Unsupervised Kids at the Park: Tomorrow and Forever

Readers, tomorrow is Take Our Children to the Park…and Leave Them There Day, our fifth annual celebration of the once very normal, unremarkable activity called KIDS PLAYING WITH OTHER KIDS, without a security detail.

To celebrate, just take or send your children, generally about age 7 and up, to your local park at around 10 a.m.,  and figure out a time and way for them to get home. Then tell them whatever they need to know, and say goodbye. This is a lovely way for them to get used to:

1 – Coming up with something to do, without a parent, teacher or coach organizing them. (Imagine that!)

2 – Meeting other kids spontaneously. (That’s why I suggest 10 a.m. — so all the kids are there at the same time.)

3 – “Problem-solving” if and when any issues arise, from a skinned knee to uneven teams. When kids work together to make something happen (a game, a fort, a response to something unexpected) it’s the easiest way for friendship to blossom.

4 – Reveling in the sometimes frustrating, sometimes confusing thing called play. And really — that is one of the coolest parts. We are so used to homogenizing and babyproofing our kids’ lives that we forget that an experience can have its ups and DOWNS ( for instance, a spat about whether the ball  was in or out, with no adult to adjudicate) and still be great.

5 – Being outside.

6 – Not being supervised, so they have to rise to the occasion.

7 – Creating the kind of memories most likely YOU look back on with incredible fondness.

The fear of  creeps, kidnapping, and predators in the bushes may not completely dissipate, even when I remind folks that Ernie Allen, the head of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children told me himself, “Our message is exactly the one you’re trying to convey. We have been trying to debunk the myth of stranger danger.” 

The other fear — of good Samaritans dialing 911 because they are incensed to see children playing without adult supervision — is a rare but real fear, too. To that, all I can say is: The rarer it becomes to see kids playing unsupervised, the more common it will be for onlookers (and cops) to consider it untenable.

Compare kids to wildflowers: Two beautiful things that used to surround us outside, drinking in the sun, making us smile. Then we started seeing less of them.  In some places, we’ve actually have had to coax wildflowers back to the wilderness by spreading the seeds ourselves. How artificial! And yet, the results are are lovely as ever: Wildflowers back outside!

Now it’s time to do that with our kids.

While in an earlier era, many would have torn out of the house on a Saturday morning to ride their bikes or run to a friend’s, now they wait inside to be taken somewhere. (I know this because mine did too. Even before I was “Free-Range” I felt a little shiver of weirdness when my kids would ask, “Mom, what are we doing today?” As if I was the camp director. Which I sort of was.)

So, to artificially re-seed the wild with our kids, we’ve got tomorrow. With any luck, the joy will take root and on Sunday morning they will go where kids have always gone: Outside. With friends. To play.  – L

Let them bloom and grow...

Let them bloom and grow…

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35 Responses to Unsupervised Kids at the Park: Tomorrow and Forever

  1. Vicki Bradley May 16, 2014 at 9:05 am #

    Of course, being the parent of FRKs, I already do what is suggested in this article. Sometimes, I will walk by the park and happen to see my kids playing there, and I am always struck by how few kids are at the park, in general, and if there are kids there, they are invariably accompanied by one or more adults. A second point of the article, that of kids being driven everywhere these days, resonates with me, as I rarely, if ever, was driven by parents ANYWHERE when I was a kid. I got to my destination by either walking or riding my bike. I admit, I do drive my kids more than I was driven, but there are still many times that I will tell them to ride their bikes or walk, especially if their destination is within a few kilometers of our house. Taking the bus is also a new skill I have taught them, and they really enjoy their newly found autonomy and sense of accomplishment when they can get themselves from Point A to Point B.

  2. lollipoplover May 16, 2014 at 9:45 am #

    “Compare kids to wildflowers: Two beautiful things that used to surround us outside, drinking in the sun, making us smile. Then we started seeing less of them. In some places, we’ve actually have had to coax wildflowers back to the wilderness by spreading the seeds ourselves. How artificial! And yet, the results are are lovely as ever: Wildflowers back outside!”

    Love, love, love this.
    Reminds me of the Tom Petty song, “Wildflowers”, which I also love and that “you belong somewhere you feel free”.
    Lenore, I love that you put your neck out there every year to get kids back outside playing. It is such a lovely sight, and the noise of them laughing and singing was called “happy noise” not something to fear.

    I would also suggest not dropping them off.
    Have the kids figure out their closest play area (school playgrounds are also great meeting places) and how to get their on their own (bike/walk/take a bus)and bring their own supplies. Kids can call friends. See who brings the ball. Make teams and play. Come home when you’re tired and hungry.

  3. SKL May 16, 2014 at 10:40 am #

    At 10am tomorrow, my kids will be on a farm riding horses. Maybe next year. :)

    I am letting them go off on their own in the neighborhood now, and that sometimes includes the park if conditions are right. The park is a mile away, so it is not always workable.

    In completely unrelated news: my kids fried eggs this Wednesday and both of them managed to crack the shells and flip the eggs without breaking the yolks. I’d hate to tell you how old I was before I managed that maneuver! 😛 Butterfingers!

  4. CrazyCatLady May 16, 2014 at 10:51 am #

    Tomorrow I will take two of my kids to the shooting range and leave them with adults that I don’t know. They will be shooting black powder rifles, throwing hatchets, and shooting long bows. They will do a few crafts too, but most of the fun will be the shooting. I really don’t care if the adults have passed a background check.

  5. Emily May 16, 2014 at 11:15 am #

    That’s beautiful, Lenore. Also, it’s Victoria Day Weekend here in Canada, so with Monday off from work and school, Take Your Kids To The Park And Leave Them There Day could become a three-peat here. :)

  6. Papilio May 16, 2014 at 11:49 am #

    “drinking in the sun”?
    http://www.campingappelhof.nl/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/camping2.jpg 😛

    (‘are are’ > ‘are as’?)

    I just realized it’s lovely weather, Friday afternoon, but all I hear now are birds, and some traffic in the distance. Odd, because I do actually hear that happy noise here quite often (from the grass field behind the flatbuilding across the street, and the sidewalk in front of it).

  7. Susan May 16, 2014 at 12:13 pm #

    Now that my son is 13, his favorite thing to do on his days off school is to “go hang with his friends.” The key part of hanging with your friends, is that they have to be alone (no parents around at all.) We give them $10 for lunch and the boys bike around in busy areas of LA (ok, so I’m a little nervous about them being hit by cars), they stop at Subway to eat lunch & sometimes go the range to hit some golf balls. They have such a good time doing “what they want” and having nothing planned. They spent several hours watching some tanks being moved around at a National Guard base. He always has a smile on his face when he comes home from those unstructured days.

  8. Asya May 16, 2014 at 12:59 pm #

    What a nice idea to fight the crazy.

  9. Donna May 16, 2014 at 1:05 pm #

    We usually walk to the park on Saturday morning for the Farmer’s Market. I wish we didn’t already have plans for later or I would leave her there and let her walk home when ready. Maybe next weekend. It won’t be the official day, but there are always tons of kids around the park on Saturdays during market season.

    SKL – I still can’t always flip eggs without breaking the yolk.

  10. MichaelF May 16, 2014 at 1:11 pm #

    My son is involved with BOKS at school, maybe tie in to this notice I got from them today:

    May is National Physical Fitness and Sports Month. Help us spread the word about the benefits of getting active. And while you’re at it, get your family and/or community moving by creating opportunities for everyone to get active.

    To do this, we challenge you to host a Fitness Event! Do it in your neighborhood or a local park. And make it simple – just get out there and get active! Whether you get your family and community involved in a game of kickball, wiffle ball or anything else we just want you to move.

  11. BL May 16, 2014 at 1:51 pm #

    “KIDS PLAYING WITH OTHER KIDS, without a security detail.”

    Wow! What a great idea! Why didn’t we have this when I was a kid?!

    Oh, wait. We did.

    Never mind.

  12. John May 16, 2014 at 2:15 pm #

    @CrazyCatLady…..goodness gracious, Lenore is not advocating that you take your kids to an unsupervised shooting range to throw hatchets and shoot long bows. I’d say the danger in leaving them unattended in a city park is slightly (sarcasm) less than what you propose. Just a little perspective here.

  13. Melinda Tripp May 16, 2014 at 2:24 pm #

    I love this idea! As someone who has written extensively about empowered kids, and parents letting go, I hope large groups of friends take their kids to the park and then go give Starbucks their business, or go for a walk, getting out is very important…..
    Down with video games and tv, those things can come after dinner and homework!
    Author
    Melinda Reynolds Tripp
    Turlock and Pine Mountain Lake, CA

  14. Reziac May 16, 2014 at 2:41 pm #

    SKL says, “…and that sometimes includes the park if conditions are right. The park is a mile away, so it is not always workable”

    What “conditions” have to be right? I’d say any day when there aren’t hurricanes and similar natural disasters is sufficiently ‘right’ to go play in the park (or preferably in a vacant lot — so much more interesting than today’s overly-groomed public parks).

    A mile away? That’s a 15 minute walk or a 5 minute bike ride. How is that not “workable”?? Surely your kids can do that! Have faith in their competence! and the exercise won’t hurt ’em either.

  15. John May 16, 2014 at 2:42 pm #

    @Susan….sounds like you’ve got a great kid Susan and you’re raising him right! I’ll also bet that he’s healthier and stronger than a horse! It’s normal that you worry about your kid getting hit by a car as our parents worried about the same thing back in the 60s. But most of us are still here!

    When I worked and lived over in the Mid-East, our embassy sponsored a Happy Hour every Thursday evening and one of the kids of American embassy personnel, a boy around 10-years-old, would always come to Happy Hour with his parents barefoot and full of energy! I never saw the kid with shoes on. He was a lean and wiry kid who would be out there on the embassy grounds playing with the other kids. Just a ball of energy and he looked just like a child of the 60s. I say this because how many parents in America nowadays allow their child to play outside barefoot?

    I didn’t know his parents but I’d venture to guess that he was definitely a free range kid!

  16. SKL May 16, 2014 at 3:41 pm #

    Reziac, why do you need to argue with me? I do not need to rationalize my parenting choices to you nor do I need your approval.

  17. Lisa May 16, 2014 at 3:51 pm #

    LOL… I told my kid that tomorrow is “Take Our Children to the Park…and Leave Them There Day”, and she looked at me excitedly and said “Will you take me?”. She seems to hear that as code for “If I want to go play *this* weekend, Mom will drive me”. Probably not the point 😉

    As it turns out, her soccer game tomorrow won’t be over by 10 AM… so I WILL take her to the park (we’ll both be going, because I enjoy watching her games), and assuming her chores are done tonight I’ll leave after the game and she can stay, or go elsewhere, and just be home by dinner time. But I did find it amusing that she latched onto the “Take” part – as in, thinking she’d get a ride when normally I’d just tell her she could go to the park.

  18. anonymous this time May 16, 2014 at 3:59 pm #

    Hope it gets press coverage again. More and more people need to acknowledge the importance of facing these issues.

    Yay Lenore!!!

  19. hineata May 16, 2014 at 4:29 pm #

    Wish my kids were still into going to the park… :-(. These days they all head out when we have a party on and there are lots of younger kids to take, but mostly they’re either studying or meeting at the mall during their limited free time…

    Never mind, I suppose eventually we’ll get grandkids to send packing outside. 😉

  20. hineata May 16, 2014 at 4:39 pm #

    @Crazy Cat Lady – am curious, what’s a black powder rifle? Is that one of those old ones that you have to pack with bits of cloth? I love the idea of throwing hatchets too – we used to hurl axes sometimes in my friend’s back yard, just for the fun of it. I think we were pretending to be Daniel Boone, or is it Davy Crockett (King of the Willllld Front – Ear!)….

    These days the only practice I get is hurling frying pans at my husband. Damn, time to get the kids an axe! :-)

  21. CrazyCatLady May 16, 2014 at 6:00 pm #

    Hineata, you have it just right. It is the kind of rifle that were used during the US Revolutionary War.

    The whole thing is put on by a group of men (and a few women) who do historical reenactments. In our area that means mountain men, Native Americans, and the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

    And John, no, unfortunately, I am not leaving them alone and unsupervised. My oldest, at 14, would do just fine with a shot gun or 22 in thickest of woods with no one living nearby. Unfortunately, that is not where we live. The 12 year old….I would not let him go unsupervised yet. He would shoot himself or someone else.

    Events like this, or with the family when we go to the national forest, (and are sure about the backdrop)are the nearest that my husband and I can come to our childhood. I didn’t have the interest in guns, but my brother did. Both he and my husband and many other kids we both knew growing up, went out on their own property and shot 22s regularly.

  22. Puzzled May 16, 2014 at 9:36 pm #

    John – maybe it’s my extremeness speaking, but I didn’t think CrazyCatLady was being sarcastic.

  23. Backroads May 17, 2014 at 1:40 am #

    Best day ever! Though my kid can’t even walk yet. But someday, she’ll learn all about walking over to the park.

    I think it’s so important that kids learn what to do when they disagree. I teach second grade. Myself and the TAs, short of an actual dangerous rule-breaking problem, stay out of the recess drama. Yes, there are kids who walk up to us, sobbing about the unfairness of the soccer game and demand we fix the problem. And we do nothing.

    It’s good for the kids and they’re starting to wean themselves off the need for the adult fix.

  24. katherinejane May 17, 2014 at 2:10 am #

    Fantastic thing to do. Though my daughter just turned 7 so it’s a leap!

    There’s been so much noise in the UK about historical sex abuse by celebrities, but what’s common to nearly all these cases is that they were trusted family friends.

  25. Jill May 17, 2014 at 11:24 am #

    But what if there’s a STRANGE MAN at the park? What then? And, OMG, the horror, what if he TALKS TO THE CHILDREN?
    The Satanists whom Geraldo Rivera assured a terrified America were lurking everywhere back in the eighties, just itching for a chance to abduct our innocent little ones and sacrifice them to the Prince of Darkness, aren’t around anymore. Maybe they hung up their hooded black robes and retired to Florida. But it’s still not safe because the STRANGE MEN have taken their place. They lurk everywhere. Some of them drive ice cream trucks. Some of them sit on benches outside public libraries. Some of them walk cute puppies. No matter how innocent they look, our children aren’t safe around them, because they’re men and they’re…strange. They might just do something awful and it’s better to be safe than sorry. Being safe is what it’s all about.

  26. John May 17, 2014 at 2:57 pm #

    @Puzzled…..well, I was thinking the cat lady was being sarcastic and mocking Lenore’s great idea but perhaps she wasn’t. If that’s the case, my apologies. In fact, the cat lady probably has a pretty good idea with the hatchet throwing at the shooting range!

  27. Gina May 17, 2014 at 11:07 pm #

    Have always loved when you have this day although my kids are grown now. But maybe a little earlier next year? It’s already over 100 degrees here in Scottsdale…

  28. Jenny Islander May 17, 2014 at 11:21 pm #

    Take Our Children to the Park and Leave Them There Day is a little different around here, because at this time of year certain parks are likely to be visited by actual factual bears. I worked with the neighbor mom to allow my kids, and her kid, and the neighbor kid up the hill whose folks were at work, to hop between my unfenced yard and hers with assorted ways to get wet freely available. (77 degrees–a scorcher for the coastal Subarctic!) Even the four-year-old was out there unsupervised. We provided cold things to drink, sunscreen, towels, and hats. They didn’t address more than a couple of words to either of us for about five hours, except for when my oldest stepped on a bee. They independently figured out that filling last winter’s plastic toboggans with cold water and leaving them in the sun will create warm water. They built tents from our beach blankets and some sticks. They created a Slip’n’Slide out of a tarp and some hand soap. It was glorious.

  29. CrazyCatLady May 18, 2014 at 11:05 am #

    John, no I wasn’t mocking, the kids just had another event planned. They had a grand time with men, gasp, (that is a mock of society) who were running the event.

    The event went from 8:30 in the morning until 8:00 at night. Parents had the option of joining the kids for a potluck dinner at 6:00. What I saw when I got there was a bunch of kids who were trying to cook without adult supervision on an open fire, a bunch of boys throwing dirt bombs, some kids who had used sunblock but didn’t get it on the backs of their necks, and some boys who didn’t wear it or hats at all. And everyone was extremely happy.

    My kids had a grand time, as did all of the others. This was not their first time doing stuff like this. My son was given two rules: pay attention, and follow directions. He followed directions well, but didn’t pay too much attention when one of the men stuck his hand in the hot wax to make a hand cast. The adult said that it was VERY hot, but, boys being boys, a bunch stuck their hands in too and complained mightily. But…they did learn. The girls mostly laughed at the boys (and the adult.)

    So no, it was not completely turned loose and unsupervised, but it was something that a LOT of my kids’ friends would never do. Because there were weapons, and because the event was supervised by men and they wouldn’t let their daughters hang out with a bunch of men no matter what the kids might learn. (How do I know this…because one time I had a birthday party and my mixer broke. A girl showed up early as I was going to a neighbor to use her mixer, and the mother would not leave her daughter unless I assured her that there were no men in the house. I guess she figured that my husband abuses all the girls who come over or something. Maybe it is his beard and long hair. But he wasn’t home just then so the girl got to stay with NO adult supervision as that was better than being with my husband. That girl has not been over since – I will not insult my husband with that crap.)

  30. Jeppi May 18, 2014 at 12:19 pm #

    I grew up in an age when kids playing unsupervised outdoors were the rule. Even then, I used to pest my mother saying “Mom, I don’t know what to do! It’s so boring!” And the inevitable answer was: “Go out and play!”

  31. Steve May 18, 2014 at 1:59 pm #

    hineata said:

    “I love the idea of throwing hatchets too – we used to hurl axes sometimes in my friend’s back yard, just for the fun of it. I think we were pretending to be Daniel Boone, or is it Davy Crockett …”

    ————————————–

    Has anyone read books by Patrick F. McManus?

    He’s a humorist you will not forget. One chapter in his book: “Never Sniff a Gift Fish” is called: THE CHRISTMAS HATCHET.

    It begins like this:
    ————————

    The best evidence that I’ve been able to come up with that the human race is increasing in intelligence is that parents no longer give their kids hatchets for Christmas.

    When I was a boy the hatchet was a gift commonly bestowed upon male children. In an attempt to cover up their lapse of sanity, parents would tell their offspring, “Now don’t chop anything.”

    By the time this warning was out of the parents’ mouths, the kid would have already whacked two branches off the Christmas tree and be adding a second set of notches to one of his new Lincoln logs.

    It was not that the kid harbored a gene compelling him to be destructive. The problem was with the hatchet, which had a will of it’s own. As soon as the kid activated it by grasping the handle, the hatchet took charge of his mental processes and pretty much ran the whole show from them on…

    —————————-

    The story goes on for another 6 pages.

    —————————————-

    McManus’s books are great to read aloud to kids or adults.
    Most chapters of his books are independent stories – mostly outdoor topics: fishing, camping, hiking.

    Here’s the book at Amazon:
    http://www.amazon.com/Never-Sniff-A-Gift-Fish/dp/0805000313

    And here’s McManus ( a college prof) performing part of one of his books:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GVuHiPZ0vqY

  32. Stacy May 19, 2014 at 1:43 pm #

    I would have participated, but my older kids didn’t want to leave the house — they were having too much fun digging “rivers” in the backyard for their Legos and getting covered in mud. I did take my youngest to a park and watched from a distance as she made friends with an older girl. Unfortunately, the 20-year-old wooden playground structure has been torn down because it was made of “dangerous” materials and is being replaced with a new “playscape” that will be “parent-friendly” because it will not have any hiding places to “lose your children.”

  33. Nan May 19, 2014 at 5:59 pm #

    Pretty much any day is that day here at our house. We actually live across the street from the park. As we have no finished backyard (just field), the kids love to play at the park. I make at least 2 of them go together if they want to go. (That way one is watching out for the other.) I look out the window on occasion to see how it’s going.

  34. Danielle May 23, 2014 at 12:31 pm #

    My kids are still too young for this- 5 and 3. But they play outside without our direct supervision. There are a lot of kids on our street and they just go from yard to yard. I check on them from time to time, and sometimes I can’t find them immediately but a neighbor usually knows where they are. Our next door neighbors are always outside with their toddler and our kids like to go over there and talk their ear off. My kids know that they need a big kid or adult to help them cross the street. I think next year my older daughter will be able to do it herself- she understands to look for cars and has a healthy fear of them, but she is distractable and I don’t trust that she’s always looking. This summer I’d like to be able to play tennis at the park with my husband while our kids play at the playground right next to the courts. We think the 3 year old might not want to play without us but you have to start somewhere.

  35. Jessica May 26, 2014 at 2:45 am #

    I have 5-yr old twins. I let them run letters to the postbox which is only about 8-9 houses down on my side of the street. We live in a very quiet suburb. A lady followed them back to my house to see where they lived and then called child services.
    I couldn’t believe when child services called, they were unpleasant even though I explained it was a postbox run. Why does it have to be like this?