Does Your Children’s Weekend Look Like This?*

Readers — It’s Memorial Day in the States, the “unofficial beginning of summer.” Seeing this 2-min video of childhood from Britain in the ’50s, I feel tears going up my nose. How many kids would LOVE going outside and finding a field of friends to play with? And how few do, anymore? Free-Range Kids is dedicated to getting more kids outside, playing. It’s as noble a goal as making sure all kids get enough to eat. – L.

*Besides the snow, I mean.

Played in Britain from BBC Motion Gallery on Vimeo.



37 Responses to Does Your Children’s Weekend Look Like This?*

  1. RG May 27, 2013 at 11:21 am #

    I wonder how much of our insularity has to do with the non-walkability of many/most areas of the United States? I was thinking about this last week, when I was out of town at a conference. The conference site was about a mile from my hotel – a pleasant distance for walking – but there were no sidewalks or crosswalks or any kind of way for me to get there without weaving through 60 mph traffic. So I had to take a shuttle, which had to drive about 5 roundabout miles on various roads to get me there. Ditto anywhere to eat, any souvenir shops, anything at all to do – I could not get to any of it safely and was required to take the hotel shuttle in order to get to anything. It’s an area that is set up for conferences – all conference centers and hotels – why on earth not make it pedestrian friendly?

    I think about that in the context of free range kids – how much more easy would it be for them to run around freely if America was a more pedestrian friendly country?

  2. J.T. Wenting May 27, 2013 at 11:26 am #

    what, competition, touching animals, getting dirty, using tools?
    Didn’t they know that’s very bad for self esteem, and only gives terrible diseases from which you die?

    Sadly, the UK has now degenerated to the same status as the US (and the rest of Europe) where kids are force fed on ritalin and other drugs to keep them nice, quiet, pliant drones and couch potatoes, and denied every opportunity to be kids and actually play (let alone play outside).

    Not in the UK, but have a lot of friends there, it’s apalling. My sister won’t even let her kids play in her 700sq.ft. totally fenced in backyard because it’s supposedly too dangerous…

  3. Emily May 27, 2013 at 12:33 pm #

    Wow, great video. :) I was just wondering about one thing, though–why were the young boys in the video wearing shorts under their coats in the dead of winter?

  4. pentamom May 27, 2013 at 1:20 pm #

    In that era, both in Britain and the U.S, (and probably Canada too) long pants were a privilege of maturity. Boys wore short pants always up to a certain age, and then they wore long pants always.

  5. pentamom May 27, 2013 at 1:22 pm #

    Oh, wait, that wasn’t still the case in the U.S. in the 50s, but it was true earlier — maybe until the 20s or so? I remember reading a story about WWI with my kids in which the American boy had the “short pants, long pants” thing going on. It dates to sometime in the Victorian era.

  6. Wendy Constantinoff May 27, 2013 at 1:50 pm #

    Those were the days!

    The area I live in has housing much the same as those in the video althugh the streets aren’t cobbled any more. Children still play in the streets unsupervised although not as many as 20 years ago when we moved here. But that, I suspect, has more to do with electronic games etc than parents not letting them out!

  7. Andy Harris May 27, 2013 at 2:32 pm #

    I’m not sure what happened, but a few years ago you would be hard pressed to see kids playing around town here. Now, the streets are alive with kids. I imagine all these munchkins slipped their leashes simultaneously and are running happily amok.

  8. anonymous this time May 27, 2013 at 3:22 pm #

    At :40 there is a slide that I swear I went down at a park in London in about 1974 or so.

    I remember that visit to London as a young child; the playgrounds were way more exciting than anything we had in my town in the US.

    Great footage. I love the “trip to Mars.” So 50’s!

  9. Cin May 27, 2013 at 3:38 pm #

    I live in a military neighbourhood, where every home pretty much has at least one kid — and our neighbourhood totally looks almost that crowded most of the time.

    It is truly wonderful!

    (Some of this comes down to the plain lack of children in so many places — the boomers had the power of numbers.)

  10. SKL May 27, 2013 at 6:42 pm #

    Off topic, but are you going to do a story about the [white] guy who had the cops come to his house because someone at Walmart thought his biracial kids probably weren’t his?

  11. Uly May 27, 2013 at 7:22 pm #

    And the reason for that sign of maturity is that the knees don’t give out in short pants with rough play like they do with long pants. Socks are easier to mend.

  12. Rodney C. Davis May 27, 2013 at 7:48 pm #

    Pentamom and Emily. The colonies continued with that tradition out of necessity until quite recently. I grew up wearing only short pants (except for church) until I was almost eleven years old. That was 1971! Luckily, its not that big a deal in the tropics.

    I really loved this video.. made me feel a little tearful too, because it such a rare thing to see so many kids just experiencing their world in utter wonder. I’m happy to announce that I’ve joined your movement. I’m making the “free-range” dimension a part of my concept for ideal parenting.

    It IS that important.. in so many ways.

  13. lihtox May 27, 2013 at 8:00 pm #

    I have to wonder if the baby boom had anything to do with the sheer *number* of kids in that video.

  14. pentamom May 27, 2013 at 8:53 pm #

    Uly, I didn’t know that, but it makes perfect sense! Thanks for making me smarter.

  15. hineata May 27, 2013 at 10:44 pm #

    @Rodney, which ‘colony’ did you grow up in? I know we were all called that at one stage, but for some reason I still attach the word penal to it, LOL!

    The shorts are still fairly standard practice for boys here, at least at uniform primary schools, and most intermediates (age 11/12). Boys are expected to be tough, don’t ‘cha know?! I always felt sorry for them on cold, icy blustery days – at least we girls got to wear woollen stockings (though those have their own issues – crotch down to the knees, anyone?).

    The video was lovely. Those double swings were great, though a head injury waiting to happen…..anyone remember standing and stopping them quick-smart when a toddler appeared?

    @SKL – crazy eh?! Do you have that issue with your kids? (I think you’ve said they’re adopted?). I did once get hassled at border control in Singapore when travelling with just my son, but fortunately I had put my married name on my passport, or I might still be there today, LOL! But that is crossing borders, not walking around a freaking Walmart! Do you have a link to the story? Am curious now :-)

  16. Mike May 27, 2013 at 10:46 pm #

    Just got back from the lake. My son (14) and his cousin (13) took the fishing boat out for the day to tool around the lake and see if they could come back having caught dinner.

    It’s a small boat with a 9hp motor and oars in case they ran out of gas. They didn’t catch any fish, but they did tie up at the dock of the resort across the lake to buy ice cream! They were gone all day, and had a blast.

  17. hineata May 27, 2013 at 10:51 pm #

    Also those Brownie uniforms – New Zealand always seemed a decade behind the rest of the world in the seventies, but I didn’t realise we were two decades thus! I had a uniform like that in 1975….Along with the 1937 Bedford truck we all used to ride around on the back of, and a 1953 Austin Mini. Maybe the adults around us were lying….maybe we really were in the ’50’s :-)

  18. J.T. Wenting May 27, 2013 at 10:57 pm #

    “Off topic, but are you going to do a story about the [white] guy who had the cops come to his house because someone at Walmart thought his biracial kids probably weren’t his?”

    had something similar happen here. Grandfather was taking his grandkid to the park, someone called the police about a “dirty old man abducting kids”, who followed him home.
    Case was easily cleared up there, but it’s another sign of the way any man alone with kids is treated these days.

  19. Donald May 28, 2013 at 12:12 am #

    Those poor children! They had to experience life without Facebook or Duke Nukem. How were they able to smile from such depravity?

  20. Kiwimum May 28, 2013 at 1:58 am #

    me too on that Brownie uniform Hineata! LOL

  21. bmommyx2 May 28, 2013 at 3:06 am #

    My little boys spend the day in the back yard playing with the hose. Saturday they rode their bikes out front. Luckily there are a few kids in the neighborhood & when the weather warms up they all tend to play in the culdesac

  22. Molly May 28, 2013 at 7:10 am #

    So beautiful!

  23. Andrew May 28, 2013 at 7:21 am #

    Play Street? I’ve never seen one of those signs in the UK – I wonder if they still exist, and where – but there is still official guidance on them – (see page 32-33).

  24. pentamom May 28, 2013 at 9:08 am #

    But of course there’s a wiki article about it!

    I think in more rural settings and farther west in the U.S. boys didn’t wear shorts as much, at least not for physical labor. Ralph Moody’s “Little Britches” would certainly not have been in short pants when he was learning to rope and ride. And he suffered the depths of humiliation when his mother insisted on dressing him up in a Norfolk suit for school in rural Colorado and had to fight for his honor. OTOH, I’m guessing when the family moved back to Boston, he would have been in short pants if he was still young enough (though likely after all he’d done, he would have been deemed too grown up for them.)

  25. DH May 28, 2013 at 12:38 pm #

    This reminds me that I have to find a cheap fishing pole for my kid.

    Last summer, a bunch of the tween kids started fishing in the pond across the street on a regular basis. I was over there a few times with my kid (although we had no pole), helping them tie on flies and such. I couldn’t handle the poles other than that though, since I didn’t have a current license.

    Then one afternoon when I wasn’t there, the police showed up. I’m not quite sure what happened but the kids stopped fishing in the pond. I was sad.

    Then, in the first village newsletter this spring, there was a statement in BIG, BOLD text that all village ponds are open for fishing! And I’m happy to see that this spring, as soon as the weather started getting warm, the kids out out fishing again. Someone won something there.

  26. DH May 28, 2013 at 12:41 pm #

    (For the record, the police showing up couldn’t have been fishing-license related. Kids under 16 don’t need licenses. As far as I know, I was the only adult who was ever out there with them, and I was always being entirely proper with the poles–never casting, only verbally telling the kids how to unhook the fish and release them–because I knew I could get in trouble.)

  27. Barry Sheridan May 28, 2013 at 3:39 pm #

    Aahh the memories. I remember those times.
    (an English reader)

  28. J.T. Wenting May 28, 2013 at 3:56 pm #

    “This reminds me that I have to find a cheap fishing pole for my kid.”

    Go to your garden center or DIY store, get some nice long straight bamboos (sold for supporting plants in gardens).
    Add fishing line and a hook and sinker. Instant fishing pole.

  29. pentamom May 28, 2013 at 4:15 pm #

    Actually, if you want to go beyond the bamboo thing to “real” rods and reels, but still cheap ones, you might check out Ollie’s Bargain Outlet (if you have one of those near you.) My husband found super-cheap starter fishing stuff for my younger kids there just a couple of weeks ago.

  30. Papilio May 28, 2013 at 6:27 pm #

    Since many of the kids in the video are playing in the streets, literally, this made me think about urban design and infrastructure too… Somehow it often seems to come down to that for kids playing outside, but also for them to get to school by themselves or get around the neighborhood in general. Sidewalks, bike paths, traffic calming measures, safe crossings, safe intersections…

    Those play streets are strict btw! Maybe a bit too strict, maybe that’s why they’re rare?

    On a related note: I recently looked up Central Park on Google Maps, and was surprised by the grid plan around the park: it looks like an Excel sheet to me! Could someone living in such an American Excel neighborhood please tell me how that works, traffic-wise? I would expect that since all streets are wide and comfortable to drive through, all streets are equally busy, there is a lot of through-traffic and drivers are speeding often because they can look so far ahead with such straight roads. Please tell me I’m all wrong?

  31. Irene May 28, 2013 at 10:55 pm #

    I had the best Memorial Day weekend! My youngest daughter who is turning 10 is old enough to go to the neighborhood pool by herself now. She and her best friend and neighbor, walked to the pool, and spent the whole day (everyday) at the pool. On Monday they knew the pool opened at 10, so at 9:30 they had their bathingsuits on and went on their way, and returned home about 3. She said that not many people were there, but that was fine, she and her friend were so happy to at the pool by themself.

  32. DH May 29, 2013 at 10:06 am #

    “all streets are equally busy, there is a lot of through-traffic and drivers are speeding often because they can look so far ahead with such straight roads. Please tell me I’m all wrong?”

    I grew up in Chicago, which is also pretty much a grid pattern.

    Usually, there are a “major” streets on the grid and what are in between the major streets are considered neighborhood streets. In Chicago, each major street is generally eight blocks (1 standard mile) from each other.

    The neighborhood streets are ~three lanes wide, and generally allow parking down each side. What that means is that you have to go slowly down them because with cars parked on each side, there’s only about one complete lane down the center, and you have to negotiate with the cars coming from the other direction. I wouldn’t drive down any Chicago side street at more than about 25 mph; it’s just stupid and dangerous.

  33. Papilio May 29, 2013 at 3:31 pm #

    Thanks for your answer, DH.
    So, even the considered neighborhood streets are not calm enough for children to play in the street – that’s what this still sounds like to me.
    But with so many parallel streets, I just wonder what would happen if you’d bar some of them for cars, but not for other road users. Just some barriers in strategic places, in a way that there are still some main access roads into the neighborhood and every street is still reachable by car, but going from one side of the neighborhood to the other would also be safe and fun and even fast (because they can take streets cars can’t) by rollerskate/scooter/bike, for example.
    Would that be at all possible, or would everybody jump over anyone proposing something like this because cars need to stay king of the road?
    It’s just a little thought experiment, based on the neighborhood streets I know: a speed limit of 19mph, and apart from parked cars often bends and curves and cyclists. And playing children. I saw some rollerskating the other day.

  34. Uly May 29, 2013 at 11:44 pm #

    Around Central Park, Papillo, there are too many pedestrians for cars to speed. Too much vehicle traffic as well. Also, an awful lot of traffic lights, so even if you were to go at a nice pace you’d end up stopping within a block or two. Driving is easily the least efficient way to get around in Manhattan,

  35. P a p i l i o May 30, 2013 at 3:35 pm #

    @Uly: I mentioned Manhattan as an example, but it seems pretty typical for American cities, or not? I wondered if it would be at all doable to take away some freedom for cars and give it to other modes of transportation and playing children.
    “Driving is easily the least efficient way to get around in Manhattan”
    Exactly. There must be a better alternative.

  36. Stephanie May 31, 2013 at 12:50 am #

    We used to play with the kids on my block, and a few around the corner. We didn’t have “play dates”. We just got together after school and things unfolded. In my neighborhood, we like to be outdoors with our kids, the adults hang out together socializing and the kids run a muck. There are some toddlers and so we do keep an eye on them more carefully as they tend to get distracted and will run after the ball in the street. But, the others, they pretty much have free reign to have fun. I wonder if kids played more with the “neighborhood” kids if more kids would be outside as opposed to “play dates” where kids have a parent drive them to another kids house, stay there with them, and then take them home. I hate the term “play dates” for just that reason. Also, our kids have to figure out how to get along with the kids in the neighborhood, as they are all very different, and so they can’t pick and choose, they learn how to enjoy, interact, assert themselves with a variety of kids.


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