A real-world example of how NOT IMPOSSIBLE it is to pop the parenting bubble of fear.
Dear Free-Range Kids: When our kids were pre-school aged I noticed that our park visits were taken up with pushing kids on the swings, or helping them up things. One day I noticed that parents were in the way of everything — making the rules, enforcing the rules, and generally stopping kids from noticing that other kids existed in the park! One day at a picnic my husband spent an hour pushing our three year old daughter — she loved it, but he missed the picnic, she complained if he stopped — it was the final straw for me. Parks were amazing, but we were doing it wrong.Â .So I began to declare the rule loud and often to all my friends “Parks are for kids, not adults”. Some were skeptical at first, it felt like we were bad parents, uncaring, one step away from being “one of those mums on the phone instead of watching the kids*”. So I began to declare a little louder that “home was the place to play with mum, parks are for playing with others kids”, and “A park is a place for mums to chat with each other, while kids play with each other”. My friends started to listen, but it was with loads of hesitation at first, and they would say things like “just three pushes and then mummy is going to have her cup of tea”.Â .However as my friendship circle grew comfortable with the idea, they started to see the benefits. The kids moderate their own behaviour, they make their own rules, they include other kids (whom they have never met — but only if the kid is also sans-parent), they learn things, they teach each other, they never exceed their comfortable risk levels (i.e. swings going faster then they can control, or climbing too high). And we get to have a nice cuppa together.Â .Today at the park we actually discussed it a bit, kind of shocked that we ever treated parks any differently, from the two-year-old toddlers who can barely use anything, to the five, six, and seven-year-olds who have long abandoned the play equipment in favour of climbing the trees, they are all left to their own devices while we enjoy a good natter. Everyone is happy.ÂYours, Cassie Thompson
P.S., she wrote:Â
*I want to add that since we began this, I have realised that a mum playing with her phone, texting, reading, or just navel gazing while at the park is perfectly fine — parks are not necessarily a chance for kids to “show off to mum” or for “mum to photograph everything”, they can just be a place for mum to have a 30 minute chill.Â .
Agreed! I asked Cassie if she was in Britain and if she and the others had their tea right there at the park, and she wrote back:
Yes we have a cuppa at the park. We bring a thermos and cups, and fruit and snacks. The kids range from being under our feet (the babies) to being out of sight in the trees or riding the 800 meter bike track. Myself and a group of three other mums spend 3-4 hrs here every week.Â .The Kitchener park (NSW Australia) has two covered picnic areas, bike tracks, plenty of trees and even a dam. Australians are as obsessed with tea as the British !
And here’s Cassie’s picture of the park. She says if you look VERY closely you can see her 4-year-old somewhere in the distance. Her eyes must be better than mine. – L
Nothing is more aggravating to me than a caretaker who ‘narrates’ everything…..
I’m so grateful to have started reading your blog before my oldest was born (back in 2009!), because I took your advice, and ever since I started taking him to parks, and my other kids after, the rule has been “mommy doesn’t help.” I’ve even told other parents not to help my kids, especially since when they do, my kid has simply been doing something they deem “too dangerous.” I might get the side-eye, but yeah, I want to read a freaking book, not push kids on the swing. Even better, now that the oldest is 7 and his little brother 5, they walk to the park by themselves. It’s not far, but being able to kick them out of the house and knowing that they can safely cross the street and come back when it’s time, makes for a saner mom and dad.
This sounds delightful and that park…oh my, I think my kids would have loved it. I am out of the park sitting days but they were one of my favorites. I loved talking to other moms and getting fresh perspectives. And if forced us outside while we got to do some sitting and reflecting and less…doing.
My kids were happier to just be with other kids. Us parents traveled together and had similar styles (hands-off) and our kids generally got along and had less conflicts. We mostly helped with splinters, wet pants and clothing, and served as a home base for the group. Those were the best days. Enjoy them, Cassie, it sounds lovely with a cuppa.
My kids are only 7 and 9, but from the time they were little (and were done falling off teh sides of the jungle gym–maybe 18 mo-2?) I have always said, “I take my kids to the park so I don’t have to play with them” and I plop myself down with a book! I’m sure I got snarky comments but I never heard any….but I did finish a LOT of books when my kids were little! 🙂
A great anecdote, and a fine example of the value of parental solidarity. Thanks for sharing Lenore, and hats off to Cassie too. It’s worth mentioning that Cassie’s stance would be the norm in Germany and Swizerland, and probably much of Scandinavia too.
@Gina, I hate that so much too! Recently I sat behind a mother and her preschooler on the bus, and mom narrated everything, followed by “can you say x?” “That sign is telling the bus driver to stop. Can you say stop? What color is the sign? That tree is a birch tree. Can you say birch? Do you see how the trunk is white?”
I wanted to…well, I won’t tell you what I wanted to do while listening to that.
I’ve taken my sons to the park along with a good book. Once in a while one of my boys says “hey Dad, watch me!” or something to that effect. But I’ve taught my kids well. I’m even proud to say that my oldest told a bully “I’m not going to play with you because you’re mean.” That kinda shook the kid, and he ran off. My son, ever the sensitive one, ran after him “Dude,” he shouted (don’t ask me where he picked that up), “I want to play with you but you have to play nice.”
Yeah, helicoptering is for drones and newscasters, not for parents.
BAM! That is how it should be. That’s how it was in previous generations. In fact, there were more kids in parks back then, than parents. Parents were at home enjoying the day without the kids. Dare I say, enjoying that glass of wine too. lol
What is that structure in the photo?
We have a pretty great playground situation here in San Francisco. The only thing we’ve run into is having to shoo away helicopter parents who have so much to give that they try to share their gifts with our children. A gentleman persuaded my son not to try to climb the hill instead of the staircase to a slide by offering him a cookie. After bringing my kid to me, he was perplexed when instead of receiving a “Thank you,” he got a lecture on offering food to strange kids on a playground 🙂
I understand the point of what she’s getting at but, like Lenore says, you have to know your children. Know their limits and temperaments….and it’s not a bad idea to know how quickly you can run if whatever shoes you have on. My 6 year old can go far and wide when we go to the park, because he’s proven he can handle that. My 2 year old, however, doesn’t understand that you can’t run into the street…so he’s on a bit shorter leash (figuratively, not literally…..though I do have one).
The structure in the photo isn’t part of the park; it’s got a big fence around it. It’s something industrial. But it is odd-looking; I can’t identify it, either.
Oh! I think it’s an old-fashioned windmill with the blades removed.
The structure in the picture is a winding house or ‘poppet head’ that stands above an old mining shaft. If you Google ‘Hunter Valley Walks: Abernethy & Kitchener’, you can read more about the abandoned mine and restoration works there.
The wheels on the top of the tower are pulleys. They raise and lower two elevators.
Yep, when I was a kid in the 70’s, my parents would accompany us to the park maybe twice a summer, usually if they wanted to have a picnic. Otherwise, we were there almost daily without parents. We would walk there or ride our bikes, and we’d stay until we were bored (and sometimes go back later if we ended up being MORE bored at home). And there were always way more kids at the park than there were adults. The adults were there for the “babies”.
And we had all the good, dangerous stuff, too. Jungle Gym, swings, DOUBLE swings, metal slides with no shade over them, merry go round (the kind you push really fast and small kids fly off of), and even a real carousel with no stupid straps or seat belts on the horses. No mulch to be found anywhere, only grass or hard-packed dirt. One park in the area even had a short zip line!
Nowadays I go back to my hometown and drive by my park and it’s filled with the stupid toddler playscapes with the short, plastic slides. Mulch everywhere instead of grass, no swings. The tall, metal slides that felt death-defying as a kid are gone, as is the merry go round and jungle gym. The carousel is still there, but they’ve added straps that even adults are required to wear when riding. It’s a pretty sad place that I can’t imagine any kid over 3 years old wanting to play at.
And of course, there’s at least as many adults as there are kids, following the kids around and not letting them play together.
“Parks are for playing with other kids and not for bothering your mom” was always my rule.
I actually fail to see anything wrong with â€œthose mums on the phone instead of watching the kids” – moms need time to catch up with the rest of the world sometimes. As an introvert, I always felt that moments, when my child was busy with something that didn’t involve me, were too rare and precious to waste on small talk. My kid is out of this age range now, but I remember always taking a paper book with me to read, when sitting on that playground bench. Books are good for perplexing busybodies – “is this mom bad for neglecting her child or good for being a model of recreational reading” … so they could stare at me occasionally, but nobody ever dared to say anything aloud.
My mom had the rule “If you can’t climb it yourself, you shouldn’t be climbing it.” Followed by ” If you can get up, you can get down.” I think this was meant to save her back on monkey bars and such, and it certainly save a trip from the fire department when my older brother got “stuck” at the top of a very tall tree.
I carried these with me when I worked at a large preschool. There, I helped the kids learn how to swing them selves when developmentally ready. Prior to that, I did push, and we said the alphabet or counted (so that I didn’t get stuck with one kid the whole play period.)
With my youngest son, as soon as he learned to walk and run and climb at 9 months, I learned quickly that if I hoovered, so did he. He was/is a total show off. He would dance at the edge of the slide structure with the spiral ladder and the 7 foot drop, until I moved around to the end of the slide. He would climb the ladder structure and stand at the top, leaning against the highest rung and then let go if I or another adult was watching. I had to beg parents to PLEASE, LEAVE HIM ALONE! As soon as they turned, he would hang on again. Interestingly, he was the only kid who never fell through the steps of the spiral staircase.
At that park, there was a weekly “adult education” program that brought toys and stuff for the kids. The idea was, the kids could play and the adults could talk and share concerns or such about their kids. It was GREAT! It really encouraged a lot of parents to spend time on themselves.
Now, we are homeschoolers, and I manage a weekly meeting at a local park. We only cancel if the rec center is closed or the wind is dangerous (60 mph winds can blow down branches.) We moms sit at a park table, or walk, or when cold, sit inside and talk. It is OUR time. Kids get to go play. The only time the parents focus on the kids is if someone is having a birthday, then we sing happy birthday and share cupcakes. Homeschooling moms need more socialization than the kids do. (The kids do just fine, solving most of their own problems. In fact, the only time there have been problems is when other moms not in our group intervene.)
Unfortunately the local park near me isn’t meant for little kids. You can only get to the slide if you can use monkey bars. So dumb! My 3 year old can’t jump that high but he loves the park. I like to let him run around but there is so much he can’t do that I am forced to help out. There are also drug addicts and homeless hanging around so I do tend to keep a close eye on him…
What can I do? The only other local park backs onto a crazy busy street with no fence. And I have a runner…
That’s such a great approach – very positive and supportive.
13 years ago, I instinctively knew it was wrong to be a parent on a play ground. I have battled the guilt of wanting to sit while kids should go be kids and play with other kids. I have voiced out loud that I HATE pushing kids on the swing and felt a huge sense of relief when they learned to pump on their own! Horrified faces met me every time.
I love when I finally realize I’ve been doing something right all along.
Thank you Thank you. Keep sharing!
The structure is a “poppet head”, the remnants of an old mine (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kitchener,_New_South_Wales).