between backpack hooks, says Philip Howard, author of the new book, Try Common Sense. The problem, he says, is that "there's no 'correct' way of playing, or raising a child. Overbearing and mindless bureaucracy causes people to fail and rebel."

Some may even start tearing out their hair—or their swing sets.

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  1. Makes you wonder how we got from horse and buggy to space flight without all this meddling from bureaucrats.

    1. I am pretty sure bureaucrats put us into space, but only after the Soviets had been there first.

      1. More bureaucrats -> more trips to space.

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      3. But it ended at just space flight instead of commercial space flights because of the bureaucrats.

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  2. “There can’t be any dangly feet in a high chair,” the inspector wrote.

    Oh, FFS! Are there “any dangly feet” on those swings you love?

    1. This is the wrong thread for your sick euphemisms, Rich.

  3. Fuck helicopter bureaucracy.

  4. By regulation, the cribs are supposed to be three feet apart. But when measured, the distances between the cribs at Twin Rivers were as follows: “41 inches, 36.5 inches, 39 inches, 34 inches, and 38 inches.” Those two cribs, two inches too close, earned the center another low mark.

    Somebody doesn’t know how many inches are in three feet – and its not the daycare!

    1. Uh, bud, if one crib is two inches too close to a second, the second crib is exactly similarly too close to the first.

      Two cribs. Too close. Two inches.

    2. Its ok. I spent some time thinking the exact same thing. Until I realized she meant 2 cribs, one separation distance. It could have been written more clearly.

    3. Read the list again, slowly, & think.

  5. centers must past with an

    Go home drunk, you’re Skenazy.

  6. So kids must play with all toys but only for a set time for each. kids are hard enough to coral let alone get them to play regimentedly on demand

    1. You are required to have fun, but if you have too much fun you will be punished.

      1. that sums it up well

      2. You are required to have fun, but if you have too much fun you will be punished.

        Too much time swinging on the swings means not enough time hanging up your jacket so that it doesn’t touch anyone else’s stuff.

  7. I certainly hope Lenore won’t be tempted to swing for more time than regulations permit.

  8. It’s bad enough the backpacks were touching, but where was the touchy-food inspector? Day off? Called in sick?

    Criminy, there could be jars of smooshed peas and smooshed bananas touching in the pantry.

  9. Meh, this wasn’t about the swings or blocks or cribs. Someone forgot to slip the inspector the appropriate tip.

    1. +100 Geoffrey dollars

  10. The BS was during a “mock inspection”. In general, in a regulated industry, when you have mock inspections done (usually by peers from other places in the same industry), there is incentive to be as hard as possible. Even to the point of ridiculousness. Because of the idea “better now than during the real inspection”. One of the problems, is that when a business has this done, they need to have enough confidence to say “Thank you for the input, but I believe we are still in compliance.”

    Of course, never mind that the mere existence of any regulation that makes someone even think this shit is fucking bullshit.

    1. The mock inspection must be the reason for the ding for “prolonged moments of silence”?in other words, they were audio recording a narration of what the kids were doing, so who knows what might be going on during the gaps?

  11. Is it so hard to just let the kids play how they want?

    1. Are you insane? These poor undeveloped mines would be limiting themselves by fixating too much on the activities they enjoy, as opposed to wide wealth of activities that they may enjoy slightly more or less. And that’s how you get fascism!

    2. Maybe you haven’t heard, but this is no longer the Wild West.

  12. Oh, stop being such a paranoid panic-monger over this nonsense – I’m sure it’s just a “Dear Colleague” letter sort of thing where, sure, if you define it broadly enough, it could be interpreted as nit-picky bullshit, but nobody’s going to actually enforce the letter of the law this way. I’m sure there’s no such regulations, just advisory opinions that make suggestions, it’s not like they’re telling you that you must do this or else.

    1. No need to worry if it’s not clear what they mean. They’ll tell you when you mess up.

  13. If I bring my daughter in to her daycare while she’s asleep in her car seat, they’re only allowed to let her sleep for 15 minutes because she’s contained. I’ve told them before to take plenty of time before starting their timers.

    It’s almost as if this overly broad law somehow has unintended ramifications!

  14. Observing whether a child care center feels warm, homey, clean, and stimulating makes more sense than measuring the inches between backpack hooks, says Philip Howard

    That’s great if you’re giving advice to parents about choosing a day-care center. But if you make them to basis for granting or denying public subsidies (which is what these regs are all about), you are inviting lawsuits. The first center denied a subsidy because it’s judged to be insufficiently “warm, homey, clean, and stimulating” will be in court in a flash, demanding that it explain to the court how it was any warm, homey, clean, or stimulating than various other centers that got funding. Pretty soon, the Department will decide that the only way it will be able to defend the subjective judgments of its inspectors will be to promulgate regs providing objective standards, which will look an awful lot like the ones being ridiculed in this article.

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  16. Isn’t the real problem the fact it gets government subsidies?

  17. You folks have no idea – wife is a daycare director in the Socialist State of Maryland. Most inspectors have no idea what the regs are and make them up on the spot. The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Now they want daycare workers to have 4yr degrees > raise salaries > raise tuition > push parents to unaudited neighborhood daycares. There, that worked out well!

  18. receiving points off for “prolonged moments of silence.”

    Wait, “prolonged moments of silence” sounds like a feature, not a bug.

    Although, I can understand why they want the kids to jump from activity to activity like ferrets on speed — how else will the kids later learn to safely text and drive at the same time?

  19. I’m from Maryland too, and I agree that people have no idea how bad things have gotten in the childcare industry. They will revoke licenses for first time offenders over minor regulation violations like bare feet in the grass in the summer, toys on the floor, not serving milk at every meal including cereal with milk, using their nap blankets to make a fort. Things like that will get a long-standing, reputable and well-loved daycare shut down. Every home in America with kids must also be too dangerous for them to live in.

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  21. the regulatory State cannot just sit still; while managing medical facilities I’ve found that every year comes with a new host of expanded regulations; it eventually gets to the point of minutiae like this until you literally cannot move without breaking a rule. It is the nature of regulators to regulate and “continuously improve” on their prior efforts.

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  23. One has to wonder if these bans on prolonged silence has anything to do with ADD…

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