Friday, August 21, 2009


I've been reading the blog, Free Range Kids; Giving Our Kids the Freedom We Had Without Going Nuts With Worry, by Lenore Skenazy. Here, I will quote from the blog's description: Do you ...let your kid ride a bike to the library? Walk alone to school? Take a bus, solo? Or are you thinking about it? If so, you are raising a Free Range Kid! At Free Range, we believe in safe kids. We believe in helmets, car seats and safety belts. We do NOT believe that every time school age children go outside, they need a security detail. Most of us grew up Free Range and lived to tell the tale. Our kids deserve no less. This site dedicated to sane parenting. Share your stories, tell your tips and maybe one day I will try to collect them in a book. Meantime, let's try to help our kids embrace life! (And maybe even clear the table.)

It's a wonderful blog, full of people's experiences and ideas. It reminds me of something I wrote on this blog in 2007. Here is part of that post:

When I was a child in the 1940s and 1950s, our neighborhood in San Francisco was noisy with the shouts and cries of the children who lived there. We rode our bikes, we roller-skated, we played dodgeball, and we played jump rope. We raced on foot, on bikes, on scooters, and on skates. We took our skates apart and used the wheels on various invented riding vehicles. In quieter moments, we sat on stoops and played jacks and pickup sticks. We collected rocks and cracked them open on the sidewalk, always searching for that elusive geode. We played every sort of game of “pretend” that we could dream up, most memorably something called Covered Wagon, where we used a sturdy wooden gate as a wagon seat for the lucky wagon-driver-of-the-day, while the rest of us hunched down behind him in the “wagon” bed as we traveled west. We took turns playing good guys and bad guys, riding pretend horses and shooting at each other with our cap guns. We ran, we skipped, we hopped, we jumped, and we turned cartwheels. We fell off our bikes, my sister’s foot got caught in the spokes of my bike when I gave her a highly illegal ride on the back fender, my friend Skippy broke his arm roller-skating, and Trudy’s little brother broke several things when he discovered that he couldn’t fly off a second story porch. It was an exuberant, vigorous, and yes, somewhat dangerous life, at least by today’s standards. In those days it was just what kids did all day until called in for supper.

We learned so much, out there on our own. We used our imaginations, we made up rules and figured out how to stick to them--governing ourselves--we made friends, had arguments, made up, and--best of all--we had adventures, every single day.

When it came time to raise my own son in our small New Hampshire town, it never occurred to me to keep him inside and safe from possible dangers. He enjoyed what we in the family then called a "Tom Sawyer childhood"--he had plenty of unscheduled time, with the barest minimum of organized sports. With the free time at his disposal, he ranged through the woods and the streams with his friends, camping out, climbing trees, swimming, making up elaborate survival games, and having a wonderful time. And yes, he was a latchkey child from fourth grade onward. I was just a couple of miles away at work in the Town Library, and had been told that I could tack a note to the front door if I ever had to run home for anything. That actually happened once--Ben accidentally locked himself outside in a rainstorm when he dashed out in his sock feet to fill the bird feeder (one of his daily chores). He was resourceful and solved the problem by running a couple of doors down to use the neighbor's phone to call me. I came home to let him in and returned back to work. The socks were a loss, but Ben turned out to be an independent and able individual who has traveled the world on his own, starting with plane trips across the country alone to meet family members at an age when most kids are still being driven to parent-organized baseball games.

If you were to drive through that same New Hampshire town after school these days, you would see deserted yards and streets. The kids are "safely" inside, playing video games and texting their friends and posting their self portraits on Facebook. I feel sad for them, caught up in a nervous, paranoid, and overprotective culture that lets them venture out only when accompanied by parents.

Here is my question to you: Are you a parent (or grandparent) of a free-range child or are you worried about the dangers that kids might be exposed to? Is there anything we can do to allow our kids to experience the world on their own?


June Saville said...

Give me free range children any day Clair. They can cope with life, they're mostly healthy, and generally safe.
Why let the very rare kidnapper spoil the lives of everyone else?

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

Free Range all the way! But I have to encourage my kids to leave the house quite often because they are still used to the way of life we had to live when we had a home in Rio Rancho, New Mexico. We had to worry about perverts sacking out the neighborhood, gangs, and kids fighting on our street when they walked home from school, drugs being sold on the corner, parents that drove way to fast down our street, and a lack of sidewalks. And the parks we had were so contrived, sterile, green grass spots, with shiny, fancy climbing appartus. Boring!

Now my kids have mountains to climb, a barn to play in, farm animals, dogs, cats, bikes, basketball court, trampoline, a tractor to drive, fruit to pick from the trees, farm chores, eggs to collect, kites to fly, rockets to shoot off, horses to ride....and all this right in our own 'backyard'.

We don't have to drive anywhere, and kids like to come to our house now to play.
Free Range was how I was raised, and that's how my kids are living now.