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what age walk to school

Hey Readers — This piece on the Huffington Post  is by a mom, Rebecca Cuneo Keenan, who is rarin’ to let her 8-year-old son Free-Range…but can’t:

I’ve been reading about helicopter versus free range parenting for years now. I’ve been hearing about how our kids are being raised on back-lit screens and shuttled from one scheduled activity to another. They don’t get the time or space to explore their neighbourhoods by themselves and learn independence in the process. They aren’t active enough and, quite frankly, all this tab keeping is exhausting for everyone. If there was ever a question about which side I’d take, helicopter or free-range, I’d already long decided to be free-range.

But it’s not that easy.

She adds:

My generation of parents really is just shy of bubble-wrapping our kids and sending them out into the world with a GPS embedded in their bodies. We keep our kids in five-point-car-seat-harnesses for as long as possible, micromanage every detail of their locally-sourced, organic diet and get them cell phones as soon as they’re likely to be away from us all in the name of health and safety. It goes against every fibre of our collective consciousness to send them out to the woods with pointed sticks and sling shots.

And finally she says there are the added problems of worrying about being blamed if her child gets hurt, as well as convincing her son, 8, that it might actually be fun to walk to the park (at least part way to the park) by himself. So, here are some suggestions I’ve got, and I’d love you, readers, to add on:

*Have him walk with a friend! That way he has someone to play with, too.

*Talk to other parents about your interest in Free-Ranging. When you find someone like-minded (and you will!), agree to give your kids unsupervised time outside together.

*To remember how the world isn’t a cesspool of danger, try a day without preparing. Leave the house without Kleenex, Band-Aids, extra water, wipes or even — as we recently discussed — snacks. Or cash!  You’ll see you can survive, which may remind you that your son can, too.

*Speaking of friends, talk to one who’s from another country about what they let kids do there. Often, the things we’re terrified of are simply routine elsewhere. Instant perspective!

*Have your son actually HELP you by doing something on his own. Have him get an ingredient for dinner, or walk the dog, or go to the post office. Anything that really WOULD make your day a little easier. Kids love to be more than just our precious babies. They long for purpose, especially in the adult world.

*Read “Free to Learn,” by Peter Gray. His subtitle says it all: “Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life.” (And he forgot to add, “Possibly Slimmer, too!”)

And here’s one suggestion lifted straight from my own book:

* Think of one activity you [or your husband] did as a kid that you are unwilling to let your own sweetheart do at the same age (baby-sitting, biking to a friend’s), and make a list of 20 things that could conceivably go wrong. If there are any worries that strike you as realistic, help your child prepare for them. Teach your would-be babysitter first aid. Teach your would-be biker how to signal his turns. You’ll feel better because you’ve helped them and they’ve demonstrated that they’re ready.

Add your ideas here! – L

Mom wonders: "How do I throw this stuff away?"

Mom wonders: “How do I throw this stuff away?”

Dear Free-Range Kids: I am a professional woman who became a stay at home mother to a 10-year-old boy. I would describe him as very bright, highly energetic and reasonable. Here is my dilemma: We live in a city of about 50,000 in North NJ.  He has recently made it very clear that he wants to walk home from school by himself across a number of streets (about 1+ mile).

It has now started to impact his mood and I am worried. I want to give him independence and see him succeed.  Having done it myself (in Brooklyn) when I was his age, I know how exciting it can be to have that adventure, but I am admittedly very anxious and not sure how to take that first step of feeling comfortable enough to let him try.  I honestly need a guide.  I just bought your book and hope to learn what you  have so obviously perfected with your own child.  While I am waiting for it to arrive, what would you say is  the most important thing to think about [other than statistics for non-death are on my side :) ]  as I seek to simultaneously let him grow up and let go.

Thanks for any advice, D.

To which I replied:

Dear D. – It is cool that you are considering both his desires/readiness AND the real stats about safety. Our job as parents is to try to prepare kids for the world (as opposed to trying to childproof the world), so I’m sure you know you have to teach him how to cross the street safely (no texting while on the street!), and not to get into a car with anyone, and the basics like that.

Then I’d do the walk with him once or twice to make sure he knows the route and there’s nothing egregious along the way, like train tracks with a malfunctioning warning light. And then, one nice afternoon, let him do it.

At least, that’s what I’d suggest. Because it will be SO COOL when he comes home. That’s just about the only thing I’ve seen break any parent’s fear/terror/worry — seeing their kid happy and confident after doing something on their own. Then suddenly what was so scary becomes normal.

Better still, your kid sees something really crucial: That you believe in him. That’s the wind beneath ALL our wings — knowing that someone we love thinks we are ready to take on some independence.

I actually have started a biz where I come to people’s homes to help them as they “let go” — freerangehousecalls.com. But it’s costs a fair bit and you really don’t need me. You can do it on your own. Anyone can. The business is just for folks who’d like some hand-holding. (Of the adult — not the kid!)

Just remember two things: 1 – Risk is inherent in ALL life. No activity is completely risk-free, whether it’s being driven somewhere, walking somewhere, or even going down the steps to the basement. Trying to eliminate all risk is impossible.

2 – Until this modern era of 24-hour news, no one thought walking to school was a horribly dangerous undertaking. Most kids in the rest of the world still do begin at age 7. And still in much of the world a 10-year-old child would be tasked with getting water from the well, shepherding the family’s flock, taking care of three or four younger siblings, walking 5 miles to school, defending the family against intruders…all sorts of stuff. So try to keep some perspective. And let me know how it goes!!!

Good luck to you both! – Lenore (who, alas, has not “perfected” anything. But that’s ok. Kids don’t need perfection!)

A 10-year-old delivery boy from another era.

A 10-year-old delivery boy from another era.


Readers — What a perfect way to start 2014, with a great story of two boys walking to the store and the mom who fought for that right.

Yes, that RIGHT. It is OUR RIGHT to believe in our kids.  And it is our kids’ right to grow up FREE from the limits imposed by delusions of danger.This story was sent in by Ben Rossiter, head of Victoria Walks, an Australian non-profit dedicated to getting people back to doing just what these boys did: Walking around their neighborhoods. How radical. – L.

Women call police after spotting young boys walking alone to Port Fairy shop — but mum is not happy

By Jarrod Woolley

PATRICK Blythe doesn’t understand why a group of women stopped their car and told him and his brother William to go home when they were walking to the shop yesterday morning. …“I was holding Will’s hand, we weren’t running and we stopped and looked properly when we had to cross the road,” the six-year-old said yesterday.

“I told them Mum said we could go, but they just said go home. It made me feel sad, I didn’t do anything wrong.”

It was the first time the brothers had been allowed to walk to the shop without their mum Kelly, a walk they had made together hundreds of times.


…Ms Blythe said she understood why the women stopped their car to check on her boys, aged six and four…. But what she can’t comprehend is why they called in the police.

Read the rest of the story here. Then MAKE YOUR DAY by reading the mom’s incredibly wonderful, Free-Range letter to a local paper that begins:

To the car of women who pulled over and stopped my two sons on their first unchaperoned walk to the shop to purchase milk, I would first like to acknowledge your concerns about the welfare of my children and I appreciate that you may have a different opinion about whether they were old enough to undertake such a task without adult supervision.

I understand that we do not live in an ideal world where we can presume our children are always going to be safe.

I would love to think that I could protect my children from any sort of harm and I shudder with horror like any parent when I hear about child abductions and other abhorrent abuses innocent children suffer, which are reported by all forms of the media on a daily basis.

I do not, however, want my children to grow up being afraid of the world.

I am a teacher and in my job I am responsible for the welfare and education of my students on a daily basis.

I teach many students who have limited independence and their reliance on myself and others to help them navigate their way through their daily world leaves me concerned about how they will cope with the realities of life once they leave school and have to look after themselves…

Here’s the rest! It ends:

I believe in raising my children to be intelligent, independent beings who will have a lot to offer the world as adults. I am teaching them to be aware of the dangers and realities of life, but to not be afraid of it. Yours sincerely, Kelly Blythe

Kelly is my hero! – L 

PORT FAIRY, VICTORIA: What a terrifying looking town!

PORT FAIRY, VICTORIA: What a terrifying looking town!

Dear Readers — A very merry to you and yours, and hopes that someday soon a story like the one below will just seem NORMAL again. – L

Dear Free-Range Kids: My sister from New York just sent me some photos of us growing up in the South Bronx in the late ’40s and early ’50s. One is of my sister Helen, me and Santa Claus. The story behind that photo describes perfectly the differences between child rearing 60 years ago and the present bubble wrap age.
Helen and I lived in a tenement building on 141st St. in the Bronx. As a kindness to her kid brother (me!), my then 9-year-old sister took me by the hand and walked me up to 149th St and 3rd Ave, a business hub in the Bronx. We went to Hearn’s Dept. Store to see Santa. She negotiated the purchase of the photo, put us in line, and this lovely 1949/1950 photo emerged, a photo that we both cherish.

We had to cross many busy streets, ride the escalator (! – always an adventure) and wade through Christmas crowds. No one thought it at all odd that a 9-year-old girl could do that safely or competently. You can see in the picture an injury to my face that occurred when I did some stupid unsafe kid thing…that’s why the eight kids in my family always had scars. It was thought to be an integral part of growing up. How times have changed! I live in Australia now and called Helen – she’s 72 and I’m 68 – this morning and thanked her again for her venturesome kindness.

Yours, John McCormick

Scone, NSW, Australia

P.S.  By the way, the Santa in the photo is THE REAL SANTA. All the others are frauds.

A 9-year-old took her kid brother to see Santa. Normal responsibility.

Santa did not report this family to CPS.

Readers: A few weeks ago I spoke at The Hamlin School in San Francisco. It’s an all-girl school, housed in re-purposed mansion and headed by the dynamic Wanda Holland Greene. She and I were so on the same page after my talk (and I overheard her say she’d laughed so hard her “stomach hurt”) that we decided to continue the conversation with any parents who cared to join us, in her office. There, we talked about our own childhoods, what we loved doing as kids, and how we could give those experiences BACK to our kids. And then Wanda wrote up this newsletter, slightly edited for space, for all the families.

I love it. (And I laughed, too!)  Thank you, Wanda!- L

Free-Range for the Holidays

 Reflections by Head of School Wanda M. Holland Greene

Friday, November 15, 2013

When my friends and family from the East Coast read this edition of the newsletter, they might officially revoke my Native New Yorker card.  As a San Francisco resident for the past five years, I have been accused of losing my Brooklyn edge because I have adopted several Northern Californian tendencies:

a) complaining about “cold weather” (48 degrees and foggy)

b) rising in the dark for morning boot camp classes on the beach

c) fixating on any sandwich layered with sliced avocado

d) ordering a “massaged” kale salad without laughing

Yes, I’ve gone soft.  However, the behavior that proves that I have truly crossed over to the dark (or at least west) side is this:

e) buying my annual Thanksgiving turkey from A TURKEY CONCIERGE

Did I mention that I’ve that gone soft?

Upon arrival in San Francisco in 2008, I soon discovered that all cows, chickens, and turkeys are NOT created equal. Specifically, I learned that free-range turkeys have continuous access to the outdoors during the daytime.  The range is largely covered in vegetation and allows wide-open space to roam. This unrestricted access to fresh air and daylight means better health and quality of life.  The moment that I knew the facts of farm life, I headed straight to Whole Foods, spoke to the friendly turkey concierge there, ordered my medium-sized, almost-cooked bird, and I haven’t looked back.

I was reminded recently that turkeys aren’t the only things that should be free-range.  One week ago, the Parents Association and I joined in welcoming “America’s Worst Mom” to Hamlin.  Lenore Skenazy, a columnist in New York City, became an international symbol (not the positive kind) when she allowed her 9 year-old son to take the subway all by himself.  Her sense was that fostering his independence and allowing him “free range” were important to his social-emotional development. She did not allow her fear of danger to prevent her from raising a sturdy, capable, and self-reliant child.

Well, her actions unleashed the kind of hysteria seen previously only on The Jerry Springer Show.   Talk show hosts wondered aloud if she loved her children, parents accused her of abuse and neglect, and Law & Order writers ripped the story from the headlines.  Like most New Yorkers, Lenore responded by reclaiming her dignity, and she used the power of the pen to fight “the belief that our children are in constant danger from creeps, kidnapping, germs, grades, flashers, frustration, failure, baby snatchers, bugs, bullies, men, sleepovers and/or the perils of a non-organic grape.”

With side-splitting humor, Lenore engaged Hamlin parents in a thoughtful conversation about how our parental fears hold our children back from developing independence and confidence.

She gently chided us about carpool guidelines (“drop-off” and “pick-up” are words used for children, as if they were fragile packages) and showed us gadgets designed for infant and child safety.  (If you weren’t there, just ask someone about the rubber duck with the heat sensor, or the kneepads for crawling babies.)  Lenore explained to us why parents are consumed with worry, and she offered us advice and practical strategies to help us “lean out” (of our children’s lives) and let go just a little.

Are you a parent who hardly lets your child(ren) out of your sight?  Do you refuse to allow your daughter to walk the dog, walk to the store, or walk to school on Wednesdays?  Look at what happens when I substitute “child(ren)” for “turkeys” in the previous paragraph:

I learned that free-range children have continuous access to the outdoors during the daytime.  The range is largely covered in vegetation and allows wide-open space to roam; this unrestricted access to fresh air and daylight means better health and quality of life….

Children need to stand on their own strong legs—physically and emotionally.  We will unintentionally stunt their growth if we carry them around everywhere and never let them roam on their own.

During the upcoming holiday season, I want us to try out the Free-Range philosophy.  (Do whatever you like with your turkey—this philosophy is about children.)  If you have a Lower School daughter, give her permission to enjoy Winterfest [a festival on school grounds] without you for 20, 30, or 60 minutes.  Do you really have to be there when she goes to the carnival or plays on the rooftop, or can she enjoy those activities with a friend while you eat and browse on your own?

After Winterfest, you may decide to sign the Middle School form for “walking privileges” and allow your daughter and a friend to go enjoy frozen yogurt, or to take the bus or walk to meet you somewhere after school.  Maybe you will give her the task of walking the dog alone or buying a few items at a nearby Walgreen’s, and you won’t follow her with your eyes or your feet!

Lenore gave us much to think about at the Parents Association meeting and during the post-meeting roundtable discussion in my office. Essentially, we all have to ask ourselves,When and how does our love for our precious children morph into something harmful rather than good, and what will we do to pull ourselves back from the edge of paranoia?”  Parents need to help each other as we strike the right balance between setting limits and encouraging freedom.

My sister Donna and I rode the New York City subway by ourselves when we were in elementary school. We did the grocery shopping for the entire family every Saturday morning and went to the Laundromat regularly to wash sheets, towels, and clothes.  We took the bus to choir rehearsals.  Every day felt like a Free-Range day.  I admit that I used to think that my mother and father had had children for the free labor, but I now realize that they were preparing my sister and me for life.  Now that my parents are deceased, I truly realize the blessing of having loving parents who did not hover.

I am now working on quelling my own parental fears so that David and Jonathan thrive.  I was a happy and successful Free-Range Kid, and I now want to be a happy and successful Free-Range parent.

Please peruse Lenore’s website (www.freerangekids.com), watch her show on the Discovery Channel (when you are traveling outside of the USA—it does not air here), or read her book, and let’s talk turkey.  Free range, of course.  — W.H.G.


Wanda Holland Greene, head of The Hamlin School

Wanda Holland Greene, head of The Hamlin School. (Photo: Elizabeth Beck)