Can a 4-Year-Old Walk to School? Or Walk 5 Miles in the Snow, In the Dark, in Siberian Winter, Lighting Fires When Necessary, to Fetch Help for Her Grandfather?

Since you might have missed your latest copy of The Siberian Times, here’s a story for you, perfect for a blizzard:

Little Saglana Salchak has spoken for the first time about her sad 6 hour trek through treacherous snow drifts with wolves around to get to a neighbour’s home from her grandparents’ remote farmstead.

Miserable at finding her 60 year old grandmother ‘cold’, she was sent to call for help by her grandfather Borbak who is totally blind. He did not realise the time he told her to make the walk: it was 5 am, a pitch dark.

The four year old took matches, which she could use to light a fire, and followed the tracks of a horse sled, partly on a frozen river, which she knew led to the neighbour’s home.

‘It was very cold and I was so hungry,’ said the intrepid girl. ‘But I wasn’t scared. I was just walking, walking, walking. And I finally got there.’

That she did. In a land where there are bears (hibernating) ad wolves (who aren’t). As a local explained:

Tuva is crowded with wolves. They plague the cattle, and shepherds groan because of  them. In the dark she could easily have stumbled on a pack….This girl was lucky that she did not meet them. Her only hope would have been to climb a tree.”

Okay, that is ALL amazing, But one bit of that amazingness is that while we worry when kids climb trees,  elsewhere kids’ safety DEPENDS on them climbing trees.

Clearly this girl was extraordinary even by Siberian standards, or her story wouldn’t have made the papers. But she reminds us just how incredibly competent kids can be, even — maybe especially — when unsupervised.

This is knowledge we have lost just as surely as the knowledge of how to skin a bear, build a sleigh, or make a fire in the forest in the snow in the dark.

At age 4. – L.

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Saglana can probably walk to school by herself, too. (Pictures reprinted from Siberian Times, which reprinted them from NTV, Yury Darbaa)

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24 Responses to Can a 4-Year-Old Walk to School? Or Walk 5 Miles in the Snow, In the Dark, in Siberian Winter, Lighting Fires When Necessary, to Fetch Help for Her Grandfather?

  1. Workshop March 14, 2017 at 10:24 am #

    Don’t worry, we got a cold snap here in the Midwest, and my son doesn’t have outdoor recess because “it’s too cold.”

    I don’t understand why she just didn’t call Kid-Uber and get a ride. 🙂

  2. Emily March 14, 2017 at 11:01 am #

    The sad thing is, I’ve seen the “danger” threshold drawn at much tamer things than walking to and from school (or the library, the park, et cetera). I’ve seen on this blog, and in real life, schools, day camps, and kids’ activities that require kids to be signed in by their parents, and then signed out at the end of the activity–even when the activity itself is more “dangerous” than the simple act of walking from the door of the room where the activity takes place, to a parent waiting outside. The most blatant examples I can think of, are the story of the boy whose gymnastics class had that policy, and several Scout or Guide groups who did as well, and actually, I might as well throw Sunday School in there too, because of the whole story about Jesus being left behind at a temple for three days. So, although the four-year-old in this story is certainly extraordinary by Siberian standards, upper-middle-class North America (and similar societies) have such skewed, overzealous safety standards, that a story about, say, a pre-pubescent child walking to school alone, or a brother and sister aged ten and six walking home from the park alone, or hell, even a gaggle of siblings playing in their own YARD without an adult, will make the news, and apparently warrant involvement from child protection. That’s why I like seeing stories like this one–yes, it’s inspiring, but it also gives us the chance to compare and contrast what’s “normal” where we are, versus elsewhere, so we can share it with the “uber-safety” people in our lives, and hopefully get them to adjust their perception of what is and isn’t dangerous.

  3. George March 14, 2017 at 11:35 am #

    Four-year-old trekked miles in subzero Siberia to help sick grandmother

    Saglana Salchak’s crossing of area filled with wolves wins praise from locals but lands mother in legal trouble

    But on Sunday, the Tuva investigative committee opened a criminal case against Eleonora Salchak for leaving a minor in danger.

    Sayana Mongush, an activist and journalist in the regional capital of Kyzyl, told the Guardian that it was shocking Salchak’s grandparents didn’t have any phone or internet connection,

    https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/mar/14/four-year-old-girl-trekked-miles-in-sub-zero-siberia-to-help-her-grandmother

  4. lollipoplover March 14, 2017 at 11:40 am #

    We are stuck in this blizzard with school cancelled, kids are inside (they’d be sledding if it wasn’t sleeting out) and bored. This 4 year-old is amazing. My kids won’t even walk to the neighbor’s house…too wet.

    Last week we were in Oahu and watched a boy who couldn’t have be older than 6 do a local cultural dance with fire, putting the flames to his mouth and on the heals of his feet, to the delight of the crowd who applauded him!
    And my 15 year-old son needs to get work permit papers to stock shelves.

  5. Steve March 14, 2017 at 11:41 am #

    Can we not shame the cultures we live in with the remark “So a Siberian 4 year old is equal to our own 15 year olds?”

  6. James Pollock March 14, 2017 at 11:45 am #

    I’ll see your 4-year-old girl making a Siberian nature hike and raise you a 6-year-old boy, left unattended at a video-game store display in a mall in Florida, a teenaged girl on vacation in Aruba, and a grown woman visiting family in a college town.*)

    It’s a bad plan to base policy around anecdotal evidence.

    * Adam Walsh, Natalee Holloway, Brooke Wilberger
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Murder_of_Adam_Walsh
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Disappearance_of_Natalee_Holloway
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Murder_of_Brooke_Wilberger

  7. SKL March 14, 2017 at 12:52 pm #

    This is great, but I wouldn’t recommend it. 🙂

    For a more age-appropriate read to inspire parents and kids, try Understood Betsy, about a 9yo girl who moves from the care of an overprotective auntie to laid-back farmer relatives who trust her to make competent decisions. (Fictional, but I suspect based on real-life situations.)

  8. SteveS March 14, 2017 at 1:00 pm #

    Sounds like grandma was already dead when the kid left the house. Why send her on a 6 hour walk to get help in the dark?

  9. John B. March 14, 2017 at 1:05 pm #

    Did anybody here see the movie “Lion” with Nicole Kidman?? It was a true story about a 5-year-old Indian boy from a poor family who got separated from his 14-year-old brother one night as they were out looking for work. The little guy fell asleep on an empty stationary freight car and he didn’t wake up until mid-morning when the train was now moving and miles down the track. He was trapped and the little guy ended up in Calcutta, 1,600 kilometers from home and where nobody spoke his native language of Hindi. So this 5-year-old boy was on the streets of Calcutta, India for I think 2 weeks where he scavenged for food, got bullied by older street kids and escaped sexual predators. Finally an orphanage picked him up and seeing he was so young, he had no idea where his home was and obviously the orphanage had no idea where to look. So he ended up being adopted and was raised by an Australian couple. Then twenty-six years later, he utilized Google Earth and was able to locate his home town back in India where he went back and found his mother and siblings!

    The point is, this 5-year-old kid survived on the dangerous streets of Calcutta, India all by himself! Now I certainly would not recommend throwing a 5-year-old kid out on the streets of a major city for an extended period of time and expect him to fend for himself but this just goes to show you how tough and resilient children can be.

    This movie should be available on DVD, iTunes and Netflix this month and I would strongly recommend seeing it!

  10. Joan March 14, 2017 at 1:14 pm #

    @SKL, Understood Betsy is one of my all-time favorite books, and probably the best literary example of the argument against helicopter parenting. Incidentally, the author, Dorothea Canfield Fisher, brought Montessori education to the US, was a champion of women’s rights and racial equality, and was one of Eleanor Roosevelt’s 10 most influential American women.

  11. Crystal March 14, 2017 at 1:24 pm #

    What a stud! This week, my 9- and 6-year-old sons have been busy cutting flooring with my husband for our kitchen. This involves power saws, hammers, nail guns, blades, etc. The two of them on their own can strip a pallet in less than 5 minutes. I took a picture of them, because I was very proud, but I didn’t post it on social media because I knew what would happen: instant condemnation, and possible fodder for future CPS visits (my biggest fear). “But what if they cut themselves?!? THAT’S NOT SAFE!”

  12. lollipoplover March 14, 2017 at 2:32 pm #

    @Crystal-my son learned competency with woodworking and power tools at an early age (pictures so darned cute) but would never post them, same with hunting and fishing…too much backlash yet not many bat an eyelash about where there food comes from, just don’t let a kid kill it because it teaches *violence* but playing Grand Theft Auto for 8 hours straight is fine.

    OT- Has anyone seen the movie Captain Fantastic? I loved it and found it interesting in so many ways about parenting and danger…still can’t stop thinking about that movie.

  13. dancing on thin ice March 14, 2017 at 3:15 pm #

    Attacks by healthy wolves don’t happen too often.
    One source listed only 8 in Russia over a 50 year period.
    Could this fear be akin to stranger danger with white vans?

  14. donald March 14, 2017 at 5:00 pm #

    For the most part, children perform to the expectations of others and adapt to their environment. Saglana can do what is expected of her. She grew up believing she has this capability because of the people around her believe that she can do this. This works the other way as well.

    Many kids are helpless because parents wait on them hand and foot because:

    They don’t believe the kids can do it
    They believe it’s too dangerous
    They want to be ‘good’ parents and follow the trend of ‘spoon-feeding’ them life.

    I apologize if I have been judgmental lately. However, I consider this is also a danger. I see the connection between this ineptness and anxiety/depression so vividly that I don’t understand why this is often dismissed when determining whether something is dangerous or not. I also acknowledge that the ‘everything is dangerous’ attitude is not exclusive to parents. Employer pushes that as well. I don’t know how bad it is in America. However, in Australia, some companies require you to have ‘office stapler training’ before you’re authorized to use an office stapler!

  15. Papilio March 14, 2017 at 5:40 pm #

    Wow, what a story! For every abducted kid story there’s a story like this – both are outliers.

    Also so weird that you’re having snow and ice over there, and we’re here eating lunch outside to enjoy the spring sun! (Winter coats still on as it’s only 12-15 degrees C, but STILL)

  16. SteveS March 14, 2017 at 8:18 pm #

    Attacks by healthy wolves don’t happen too often.
    One source listed only 8 in Russia over a 50 year period.
    Could this fear be akin to stranger danger with white vans?

    Possibly, but have you ever been in the woods, at night, when wolves start howling? It can be very disconcerting.

  17. Edward Hafner March 14, 2017 at 10:12 pm #

    @James Pollock

    I know this is probably a mistake but here goes:

    James, you are confusing youthful ability with criminal activity. These are two separate things.
    You still don’t seem to get the reason this blog exists. Please, I do wish you would figure it out.

    Signing off now.

  18. Skip March 14, 2017 at 10:56 pm #

    @Crystal, you would appreciate this question on a parenting Q&A site:

    “What age limit is appropriate for using tools (such as screwdrivers, hacksaw, drill, etc.)? I’ve told my 15-year-old son off because he’s not allowed to use tools because he could cut himself if he touches something dangerous. What’s the right age limit for using tools? Please use an age, like 45 years old.”

    http://parenting.stackexchange.com/questions/29211/what-age-limit-is-appropriate-for-using-tools-such-as-screwdrivers-hacksaw-dr

  19. James Pollock March 14, 2017 at 11:05 pm #

    “I know this is probably a mistake but here goes:”

    Yes, you made a mistake. You completely missed the point. Feel free to try again. Or don’t.

    I’ll try to help you, even though you’ve chosen a condescending tone which is badly mistaken..

    The point was “It is a bad plan to build policy around anecdotal evidence”.

    Here, we have a case of one young girl, who achieved something difficult and challenging successfully, one time.
    This is not evidence that children, generally, can do this. It isn’t even certain that she could do it again, if called upon. To find out what children, generally, can (or can’t) do, you need to examine the cases of many, many different children.

    Using a single data point to argue what is generally true is a tool that can be easily misused, as in the three counter-examples I offered. If you don’t like it when someone tries to argue “children just aren’t safe in the U.S.! Adam Walsh!”, you shouldn’t say “4yo children can walk around in the snow, lighting fires when they need to! Saglana Salchek!” because both claims are equally inapplicable to vast majority of individuals.

    “You still don’t seem to get the reason this blog exists. Please, I do wish you would figure it out.”
    And I hope you manage to obtain a grasp on reality. I really and truly do. Buh-bye now!

  20. Reziac March 15, 2017 at 2:03 am #

    George: The activist is an idiot who clearly has no clue about conditions in rural Siberia. If there’s no cellpone connectivity, sometimes it’s because there’s no solid ground on which to build a tower (large chunks of Siberia are a permanent bog), and even then there may be only one or two users in range. And we don’t put cell towers in remote parts of the U.S.; how much less should it be expected in the far-more-thinly populated tundra?

    dancing: *fatal* wolf attacks are rare, But threats happen a bit more often. I myself know people here in MT who got chased out of their hunting camp by wolves, and had to walk backwards, gun in hand, several miles to the nearest road (where they’d left their vehicle), with the wolf pack following not 20 yards behind all the way. But it’s not that wolves wouldn’t take a lone human; it’s that the back country is BIG and you’re just plain unlikely to run into them, and if you walk like you own the road, as I’d bet this brave kid did, other predators are more likely to leave you alone.

    Regardless, this kid is a beacon of competence in a bubble-padded world. Imagine what your kids could accomplish if they had the same grit.

  21. Katie G March 15, 2017 at 6:30 am #

    @Joan- Who knew! Especially the part about the Montessori education! I personally found *Understood Betsy* to be one of those books of “why use one word when five will do?” but its message is pretty good and maybe I’ll see it in a bit of a different light next time. It’s on the literature list I use with my children in our homeschool, so it’ll come up for my son in a year or so.

  22. lollipoplover March 15, 2017 at 9:00 am #

    @Skip-
    I so wish I didn’t follow that link.To each his own with parenting, but age and capability aren’t a guarantee, unfortunately.
    I know many adults that shouldn’t handle tools.

    The writer wants an actual age and affirmation so she can NO to her son, with the only factor being his age (15) and nothing about his demeanor, maturity, and competence. That is what is sad.

    I received several texts messages a few weeks ago and links to the anti-slime articles that warn of the long term health effects to mixing these flubber/slime/putty chemical compounds at home- my daughter is a lover of mixing these sticky horrors in our laundry room and kitchen, she loves to mix and create….everything.
    I know several good friends that threw out all of their kids materials (could you save me the glue??) because of this one article saying your kids would be infertile if they touched this stuff.
    But…plastic gloves.
    Jumping to conclusions and stifling creativity….it seems to be spreading like a parenting virus.

  23. SteveD March 17, 2017 at 4:31 pm #

    It seems that whenever the posted story here is about a competent child who does something we think is out of the ordinary, few readers comment. I wonder why these kinds of stories don’t inspire bunches of readers to post about how their own kids did amazing or courageous things?

  24. parentsupporthub.com March 23, 2017 at 12:11 pm #

    Children crave independence. They tend to want freedom and to not be controlled by their parents. as a child, my siblings and I were routinely banished from the family home during the day and encouraged to roam free for hours on end. With the family home surrounded by bushland we were quite safe, but such laid-back parenting style is quite rare these days.