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Readers — I was giving a talk at St. Stephens & St. Agnes School in Alexandria, VA,  recently, and afterward one of the folks who urged the school to invite me, Cara Weiman, sent me this wonderful post from the blog Mothers of Brothers. It begins with the writer, Emily, saying that she helped her high school son make Valentine’s Day reservations at a restaurant:

I was pleased for him – and proud of myself for the assist.  But then I started to wonder if he would know how to use the debit card with the server when the meal was over.  Sure he had seen Dave and I pay for meals and calculate gratuities countless times.  But when alone in the wilderness of mediocre dining, could he fend for himself?

I wasn’t certain, and made a mental note to run through it with him before the big night.  Yup —  before my son heads off to college, he needs to know how to confidently execute this social maneuver that we adults have taken for granted.  Hmm.  He probably needs to know how to make a restaurant reservation as well.

Damn.  In helping him arrange his evening, I had missed a teachable moment.

The parental slip got me thinking about all of the lessons my boys have yet to learn before they leave the nest and frankly, the list I came up with in a minute’s time left me a little panicked.  So, in an effort to maintain some semblance of control of a situation over which I have no control, I created The Bubble List.

The list is great. Check it out. It itemizes things like:

Deal with a cancelled flight

Take a taxi

Catch the subway [Lenore's note: Yay!]

Plunge a toilet

Change a tire

And now — any items you’d like to add? Please do. And of course, not every 18-year-old has to master every one of these. For instance, us city-dwellers know how to take subways but not how to change a tire. And not everyone is going to take a flight. But you get the idea: What basics should most of us be making sure our teens know? Bubble on! – L

The list that lets kids float away.

The list that lets kids float away.

Readers — Here’s a story from the Star Tribune to warm you heart! Free-Range-wise, one of the things we like to remind folks is that THIS generation of kids is not suddenly the most delicate in history! They come fully equipped to handle the same challenges kids did for generations. (Though personally I am a fan of central heating.) – L

North Shore teen more than halfway to sleeping outside for a whole year

  • by: SAM COOK , Associated Press

HERMANTOWN, Minn. — It was bedtime for Rudy Hummel. He pulled on three pairs of pants and four shirts. He slipped into a pair of boots. He walked out into the starry December night and headed for his snow house.

The temperature was 8 degrees.

For Hummel, 17, this would be his 193rd night in a row sleeping outdoors. He started June 7, sleeping on an elevated platform in a copse of balsam fir in his backyard.

“Originally, it was just going to be for the summer,” he said. “I thought it would be cool to spend the whole summer sleeping outside.”

An outdoorsy kid in an outdoorsy family, he enjoyed dropping off to sleep listening to the owls. He liked waking up to the sound of birdsong and to shafts of sunlight slanting through the balsam boughs. September came, and he wasn’t ready to come inside.

“I thought, ‘I need something more fun,’ ” he told the Duluth News Tribune (http://bit.ly/JorTNC).

So, he decided to shoot for a full year of sleeping outdoors. When winter came on, he built the snow house. He piled up a mountain of snow, let it set up and then hollowed it out. He finished building his snow house on Dec. 10 and has been sleeping there every night since.

Read more here!

It's 8 degrees and Rudy Hummel is snuggling into bed...outside.

It’s 8 degrees F. and Rudy Hummel is snuggling into bed…outside.

Hi Readers — This made my day!

Dear Free-Range Kids: Thought I would share a conversation I overheard today at my daughter’s school.  I went to pick up my 6 year old from her after school program and arrived just in time to hear her speaking to a friend and the friend’s mother.  I didn’t hear the beginning of the chat, but did hear her say (with emphasis!): “No, no, you’re SUPPOSED to TALK to strangers, you just don’t GO anywhere with them!  Like, I mean, until today I never met YOU (referring to the friend’s mother), but you would think I was rude if I didn’t talk to you, ’cause you’re Amy’s Mom.”  The mother in question was silent for several long seconds.  And then had the good sense and good grace to say, “Huh.  I hadn’t thought of it that way.”  She and I then proceeded to have a lovely chat about Free-Range parenting.

My daughter learned that lesson from me, through you!  Her school also subscribes to the same view.  The principal once described having a police officer come in to the school on “community helper” day and being struck by the irony of having this person the kids had never met teach “stranger danger.”  She describes it as an “Aha!” moment.

Aha! — Toronto Mom

Aha on this end too! – L


Wrong. Just don't go OFF with them.

Wrong! Just don’t go OFF with them.


In another era, this might not seem like a newsworthy letter. But now it is, and so allow me to present a note I got the other day:

Dear Free-Range Kids: My name is Jessica. I’m a 17 year old that’s passionate about changing the things (laws, culture, rules, etc) our culture does to stifle the independence of our youth. If you have the time, I would appreciate your advice and guidance about what I can do to help and support the cause. I just moved out of Florida to New York City and am looking to branch out into the community here and do good! :)

 A bit about me:

I was raised ‘Free-Range’ by a wonderful German mom. I won’t get into the funny Free-Range anecdotes of my youth (unless you’re interested) – what matters is that it made me amazingly independent and successful.

I got my GED the day I turned 16. Weeks later, I became employed full-time at a software company. I’ve been working there for almost 2 years. As a Lead Quality Engineer, I’m an integral part of the company. I have major responsibilities that affect our product and our users. My professional life is very successful for a teenager with an in-progress college-degree and a GED.

Overall, I am proud of what I have accomplished and I realize that my ability to function and thrive as an independent person in society is attributed to my mom’s hands-off, loving parenting.

I want to raise my kids in a society that embraces that kind of parenting (it made me who I am!) and I want to know what I can do to help support this cause. – Jessica Sachs

I wrote back to Jessica that I can use help on the tech front (always!) but also on the example front. That’s why I asked if I could run her letter. It stands as an inspiration (and reminder) to us all of what our progeny are capable of. – L

If she can make it here...maybe we have forgotten how capable teens can be.

If she can make it here…maybe we have forgotten how capable teens can be.

Wow, Readers — The Keller Youth Association’s football league in North Texas has made a decision of staggering proportions: It will no longer give out trophies to kids just for showing up!

Its rationale? Trophies become meaningless when “everybody wins.” Moreover, kids get an unrealistic, indulgent idea of life when they seemingly “succeed” with or without putting in any effort.

Some parents, at least in this interview, are upset because — as one says, “They need to be rewarded…at this young age. We want to keep them coming back.”

“We” want to keep “them” coming back? Does it get more parent-directed than that?

What about the reward that comes from kids actually playing? If that’s not enough, maybe they SHOULDN’T be coming back. Play is a huge motivator, right up there with hunger. If  kids are only playing to get the trophy, something’s wrong.

Worst of all is the idea that our children are so fragile, they cannot withstand the shock of learning that maybe they aren’t the very best at everything they do!

In our home we’ve got a bunch of dusty trophies that mean nothing to my kids, and a very few trophies that do. Maybe it’s time for us parents to make a huge pyramid of all the meaningless metal (or, more often, shiny plastic) our kids have collected to illustrate: Who says our kids can’t handle losing? Hip, hip, hooray — they can!

Fox 2 News Headlines

P.S. This video is missing a track of sound, which is frustrating. If you can find an embed code that WORKS for another video clip of this story, please send it. The NBC Dallas Fort Worth clip does not seem to be embed-able.

Readers — This just in, from jolly old England: Three years ago, a 9-year-old boy horsing around the school playground went to punch his brother, 7, who ducked under the drinking fountain. The older boy, Lewis Pierce, ended up slicing open his thumb on the fountain, and his mom sued the local council (which seems to be the British equivalent of  school district) for about 3000 pounds.

The mom won (yeah, I know), so the school appealed.

At the new trial, according to yesterday’s Daily Mail:

Iain O’Donnell [the school district's lawyer], said schools might have to ban the fountains if Lewis was allowed to keep his pay-out, for fear of other potential claims.

He told the court that schools could never be completely free from hazards. ‘Any part of the premises, for example the corner of a brick wall, could be perceived as sufficiently sharp to cause a laceration if punched,’ he said.

The water fountain was ‘not unduly sharp to normal touch’ and Lewis’s injury was caused by his own ‘spontaneous and unpredictable act’, the Appeal Court heard.

[The Judge] Lady Justice Sharp said schools should take reasonable steps to ensure children’s safety, ‘bearing in mind that children are inclined to lark around’.

But she said they were not under a duty ‘to safeguard children in all circumstances’, adding: ‘The law would part company with common sense if that were the case.’

It’s weird that a victory for common sense should be so thrilling, but that it is. Let’s hope it’s the Sharp heard ’round the world. – L

CAUTION: Stand back 200 feet?

CAUTION: Object may be solid!

 Readers: I just got a note about a class in Pennsylvania that sounded so good — and anachronistic — I wrote back immediately. Here’s what the teacher wrote back: 
Dear Free-Range Kids: Thanks for being gracious enough to help get the word out about the program.
I’m calling it “Sharp Kids – Outdoor knife skills for responsible girls and boys ages 8-12.”  Here’s the link to a regional events calendar for the full listing.  And provided that I can get enough kids registered, it will be held as two separate classes on Sunday, October 5, 2013, right at the peak of leaf-peeper season here in the Poconos.
I ran a similar program to this for my daughters’ Girl Scout troop a couple of years ago with great success.  I’ve been toying with the idea of holding a larger class for the general public and this is my attempt to do that.  The program is loosely based on a program, called Gjor et spikk, conducted by Norges Husflidslag in Norway from 2005-2010.  From my emails with their program director, they trained over 4,000 teachers and over 200,000 students in various handicrafts focusing on basic knife skills during that timeframe.
Mostly, this program is an attempt, within my little sphere of influence, at push-back against a culture that considers all pointy things to be weapons and all children to be feeble.  Considering that I got my first knife out of a crane game at the local church carnival back in 1973 at the age of 5 (back when you could get pocket knives and Zippo lighters out of crane games at church carnivals), our culture hasn’t always held this dim view of children.  I figure that if the Norwegians are willing to teach these skills to hundreds of thousands of kids over there, the least that I could do is to try to do the same with 40 kids here at home.  You gotta start somewhere.  Questions can be directed to sandcut18424@gmail.com.
Thanks for giving me some space for the announcement.  Let’s hope we can generate some groundswell!
Mike Leggiero
Gouldsboro, PA
A new class for kids teaches how not to do this.

The class teaches kids how not to do this.