Cool, Smart, Free-Range Idea from a Reader

Hi fakbkeknst
Folks! In response to the blog post below this one — the one about the kid getting lost on her way home and miraculously NOT being abducted — a reader named Davonia wrote this note. It’s so helpful and straightforward.  Voila:


by Davonia

The best way I can think of to counter this is to play the what-if game with your children. We do this all the time at dinner.

What if you miss the bus in the morning: what do you do? Walk back to the house, use key and call Mom or Dad.

What if you miss the bus in the afternoon?  (Return to school; call Mom or Dad. If school is closed, walk to library or Walgreens; call Mom or Dad. Walk to friends’ house close to school; call Mom or Dad)

What if you are hungry on Sat morning before Mom and Dad get up? (make toast w/ jelly or eat fruit)

What if you get lost; what do you do? (Ask a store cashier to call mom’s cell # which is on a piece of paper in backpack)

What if you forget your key; what do you do? (Open front door and sit on steps; wait for parents to get home- usually 20 mins) If it gets dark, go to a neighbor’s house and explain; call Mom or Dad)

What if (god-forbid) someone tries to  put you in their car and abduct you? (Scream “You’re not my parent” and “Don’t abduct me”. Run to nearest house in the opposite direction that the car is facing- so they would have to turn it around- and knock on the door. Explain to neighbor what is happening. Ask to call Mom or Dad)

Thanks for this, Davonia! A little preparation goes a long way toward making kids confident, independent and Free-Range. (Because, contrary to popular belief, we don’t just throw them outside and hope that somehow, someday they come back.) — Lenore

16 Responses to Cool, Smart, Free-Range Idea from a Reader

  1. TheMommason December 5, 2009 at 5:24 am #

    That was the best post I’ve seen here something we have done since DS was about 5 but I’m a trying to find the middle ground called helicopter by this side so what do I know.

  2. Tracie December 5, 2009 at 6:00 am #

    A few years ago, I dropped my 10YO mildly autistic daughter off at swim practice, not realizing they’d started renovations at the pool where she’d been practicing and so practice was being held at a different pool. A few minutes later, I got a call on my cell phone from a teacher at the gymnastics gym next to the pool, where my daughter had gone to ask for help, explaining what had happened. The teacher told me how impressed she was by the way my daughter had handled the situation. I went back to the pool and found my daughter, a little teary but just fine (it turned out she was more upset she was going to be in trouble for forgetting to tell me practice had been moved than at being “lost”) and took her to the right place for practice. We had never talked about what to do in this particular situation, but she had my cell number memorized in case she needed to reach me and I was so proud of her for using her head and handling the situation! It scared me because I do think of her as being so vulnerable, especially with her disability, but this just proved to me that making sure she’s prepared to handle the occasional mishap is so important – and I bet she did so better than a lot of “normal” but over-parented kids out there would have 🙂

  3. LauraL December 5, 2009 at 6:33 am #

    We do this with our kids often, and without really thinking about it. “if you come home and I’m not here and you’ve forgotten your key, then what?” and they named the families they’d go to without any prmpting from us. so yay!

  4. Jennifer December 5, 2009 at 6:38 am #

    This is a game we also play a lot. One really useful part of it, in addition to talking over strategies with your kids, is that you can often tell if they’re ready to do something on their own by the answers they give.

  5. kherbert December 5, 2009 at 6:40 am #

    I grew up doing this. Because of a life threatening allergy, I had to be able to stand up to adults and refuse to follow directions that could endanger my life. (The one time I didn’t do it because it was family, we spent Christmas Eve at the Doc in a Box place).

    I do it with my niece and her 2nd and 3rd cousins. (Nephew isn’t speaking much yet). We asked them what they would do if they got separated from us at the zoo. They said – Go tell Mr. Melvin.

    Mr. Melvin runs the Carousel. So we asked them can you find Mr. Melvin – they (4 and 5 at the time) took us straight to Mr. Melvin. So now we have a meet up place at the Zoo. At the Museum it is the tallest dinosaur.

    What both these have in common is they are at the center or near the center of the attraction not near the gates.

  6. Ben December 5, 2009 at 7:00 am #

    Nice writing Davonia,

    Actually, my parents did pretty much all of that. They raised me freerange without even knowing it, again proving it’s just plain common sense. You need to be prepared when you get dropped in the big world.

    They even went a step further. We were to go on a camp with my parents and some of their friends and the camp would involve a dropping: dumping a group of people in an unknown location and be the first group to return to the campsite. My sister and I wanted to practice, so one day (after lots of nagging) our father blindfolded us, put us in the car and dropped us somewhere in town. Our town is reasonably large and we hadn’t seen most of it, of course it wasn’t too far from home and eventually we recognized our surroundings. We made it home in one piece… but you knew that, right?

  7. Stephanie December 5, 2009 at 11:42 am #

    Sounds like a really fun game for the kids. I do some of that with my daughter but these are some good extras to add in.

  8. Mae Mae December 5, 2009 at 12:08 pm #

    “Don’t abduct me!” Love that one. It made me laugh out loud imagining a child screaming that. I don’t know why, I’m probably just tired.

    Great idea though. I don’t do this with my children as I just assumed they would know what to do but it would be good to make sure so I will start doing this at the odd mealtime or while waiting for the bus.

  9. dves December 5, 2009 at 2:36 pm #

    I like the content, good idea shared. This article seems like pointing of today’s what happen in the family. well, it’s up to them on how they’d adjust it.

  10. Betty December 5, 2009 at 7:24 pm #

    Excellent article! I only wish I had done a better job with my sons. When they were around 9 or 10 (they are twins), I was working at a job that got me home about 30 minutes after they returned from school. They rode their bikes to school and wore a house key on a chain around their necks. They were instructed to call me at work when they got home. One day, they called as usual, and said, “Hi Mom! Everything is OK.” I could tell something was a little different that normal. I asked him what he meant, and he said they had forgotten to wear their keys that day…His explanation:
    “We forgot our keys, so we got the ladder from the back yard. I climbed up to our bedroom window. It wasn’t tall enough, but I reached the window and pulled up and in. I was stunned…I said, “so then you went downstairs and let your brother in, right?” He said, “Oh, no. He wanted to climb the ladder too!” When I gasped in terror, “Are you kidding me?!?” He said, “Don’t worry, Mom, we put the ladder away.”
    No question about it. My boys had that independent spirit and guardian angels to help along the way.

  11. Sandy December 6, 2009 at 1:00 am #

    We do similar roll play, but this post gave me a few more ideas. Thank you for posting it.


  12. Rae December 7, 2009 at 3:41 am #

    We’re now playing an updated version of this game now that my son is learning to drive and about to get his license. We live in a small suburb of Tulsa, where I work, where many friends live, and where we go to church. Our rule is that he will be allowed to drive outside of our town – whether into Tulsa or other nearby towns – as he demonstrates the needed skill, experience, and responsibility.

    Since my son is very active in the youth organization at church, he always wants to go on Wednesday nights. But that is often impractical due to work schedules and driving home and back to Tulsa during the (albeit minor) rush hour.

    So as he’s been driving with his permit, we’ve been teaching him the route between church & home, which will be the first “out-of-town” location he’ll be allowed to drive himself. So we ask him, what would you do if you missed this turn? What would you do if you missed this highway entrance/exit?

    And since Tulsa is laid out on a grid aligned with N, S, E, & W with N-S streets named after cities and E-W streets given numeric names, another part of our teaching has been orientation/location awareness. If he calls us (or any of our many friends whose numbers are programmed into his cell phone) to ask for directions he should be able to tell us where he is and to be able to follow when we say go East from there to X street, turn North and … Or to get to him quickly if that’s the case.

  13. MrsNehemiah December 7, 2009 at 1:13 pm #

    my parents did this with us, and we teach it to our kids too, but my dad was a firefighter and he taught us to yell “FIRE” if we were being abducted (which never happened btw) but it gets peoples attention, and one premise of free range parenting is that most people are not out to harm your kids but will help them

  14. laurareaux December 8, 2009 at 2:26 am #

    My mom always did the “What If” game with us. Great idea! We also played it another way (still do)… someone would ask a question like “What if you could be anywhere in the world right now?”… “What if you could do ANY job for the week?” … “What if you could have any meal you wanted right now?” It inspired us to think & dream BIG! 🙂

  15. Laura December 8, 2009 at 3:58 am #

    Neat article! We do much the same with our daughter, but it occurs to me that most of those contingency plans were similar: Go to X, call Mom and Dad. When we moved to a new neighborhood a few years ago, we knew that wouldn’t work. When school started we still only knew the people in the houses right next to ours, and none of those people would have been home after school to help out if needed. The nearest place of business would have been an option, except that our daughter was not certain she’d be able to find it. (We’d only been in the neighborhood a week when school started, so we weren’t 100% oriented yet, and she was pretty young.)

    Our solution might be controversial among free-range parents, but it worked for us. We got her a cheap, pay-as-you-go cell phone, programmed our work and cell numbers in it, plus the numbers of a couple family friends to call as a last resort, and sent her on her merry way to school. In three years, I think she’s used the phone maybe six times to let us know she has locked herself out of the house. In all but one case, my husband was already on his way home from work, so it was no big deal. The sixth case was trickier; the wind chill was about -10 and it was snowing like a banshee. Fortunately, the neighbor happened to be home, saw the predicament and invited her in for hot chocolate and cookies.

    Lesson learned? A $20 phone goes a long way toward peace of mind for everybody. It won’t take the place of the resourcefulness a kid needs to develop on her own, but it did get us through the difficult couple of years when our naturally clingy daughter acquired that resourcefulness.

    I love this blog, by the way!