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Readers — A bunch of you have been sending this fantastic story from New Zealand, where a school abandoned its plans to build a fancy, new playground because there were just too many regulations and expenses. Instead, it decided to let kids play the old-fashioned way, by making their own fun.

The results? Astounding. As the principal noted: “When you look at our playground it looks chaotic. From an adult’s perspective, it looks like kids might get hurt, but they don’t.” What’s more:

Mudslides, skateboarding, bullrush [which sounds like Kiwi Red Rover] and tree climbing kept the children so occupied the school no longer needed a timeout area or as many teachers on patrol.

Yes, amidst the chaos of free play, discipline problems DECREASED! As the principal explained:

“The kids were motivated, busy and engaged. In my experience, the time children get into trouble is when they are not busy, motivated and engaged. It’s during that time they bully other kids, graffiti or wreck things around the school.”

Grant Schofield, a professor of public health who studied the playground experiment, said:

“The great paradox of cotton-woolling children is it’s more dangerous in the long-run.”

Society’s obsession with protecting children ignores the benefits of risk-taking, he said.

Children develop the frontal lobe of their brain when taking risks, meaning they work out consequences. “You can’t teach them that. They have to learn risk on their own terms. It doesn’t develop by watching TV, they have to get out there.”

How fantastic that a school undertook this experiment and that it was studied. Here’s to more “beneficial risk!” – L

What do kids need to feel excited and engaged?

What do kids need to feel excited and engaged?

 

 

 

Hi Readers! Down in Australia I’m sort of happy to say a tempest is brewing over whether it is up to parents or police to decide when a child is “old enough” to walk around outside. According to this story  on the home page of the Sydney Morning Herald:

Officers told a Hornsby mother it was ”inappropriate” for her 10-year-old daughter to catch a bus unaccompanied, and warned a Manly father whose seven-year-old son walked alone to a local shop that while they would not alert DOCS [Dept. of Community Services], they would file a report.

Really? File a report to say a child was suspiciously…fine? Tell another parent that her  child is doing something “inappropriate” by…being competent?

Are these officers doing anyone an ounce of good? Don’t they realize that if they have nothing to do but warn parents about their perfectly poised offspring,  there probably isn’t a whole lot of crime going on for anyone to worry about?

And of course the bigger issue is, as always: Who decides what is “safe enough” when it comes to our kids? Free-Range Kids would rather not leave it up to   power-drunk, horror-hallucinating, infantilizing  busybodies with badges. – L.

Hi Readers — This note was originally a comment on the post below this one. Its poignancy hit me particularly hard because today’s New York Times has a piece by Jane Brody – “Communities Learn Good Life Can be a Killer” –  about the effect of sprawl on health, autonomy and, of course,  childhood. I’m not sure how to suddenly re-urbanize vast swaths of suburbia, but I’m glad that city planners are looking into it. — L.

Dear Free-Range Kids: Before moving to my current home in Germany 6 years ago, I lived in a small town (about 5,000 people) in a different part of Germany. It was very Free-Range. Kids of all ages played outside in the smaller streets without adult supervision. The older kids watched out for the younger ones when a car drove by. Kids were always out playing in the neighborhood, either in the streets or at a local playground.

When my son was about 4 or 5, my family (husband, son, me) took a trip to California to visit family. In all of the neighborhoods where we stayed, nobody was on the streets. My son finally commented, “This must must be a really lonely place. Nobody is here.” He was so used to seeing the German streets in his neighborhood alive with kids playing and adults walking, cycling, or running. The empty streets in nice neighborhoods in California really threw him off.

During another CA trip, when my son was 9, he commented that he wouldn’t want to live there because you have to drive everywhere. He likes being able to walk or ride his bike over here and doesn’t really know anything different.

Kudos to Lori for making her town less of a “lonely place.” She is a beacon of hope for the Free-Range movement.  – Sue Biegeleisen

Helloooo? Anyone NOT home?

Hi Readers — I’m sharing this reader’s story because I like to remind us, from time to time, that the intense fear of our kids being beyond our sight, doing ANYTHING on their own, is not just “normal parental concern” kicking in. It is NEW. It is born of this era. (I explain how it came about in my book). And, just like the fear of neighbors-as-witches in Salem, some day it will seem weird and inexplicable. I’m just hoping to hasten that day. And here’s a note from a reader in Florida that may help! — L.
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Dear Free-Range Kids: I had written to you a little while back about my neighborhood, my kids, our friends, etc.  I have 3 daughters: ages 9, 7 and 5.  We live in a closed-off (not gated, but it could be) community in South Florida.  It is a very family-friendly community.  I’ve been very influenced by the Free-Range movement, and I would like my kids to do more Free-Range things, but none of their friends are permitted to join them.  In fact, I had no idea how neurotic my friends and neighbors were with their kids until I started to “push the envelope” about Free-Range.  Believe me, I’m not suggesting anything crazy.  But, can my 9 year old daughter go with a friend to a movie by themselves?  Hell, I went to the movies with my friends when I was that age (circa 1976).  Why should I have to endure movies like “Gnomeo and Juliet” when my daughter can perfectly well see it herself, and feel really great and grown up doing so?  I recently gave her a key to the house.  She feels so proud.
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This past Rosh Hashanah [the Jewish New Year], while my 9 year old was getting tired of services (who can blame her), I told her to go to the synagogue playground.  The playground was full of little ones and their parents/nannies.  She invited a friend to join her, to make it more fun.  Her friend’s mother declined the invitation.  You see, her 9 year old daughter is not allowed on the playground without specific adult supervision.  This, at a synagogue playground, full of kids and their parents, most of whom we know, in the middle of the Rosh Hashanah morning services!!!  And HER DAUGHTER IS 9!!
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Anyway, I got to thinking about your post about the “Your 6 Year Old” book — about how a child that age at the time that book was published (1980?) was supposed to be able to walk to a corner store and buy a little something.  That was something a child that age should be achieving, just like a 3 year old should be toilet trained.
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It reminded me of an old family story we used to tell to illustrate how people are just “wired” to be the way they are, but there is an unintended “Free-Range” message too.  My family is from Poland.  They escaped to Russia just before the war, but returned after it. In or around 1946, my father began 1st Grade.  He was expected to walk to and from school by himself.
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As you can probably imagine, Poland in 1946 was undergoing massive reconstruction.  My father, even at that tender age, was enthralled with building construction.  On his way home from school, I guess more than once, he would pass by a construction site and be hours late coming home because he spent so much time watching the buildings go up.  My grandmother, of course, was sick with worry.  Her Jewish son was wandering around Lodz – who knew what happened?  She would spank him and admonish him never to do that again.   The story was told to show us kids how Dad was destined to be a builder himself.
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But, you know, nowhere in the story was there any suggestion that my grandmother should go get my father from school herself.  To say that was considered and dismissed would be to give the idea too much credit.  It just wasn’t on the radar.  No, a 6 year old boy was supposed to be able to get back and forth from school, from local stores, from friends, etc.  If he was late and worried his parents needlessly, he would be spanked and punished.
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Clearly, my grandmother was aware of dangers.  What Jewish mother in Poland in 1946 wasn’t aware of danger?  Still, letting that stop you from allowing your son do normal things like walking to school — well, that was like letting fear stop you from doing your laundry!  You have to be able to do normal things.
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If you post this comment on your web site, I’d really be curious to hear people’s (and your) thoughts. – A Reader from Florida
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My thought is this: You are right. We have completely lost perspective about danger and now believe that almost anything involving our kids out of our sight is “too risky” to try. Stories like yours — and even more prosaic stories from our own childhoods — serve to remind us that GOOD and CARING and CAREFUL parents always let their kids do things on their own, until very recently. It is time for our generation to get a grip. – L

Hi Readers — This is from an article by Tim Gill in The Guardian last week. Tim is a friend, an activist, a blogger and author of No Fear, a book examining what it means to grow up in a completely risk averse society. In the article I’m quoting from, he’s talking about how there’s an annual bird count (presumably to find out which birds are thriving, which are endangered), but maybe what we need now is an annual “child outside” count:
The ecology of children apparently being less interesting than that of birds, there is little hard data around. We do have Mayer Hillman’s classic One False Move, a study of children’s independent mobility. It suggests that, in a single generation, the “home habitat” of a typical eight-year-old — the area in which children are able to travel on their own — has shrunk to one-ninth of its former size. Do not underestimate the significance of this change: for the first time in the 4 million-year history of our species, we are effectively trapping children indoors at the very point when their bodies and minds are primed to start getting to grips with the world outside the home.

The mission of Free-Range Kids — as you can tell from its name — is liberating kids from this new, unnecessary, frustrating, debilitating caged existence. Onward!! L.

Yikes! It's the non-indoors!

 

Hi Folks — Here’s a recent piece from The New York Times that suggests that more kids are growing up nearsighted today because they don’t get enough time OUTSIDE. Since humans evolved as creatures living in the outdoor world, it’s possible that our eyes came to depend on that very light for their development.

Which means?  We keep our kids locked up indoors at their peril. Even though many parents think they keep their kids locked up indoors to AVOID peril. Oh, the irony. (Or should I say the eye-rony? Maybe not. Okay, I won’t. But I WILL say that maybe keep-’em-inside parents are being…wait for it…NEARSIGHTED.)  – L.

Hi Folks — Here it is again. The creeping idea that anytime our kids are outside without us they are in DANGER, thus it is CRIME to take our eyes off them. The writer of the note below, from Western Maryland, also pens this blog. Here’s what’s happening out by her:

Dear Free-Range Kids:  Our kids have always been “Free -Range.” Unfortunately, today, someone called the police because of the “unsupervised children” running around the neighborhood.  My son is six (seven in September), and we allow him to ride his bike to friend’s houses up the street (we live in a small, three-street neighborhood far from any major roads), rollerblade down the road, play with friends in the little patch of woods across the street from our houses, play in sprinklers with the neighbors, etc.  There are constantly kids running around our neighborhood, playing with their friends — kids of all ages.

The officer said that kids under ten, by law, are not allowed outside, unsupervised except in their parents’ yard.  The officer did not come to our house, but visited the mom of two of my son’s good friends.  The people who called reported that all the way back in the winter, a “whole bunch of unsupervised kids were sled riding down the hill” that is across from our townhouse units.

It’s true — there were 10 or 12 “vagrant” children sledding in full snow attire with NO PARENTS present for hours, with some stops to run home for bathroom breaks and hot cocoa.

I don’t know who reported our kids.  The officer was very kind and said he understood, but still said that if there were more reports they would have to take more aggressive action than just a warning.  I have no idea what to do about this. My husband and I have been looking for the law online and found nothing.  All I know is: it’s not fair for us to have to keep our kids inside or in our backyards for the entire summer.  Any insights? — Maryland Mom

Dear MM: This requires a fight — for the sake of your family and for the sake of the neighborhood. If there really IS a law, you and your neighbors must protest. If there isn’t a law — and I certainly think you could ask the local precinct to actually show it to you — then you have to remind law enforcement that we live in a free society where parents are allowed to determine the way they want to raise their kids. Oh, and by the way, it is GOOD for kids to go find their friends outside and play. Not bad. Good. — L