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No More Monkey Business

Just sit down. That's the alternative elementary school pupils in Capistrano, Calif., have been given to before-school horseplay.

It seems that the impromptu games of soccer, tag, and red-light, green-light that children there played as they waited for school doors to open got them a little too revved up. And teachers were complaining that it took all they had to settle them down for class.

So administrators at three district elementary schools have banned all early-morning monkey business. Students have instead been instructed to sit calmly and quietly on brown grocery sacks outside their classroom doors until the morning bell tolls.

Patricia Riggs, the principal of the 700-student Viejo Elementary School, which adopted the policy last fall, said that working parents drop children off at school up to an hour before classes start.

As they waited, children would run around and play virtually unsupervised. And naturally, she says, fights between students erupted, while others would fall and get hurt.

Since the program, Quiet Time, Early Start, was put in place, Ms. Riggs says, pupils have been starting school composed and ready to learn.

"When children come to class calm, teachers can get started right away on instruction," Ms. Riggs says. "They don't have to take those extra minutes to settle the class down, or mediate between students."

But Art Taylor, a sports psychologist and the associate director of the Center of Sports in Society at Boston's Northeastern University, says that in adopting the new policy, school officials seemed to have ducked some obvious compromises. "Kids, more than ever, need this sort of free play," he argues, adding that "physical activity absolutely has a positive effect on learning."

Mr. Taylor suggests that the schools hire extra supervisors or enlist parent volunteers to monitor students before school and impose a transition period of 10 or so minutes for them to wind down before class.

But Principal Riggs says the policy is fair. It allows students to play quietly with each other, she notes, and the school day's two recesses and gym class leave plenty of time for fresh air and exercise.

Superintendent James A. Fleming of the Capistrano Unified School District concedes that he "could argue either side."

"The bottom line is that this is a local decision," he says. "And the local school knows best."


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