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A Dad Asks Us To Suggest Books, Toys, Electronics and Activities to Make His Kids Independent

A dad who just read Free-Range Kids dropped a note to ask for more SPECIFIC advice.

Busted! My book is about how our culture crammed fear down our throats, not granular advice on how to raise a child.

So that’s why I’m turning this over to YOU! His questions are below. Note that his kids are little now, but he wants the 5-year-old to start feeling her oats and is, of course, thinking ahead. If you’ve got some great ideas, please comment! Or you can email me directly at

Thanks, pardners!


  1. I definitely want to get my 5-year-old daughter outside more. Her brother is 15 months and not walking yet, so she usually doesn’t have a playmate. Looking for ideas or resources of things to have outside for her to play with. I know that some kids just “played with sticks” and that is a fine answer, but maybe there are a few things that could entice them to get out the door. Also wondering your thoughts on playsets being worth the money? Note that I live in northeast Ohio.
  2. Ideas and resources about some of the best things for my kids to play with inside. I will say we have been keeping shipping boxes longer. Last week we had a boat and an ice cream stand out of a few boxes!
  3. Ideas and resources about age appropriate tablet/computer games.
  4. Recommendations and resources on discipline methods? Is there any consensus within the free-range community?

7 Responses to A Dad Asks Us To Suggest Books, Toys, Electronics and Activities to Make His Kids Independent

  1. Carissa August 10, 2022 at 2:31 pm #

    We love the Unplugged Play book series by Bobbi Connor. It has awesome ideas to keep children occupied and inspire independently initiated play.

  2. fred schueler August 10, 2022 at 2:42 pm #

    the Swallows & Amazons books set a pretty high standard for free-ranginess

  3. Joey P. August 10, 2022 at 3:22 pm #

    My first thought as I read your list of questions was how many of your concerns might be addressed by an increased exposure to nature and outdoor activity. My daughter is also 5-years-old, and this has been our starting point in her education. We have created a tradition of co-exploration, finding new parks and nature preserves in our area in an ever-widening ring. There are times she just wants to burn off energy at the local playground (fine), and other times she wants to be someplace more expansive. In the latter case, these excursions into nature have given us so many things to do and draw upon: healthy exercise, appreciation for nature and animals, formal nature study with books and periodicals, drawing (animals, trees, etc.), building and crafts projects (bird nests with paper or grass from the backyard, etc.), backyard animal watching and recording (writing and organization), a fundamental understanding of an ecosystem and the importance of protecting the environment, and more. Much of her confidence and creativity have come from these experiences. I believe that having a comprehensive approach (nature or otherwise) makes many other questions and concerns naturally fall in line. We go outside in all weather, no matter how hot or cold or snowy or rainy (northern NJ). She is drawn to nonfiction reading material about nature and animals (National Geographic Kids, Ranger Rick). She plays nature-related games on her tablet (mostly through the PBS KIds website but also AMNH’s OLogy website). And as I already mentioned, many of her indoor crafts are inspired by nature. Once they find their interest (whatever that is), they become self-directed and you become a facilitator. It’s fun! Sorry for being so long-winded, but I’m really passionate about using nature as a foundation for child development. Check out the Children & Nature Network website if you’re interested.

  4. Corine August 10, 2022 at 4:06 pm #

    My 7 and 4 year old boys love anything Wild Kratts (PBS Kids) related; most of the times they go hiking or walking in a park, the zoo, woods, etc. they declare they’re going on a Creature Adventure 🙂

    State Parks often put on nature classes and demonstrations for all ages including tailored for small children, you might check Ohio State Parks website for event info at parks close to you.

  5. Nikki August 11, 2022 at 12:02 am #

    Also, look into local Tinkergarten groups if you are interested in age-appropriate nature play.

  6. ClemenceDane August 11, 2022 at 12:15 am #

    At that age I loved my hippity hop, which I always played with outside. Not sure if they make them anymore. My babysitter took me on walks where we would look at fountains and covered bridges, and we would collect interesting leaves and rocks. She told me the names of every flower we saw. This pushed my attention span a little, but I also look back on those times with tremendous fondness. I loved to watch the water run in creeks. Sometimes whoever I was with also tried to teach me to skip stones across creeks or ponds.

    Find a berry picking farm where you can pick your own strawberries or raspberries for a fixed fee per carton. That was one of my favorite things ever.

    I also had some fun adults who managed to create mysteries out of things we saw outside. There was a maintenance shed in an old park that had a huge, elaborate iron door on it that was always locked, and a giant keyhole. There was a rumor that a “giant” lived in there and you’d better not dare put your eye to the keyhole! There was also a cement culvert that went through a tunnel, and the older kids across the street almost convinced me that if you go through the tunnel you end up in another world. I wasn’t inclined to believe it in the first place, and I could see their obvious, mean-spirited enjoyment in thinking they had fooled me. However, I still felt a certain magic awe when I saw that tunnel. Another babysitter told me that an arching bridge over a small river in the woods had a troll under it and we had to recite, “Billygoats gruff” before we walked over it.

    In warm months my Dad sometimes made a big batch of soap water in a large metal bowl and tie a large loop in some heavy string to create a “wand” to let the wind blow giant bubbles. I think we had some other household implement that had a round metal loop that we sometimes used as well.

    Of course there’s always the kiddie pool in the back yard when it’s hot and/or a slip n slide (I always wanted one, but didn’t have one.)

    I loved riding in a basket on the back of my parents’ bicycles when they took long bike rides together.

    Learning to throw, kick, or bounce a ball was always fun for a little bit (though easily frustrating at age five.)

    My Mom looked up in some newspaper somewhere when and where there were going to be events for children. We had a children’s theater nearby that we went to sometimes for plays and other performances. We lived near a campus and they put on puppet shows and lots of children’s plays like “You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown,” Rapunzel, Alice in Wonderland, etc. She even took me to art museums, which I liked for about 10 to 15 minutes.

    The public pool! One of my favorite things ever. Even when I couldn’t swim, my Mom held me up in the water and sort of bounced around. I loved the water and the sight of all the people diving and jumping and laughing. And they sold popsicles, which my parents otherwise never let me have. At the pool they sometimes let me get a Rocket Pop.

  7. ClemenceDane August 11, 2022 at 12:17 am #

    Ps. the boys in the neighborhood all had Big Wheels, which they rode up and down the driveways and tried to do spinouts. I always wanted one of those, too.