Free-Range Signs of Life?

Hi Readers!

A magazine reporter is looking for stories of Free-Range concepts being put into practice in real life. Schools insisting on adding back recess. Districts encouraging kids to walk or ride  to class. Neighborhoods bringing kids back outside, on their own, communities informally agreeing to tone down the oppulence of the birthday parties. Happy, hopeful signs of a tide turning toward less over-the-top, helicopter parenting toward a more old-fashioned, less parent- (and money-) intensive version of childhood.

We’d ALL love to hear these stories. Please — give us hope! Thanks — Lenore

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44 Responses to Free-Range Signs of Life?

  1. Karl September 2, 2009 at 7:40 am #

    re:”communities informally agreeing to tone down the oppulence of the birthday parties”

    I’m so glad to hear that. Around here, it is not uncommon for parents to drop $1K on a birthday party for a 6 yo, $500 is probably the median.

    Since our boys starting having b-day parties with friends, we have conspicuously placed “no gifts please” on the invitations. Only 60% of parents follow our wishers. I had one mom tell me that she didn’t believe the meant it.

    Twice now, we have been accused of being cruel to our children because we don’t let them have presents at b-day parties. I explain that they receive plenty of presents from grandparents, parents, and relatives. I believe that they appreciate what they get more when they are not overwhelmed by quantity.

    Glad to see that in some places, common sense is enjoying a resurgence.

  2. Maya September 2, 2009 at 7:51 am #

    I love my town, our schools, and our neighbors.

    — Our local school district works with Safe Routes to Schools on encouraging kids to walk and bike to school. We have Walk and Bike Wednesdays, special contests, International Walk & Bike to School Day, bike safety “rodeos”, and more. On the first day of school, we could hardly find a space in the rack for my youngest son’s bike. New bike paths get put in when we can get the money, and there’s currently a “street smarts” program working to educate drivers to be more careful of pedestrians/cyclists.

    –The school also encourages (okay, this is California, RELIES ON because we have no money) parent volunteers. The school is a community, and parents are welcome to attend the weekly school wide assembly, to volunteer in the classrooms, to work on the school gardens, etc. We have school wide barbecues twice a year, a school campout on the lawn (don’t plan on getting much sleep!), a huge school festival/fundraiser with home made games and everyone helping, and more. I probably know by sight, if not in person, more than half the parents. (The school has around 350 kids). When we go to school in the morning, we cross paths with kids on the way to the middle school – and I know many of them (and have told off quite a few for not wearing their bike helmets, too!)

    — Our town has a big parade & festival in the spring, but also a town-wide potluck picnic in the fall that’s more low key and just for community building. I can’t go downtown without seeing people I know. Lots of us walk and bike, and shop locally. There’s a volunteer task force that works on town-wide projects, from safety to fun.

    — That means that the first time I let my #3 son, then 9, ride his bike downtown to meet his friends at a movie, several people told me later that they’d seen him and waved to him. I know HE can’t go downtown without seeing folks who know him either. And because he’s been riding his bike to school since Pre-K (most of those years with me behind him), I know he knows how. And luckily, the school has a policy that you have to be in 3rd grade to get to school alone, so I have backup when I tell my 7 year-old that he can’t ride alone yet!

    — But the thing I like most about my town is that these things are all a choice we’re consciously making. Building community takes work, but it’s important to us, as is living in a town that we like, and where we can feel good about our kids running around at the town picnic without worrying about them. Where we know our neighbors and can arrange walk-pools and bike-pools (and carpools) to get our kids to and from school.

    — How big is my town? About 8,000 people. We’re on the edge between a large metropolitan area and rural. There’s another town right smack next door to us, and more after that. There’s a main thoroughfare that runs through our town with heavy traffic, but we still keep it feeling small. I love my town!

  3. Tana September 2, 2009 at 7:52 am #

    I started a new job as a nanny today. Driving into the neighborhood the streets were empty- school was still in. Driving out to get home was a completely different story. Driveways and street alike for about three blocks had all sorts of kids out playing together- I saw one adult, and she was getting home from a jog, obviously NOT supervising the 40-11 children bouncing balls, throwing frisbees, riding bikes, and generally enjoying a cool, overcast early evening. I was delighted to creep along to make sure everyone was out of the way as I drove past.

  4. lemontree September 2, 2009 at 7:55 am #

    I’ve been pleased with our school as far as encouraging children to walk to school. About 4 times during the school year they have special tokens for kids who walk, ride their bikes or bus to school. the teachers wait at the gates and the bike rack to hand out the tokens. At the end of the year, if the children show their teacher that they have all the tokens, they are entered into a drawing for a prize.

    We have some safety busing zones where they are insufficient sidewalks. The school is working with the city to get sidewalks built, so they can discontinue busing in those areas.

    All roads around the schools are 20mph before school and after school. 6th graders serve as crosswalk guards in the public street in front of the school.

    Also, the 3rd graders get a special field trip at the end of the year where they use bicycle safety skills and bike about 5 miles to the zoo for the day.

  5. Andromeda September 2, 2009 at 8:43 am #

    Cambridge, MA just opened this totally fabulous new park near Harvard Square — my 2-year-old and I spent three hours there yesterday and she didn’t want to leave.

    It has a sand pit and two water play structures and a rope climbing web and a Viking ship and a tube to crawl through and crazy-angled wooden climbing structures and all these wooden blocks that aren’t even attached to anything that you can just do whatever you want with. And the ground is all bumps and curves and elevations. The size and shape of many of the play structures discourage adult participation — for whatever reason nearly all of the parents were hanging around the peripheries, while the kids ran all around and made up games with each other. And we grown-ups read and chatted and occasionally looked over at the kids and kept commenting on how this was the most awesome park ever. There is nowhere an adult can stand and have an unobstructed view of the entire park.

    It’s like the designers did not get the memo that everything is supposed to be peril-free and no fun.

    And sure, my toddler fell a few times, but she fell on sand or woodchips or soft springy surfaces, and she picked herself up and grinned and kept going. And one of those five-foot-long wooden rods is probably going to hurt someone one of these days. But it’s the *most awesome park ever*. And even the grownups knew it, big-eyed with wonder.

  6. BMS September 2, 2009 at 8:48 am #

    The PTC of our kids’ school sent out their back to school email, reminding everyone to walk to school on Footloose Fridays, and that the pick up line is a no idling zone. Love it.

  7. Chris September 2, 2009 at 8:50 am #

    We’ve just started a walking bus for my son’s primary school. It’s about a mile to walk, some of it by a main road, so the five year olds can’t walk unattended. But one (or maybe two) parents, and between two and ten kids walking as group works really well.

    The school has been very active to encourage it, as has the local council (the mayor came and gave medals to all the kids yesterday!).

    It helps that in Sydney the roads by every single school have a reduced speed limit (40KMH = 25MPH) during the hour before and after school…

  8. MaeMae September 2, 2009 at 9:37 am #

    @ Karl – I feel ya. We stop having birthday parties at age 10 because I do not feel like they need a bunch of friends giving them presents. We have a family dinner with cake and ice cream. As homeschoolers, we do things a little different. We don’t do any school work the week of their birthday and they get to choose an activity to do each day. It has to be inexpensive. They choose things like having a friend sleep over one night, putt-putt one day, etc. It has become a treasured family tradition and the best part? No gifts!(They do get presents from grandparents and aunts and uncles) Although I’m not sure my kids would agree, lol. But…they’ve nevercomplained.
    As for the post, sorry, I have no story to post as I have no idea what the school does and my street has always had a million kids walking, biking, playing on it.

  9. MaeMae September 2, 2009 at 9:46 am #

    Chris, while I love the idea of a walking bus I have to tell you that we also have speed limits of 25 mph around schools and I hate it. Mostly because the roads that have it aren’t even the main roads the schools are on and also because we have sidewalks. I can see the benefit in some busy areas but not all school blocks. As another poster would say, “Has there been a rash of drivers running down students on the sidewalks at 30 mph that I don’t know about?” It’s not that I begrudge slowing down for safety but I don’t see that it is increasing safety. I would have to research it but I’m guessing this law came about in response to very few incidents.

  10. KW September 2, 2009 at 10:00 am #

    The families in our social circle have informally agreed to have simple birthday parties with homemade cards, small gifts or donations made to charity. The party may be at a community beach or park or someone’s home. For girls, it might be a tea party, maybe with dress up and the birthday girl’s Mom putting their hair up w/ hair pretties. Boys might have a home grown treasure hunt or invite a few friends to bowl. A lot of our parties are close to free in cost (just the cost of the cake which is often homemade). But I imagine the most paid for the party would be $100 and that would be fairly rare (a bowling party or some such).

    The kids are all pleased as punch to get homemade cards and get a kick out of the occasional matchbox car or deck of cards or play jewelry gift. The parties with donations for charity don’t necessarily make a lot of money, but the kids all think it is very cool.

    My top fave birthday party any of our kids attended was a teen boy turning 16 who had a job so therefore decided to take 5 of his teen friends out to an Italian restaurant (his parents split the cost which was about $100 total). The boys all dressed up in 3 piece suits w/ cuff links (or whatever the highest Sunday dress level they have at their home), trench coats, fedoras and sunglasses. They were dropped off by dad (didn’t have his license yet). The waitresses fussed over them like crazy, playing up the mafia look. The boys had a blast, with many hilarious stories to share at the end of the night. That’s the kind of good clean fun the kids in our circle have taken up a notch as they mature into young men and women.

    When the focus is on the friendships and celebrating each other, it really changes the atmosphere of a party for the better in my experience!

  11. Uly September 2, 2009 at 10:17 am #

    As another poster would say, “Has there been a rash of drivers running down students on the sidewalks at 30 mph that I don’t know about?

    Is that me? Awwwww!


    Actually, I wouldn’t, though – in my own neighborhood, the children play in the street. The front yards are either non-existent or small and about 5 feet above street level, so the girls play mostly on ONE side of the block on a few people’s stoops, the abandoned school, another person’s yard, and in the street; while the boys tend to play on the OTHER side of the block in one person’s huge side yard and the corner in the street, and lone kids bike up and down or skateboard up in down in the middle of the street all the time.

    That corner-of-street has held in the past a basketball hoop, a make-shift skateboard ramp, and an impromptu set of “stepping stones” above the massive puddle that forms every time it rains. And right now the boys play a lot of football there until 10 at night, though once school starts they’ll all be in an hour earlier.

    Down the block and around the corner the two families on THAT block had a party the other day where they carefully measured out enough space for one car to drive down the street and used the rest of the space directly in front of their house to make chili and set up a table. The kids in those two houses spend a lot of time running across and trying to jump up to the sidewalk (it’s about three feet above the street), or drawing in the middle of the street.

    And down their block a little further and around ANOTHER corner the teens play volleyball using the street to mark the “net”.

    So I see any reduction in speeds to be an unambiguous Good Thing, because the kids where I live live in the street!

    (Sadly, our little oasis of kids-in-the-street is surrounded on all sides by several MAJOR arteries which have massive accidents several times a year. But even then, they’re quiet enough during most of the day that it’s not unusual to see teens or older kids skateboarding, rollerblading, or biking directly down the SUPER steep hill just at the end of my block – in the middle of the street, naturally.)

    But I don’t drive and don’t intend to any time soon – if I move, it’ll be from one pedestrian-geared city to another 🙂

  12. Bob September 2, 2009 at 11:16 am #

    I have a big spread of my four children. My oldest is off to college and my youngest is in the first grade. As a result I have far less neuroses with my youngest than I did with the other three. We have returned to the idea of simple home birthday parties. The best one was when she turned four. She loves to fish. We live in a stereotypical suburban subdivision outside of Chicago. The entrance to the subdivision has a detention pond. We met the neighborhood kids there, rounded up enough poles, dug for worms and everyone caught at least one fish. The kids learn quickly how sharp the hooks are though there were no injuries. Since then the kids fishing derby has become a staple of the neighborhood block party. For my eleven year old we are taking him and three friends mountain biking for his birthday. (Okay it’s Wisconsin hills, not hardcore mountains, but still a challenge). Both of these allow the kids to learn something new, take risks, and get dirty.

  13. Catherine September 2, 2009 at 12:33 pm #

    I like that our school’s after school care centre employs lots of male carers for the kids. They also encourage kids to bring in their own bikes and scooters during vacation care so they can ride them around the school grounds. They also have a kitchen set up and kids are rostered on to make afternoon tea (including baking cakes etc) for the others.

    The school itself gives a lot of responsibility to the older kids, eg, in greeting and escorting visitors to the school, being ‘buddies’ for the younger kids and things like that. A lot of kids walk, catch the bus to school or ride bikes to school (although think the kids need to be in 4th grade or so before they are allowed to ride and use the bike sheds).

  14. Catherine September 2, 2009 at 12:36 pm #

    Oh and I love the idea of “footloose Fridays”. We have “Walk Safely to School Day” (nowhere near as catchy!) but it only happens once a year!!!

  15. Kate Sanfilippo September 2, 2009 at 12:42 pm #

    My kids go/went (the oldest starts Kindergarten Thursday!) to a Cooperative Playschool, where parent involvement is mandatory, and play-based education is the curriculum. Nevertheless, the parents there span a great expanse of ideologies and techniques. I’ve been pitching the free-range idea to many parents, and have seen them… well, if not change outright their rules for their kids, at least stop judging us parents who do give a longer leash. In my mind, it’s all about making informed choices, and informed does NOT mean simply accepting what the cable news channels want you to think.

    I am invited to 35 birthday parties a year for Coop kids (everyone invites everyone to a playdate for the most part). Not a single one would accept gifts, unless they were made by the child attending. If store-bought gifts arrive, they are returned. Even homemade gifts are not opened at the party, so the kids who didn’t make a card don’t feel bad. Thank you notes are mailed accordingly with a picture or signature from the birthday girl/boy.

    The Cooperative Playschool community has been educating our children for 60 years. That’s 60 years of “your presence is presents enough” parties on the weekends (yes, most weekends we attend a birthday party).

  16. Kenny Felder September 2, 2009 at 5:38 pm #

    This is the best blog ever! My whole body is feeling relaxed, as opposed to the tense exploding way it feels after each weekly “outrage.”

    I’m not saying to stop posting the “outrages.” I think we all need to see them, and they are the rule rather than the exception. But I would love it if every week or two we could all be treated to some good news.

    I was wracking my brain for some good news to share. Certainly, on our block, it’s very common to see a lot of kids out in the street, riding scooters and Big Wheels and heelies, pretty much the way it was when I was a kid. So we got that going for us. But man, I want to move to wherever Maya lives, which I think is just off the turnpike between Narnia and Terebinthia.

  17. Jennifer September 2, 2009 at 8:00 pm #

    I’d like to say something about the birthday party issue. We always have birthday parties outside the home, because we live in a tiny house with three dogs, three adults, and two kids, and having more than one or two other children in the house is too crowded and much more stressful for us than renting a place (e.g. gym or play area; one of the best–and cheapest–was going to the firefighters’ museum) for a party. We definitely try to keep costs down and not do anything extravagant. We let the kids run around for an hour and then have cake and lemonade. If the kids had summer birthdays we could go to free outdoor parks, but not in winter in Minnesota!

  18. Angela V-C September 2, 2009 at 8:53 pm #

    I live in a densely-packed residential neighborhood in Cambridge, MA, which is great for kids getting a chance to run around on their own. We live at the end of a short private drive and there is a gang of neighborhood kids that play outside on their own, running in between our alley and a neighboring alley. We’re even able to let our three-year-old join in if the kids are down at the end of our alleyway.

    One piece of what makes this work is that the neighborhood is dense enough that kids can’t just play in their own yard — there are no yards. So people get to know each other well, the kids play together, and the neighborhood as a whole keeps an eye on the kids, rather than one parent hovering over them and managing the play.

    The same thing tends to happen at the park down the street. We know everyone there, so when we went the other day there was an older girl pushing my daughter and another preschooler in the swings while I chatted with parents. Then she ran off to play with a group of kids ranging in age from a year younger to a few years older.

    Parties here often take place at the park or at the end of our alley and consist of cake and snacks. Some parties have gifts involved, but some don’t.

    When our kids start kindergarten, they’ll be going to the school a few blocks away. We know other families in the neighborhood going there, so it’s my hope that we’ll trade off walking the kids to school with some other parents until the kids are old enough to walk on their own. There are plenty of crossing guards!

    And @Andromeda — I haven’t checked out the new park in the common yet, but I’m definitely going to now, so thanks for the tip!!

  19. Sharon September 3, 2009 at 12:25 am #

    My mom is the librarian in the small town in Iowa where I grew up, which I don’t think ever STOPPED being free range. She’s on the playground committee, which recently put new play equipment in one of the city’s parks. When the playground inspector came to check out the equipment (townspeople installed it themselves rather than paying a professional $40,000), they told her that the city ought to remove two giant climbing rocks, because they were “unsafe.” Those rocks, about 6 or 7 feet high and maybe 10 feet wide, have been there since I was a kid. My mom’s response, not in so many words, was “screw that.”

  20. Zie September 3, 2009 at 1:50 am #

    I was delighted to discover that my son’s school (new to us this year) still uses kids from the upper grades as safety monitors. While there are a few adults present at the two drop-off sites and on the playground in the mornings, the crossing guards, parking lot monitors, and playground mediators are mostly 5th graders in bright yellow sashes. (Who so far are enthusiastic and polite).

    There is also a general discouragement of driving – it’s a neighborhood school so most families can walk or bike (though kids under 10 can’t bike without an adult), and the buses are well-utilized by those who can’t. When I walked my son to school this morning, I saw only a small handful of cars.

    The on-site after school program (which is not new to us, he attended the same program in other locations) is fantastic too… they walk and use public transportation to get most places, and definitely are keen on helping children to learn to cope with life instead of shielding them from it. Of course, the program was originally geared to serve children of families living in shelters, so learning to cope with wretched situations was seen as a necessary survival strategy, but as the program branched out to serve the general population, they never lost that emphasis on empowering kids to make good choices on their own, and it’s great.

  21. Katie September 3, 2009 at 2:18 am #

    Karl, are you kidding me? $1000 on a child’s party??
    Our 3-year-old had her first “friends’ party” last month for her birthday. I don’t know how much we spent, but if it was $15 for the groceries (beyond what we would have spent ordinarily) I’d be surprised. No gifts, either. Which was honored; the friends brought some cards, which is fine.

  22. CLT September 3, 2009 at 6:20 am #

    Lemontree, where do you LIVE? I’m so jealous.

  23. LM September 3, 2009 at 7:05 am #

    I was thrilled at the beginning of the summer when the 7 year old boy from across the street rang my doorbell. “Can Sam come out to play?” He couldn’t get out the door fast enough and he was thrilled that I was staying inside to clean the house. I could see them the whole time, but he didn’t know it! Oh, and he was 4 1/2.

  24. Greg September 3, 2009 at 7:57 am #

    Re: gifts at kids parties. For younger birthdays, we’ve been doing ‘exchanges’ for quite some time. For example, every kid brings a wrapped book valued at $10 or less, every kid opens a wrapped book and takes it home. ‘Art supply’ exchanges work, too, as might other categories.

    It satisfies the ‘gimme presents’ urge for the birthday boy/girl, eliminates the boredom of watching one kid open umpteen presents, and eliminates much of the problem of selecting gifts as well. Also, no thank you cards required.

  25. saturng September 3, 2009 at 10:15 am #

    I have heard great things about the Safe Routes to Schools program, especially in parts of Colorado. (Apparently one pilot program had a 620% increase in kids riding bikes to school!) I have no idea how to implement this program at my son’s school here in California, but I suppose it’s time to start exploring this.

  26. Allyson September 3, 2009 at 1:04 pm #

    My daughter’s elementary school (during the nicer months) has a weekly event called “Wacky Walkin’ Wheelin’ Wednesdays”. Parents are encouraged to let their kids walk, ride, rollerblade, etc. to school (accompanied or not depending on parental comfort level). Families who live too far away to have their kids travel the whole way sans-automobile are encouraged to drop them off a few blocks away from the school so that they can participate too. They leave the gate on the parking lot closed, and once the kids arrive at the school they can continue to ride their bikes/skateboards/rollerblades/whatever around the parking lot until the bell. A couple of times a year they have draws for prizes (usually bicycle related) and they usually have muffins and juice for the kids on arrival too.

  27. Aunt of Free Range Kids September 3, 2009 at 7:56 pm #

    There are ‘Back to school’ tips on our local TV station here in Sudbury giving safe walking tips, like walk with a buddy, and if a car slows down walk away from it.

    There seem to be a lot of FRK here in sudbury.

  28. mudmama September 3, 2009 at 8:01 pm #

    Great article on trustful parenting – especially interesting is to read his caveats about homeschooling – even unschooli ng – essentially we learn best OUT FROM UNDER THE WATCHFUL EYES OF ADULTS!!!

  29. sonya September 3, 2009 at 10:35 pm #

    Very small in terms of free-range signs of life, but my kids (9 and 5) camped out in the back-yard last night, and nobody called police/CPS on me….

  30. Uly September 3, 2009 at 11:26 pm #

    Very small in terms of free-range signs of life, but my kids (9 and 5) camped out in the back-yard last night, and nobody called police/CPS on me….


  31. michelle September 4, 2009 at 12:32 am #

    My daughter attends a Montessori Kindergarten where the rule on the playground is “whatever they are capable of is allowed.” I was shocked the first time I saw kids hanging from the top of the swingset and jumping off of huge boulders. Of course anything truly dangerous the staff would step in, but there’s no babysitting here. They also let them make “bark chip angels” instead of snow angels…pretty dirty but pretty awesome too. I showed up one day to pick up my daughter and their were probably 20 kids in a line on the dirt making “angels,” hysterical.

  32. Brendan September 4, 2009 at 12:53 am #

    Utah is doing a program for walking to school.

  33. Tari September 4, 2009 at 2:54 am #

    My daughter is only 2, but we frequently see the older kids (MS and HS aged) on our street out and about after school and on the weekends–walking, biking, socializing. The playgrounds and parks are always full of kids in good weather.

    Most of our friends celebrate birthdays in “playdate” fashion–everyone gathers at the house or a nearby playground and the kids run around while the parents visit. Simple, healthy snacks, a cake, no gifts required (although I do try to find something inexpensive/homemade that has an educational side to it). Gifts get opened after everyone leaves. Some do inexpensive goodie bags, others don’t. I love our group of friends.

  34. Louisa September 4, 2009 at 5:43 am #

    I think that no presents is a good idea for grade school kids who are still at the point of inviting everybody to their party; you end up buying something generic. However, once kids get older to MS and HS age, we tend to have a smaller circle of close friends, and we tend to want to get them presents ourselves, presents that suit them. I know I feel guilty at Christmas when all my friends are giving me presents and I can’t afford to reciprocate from my allowance. Now I just tell everyone at the start of October not to give me anything for Christmas, since I can’t give them anything…

  35. Katie September 4, 2009 at 8:31 am #

    Louisa, you’re talking about something very different from young children’s parties. As a teenager (or even an adult) the gifts are actually from one to another, not from a child’s family to the child having a birthday. Don’t worry about that!

  36. Meg September 4, 2009 at 9:28 pm #

    Talk to some of the parents/staff from the Dixie School District schools in northern San Rafael, CA. The have been actively trying to get students to walk and bike to school. They are increasing the number of bike racks, and on Fridays, a group of parents got together to walk with the elementary students to school. It is impressive how many bikes, students, scooters, etc are crossing a major road without parents about 15 minutes before the middle school starts. I have said, that neighborhood is like America was 20+ years ago.

  37. Andromeda September 4, 2009 at 11:58 pm #

    We went to the awesome park again today, and it hit me!

    This park allows — invites! — kids to attempt things so difficult they can’t succeed on their own. They have to cooperate, so they do. It’s always full of kids who have made up games together, who have figured out how to make their separate games coexist peacefully, who are problem-solving together, even (among kids like my daughter who are too young to cooperate much) imitating and learning from one another.

    Lightning bolt. Free range = social skills, just by the physical design of a place, right in front of my eyes.

    @Angela: hope you have fun! (And I think I’ve seen your spouse on the Somerville Moms list?)

  38. Angela V-C September 5, 2009 at 12:43 am #

    @Andromeda We went to the park yesterday, and it was great. It made me want to play! I agree about how much free range promotes social skills. When I’m always butting my nose in my daughter has no chance to develop her own ways of dealing with challenge and conflict. When I’m around, I try to stay out of it, but it’s hard! Easier if she’s playing without me watching!

    And you probably have seen my wife on the somerville mom’s list (I’m on it too, but rarely post these days!)

  39. Anna September 11, 2009 at 12:35 am #

    Yesterday my daughter’s school had a “Back to School Night”, basically the first chance for the classroom teacher to address parents as a group and answer questions.

    The first thing our teacher (a woman in her 40s with three teen-aged boys of her own) told us was that 2nd grade was “a time to start letting go”. “If your child forgets her lunch,” she said “Let her. If she forgets her homework, let her. She might go hungry, she might cry, but she will learn a valuable lesson in responsibility”.

    When asked about birthdays, she made a face when explaining the school board’s “store bought snacks only” policy. She was not looking forward to the Valentine’s Day party either – “too much candy and a big waste of paper”.

    I am so glad she is our teacher this year. Perhaps she would be willing to get interviewed?

  40. ALF September 13, 2009 at 5:56 am #

    We live in St. Paul, MN, right next to a public elementary school in a very pleasant, calm, racially and economically diverse neighborhood. I’m sure there are individual parents in our neighborhood who are panicky, but it’s sure not the prevailing atmosphere. Kids, even small ones, often walk to the school alone or with older siblings. Kids play in yards and up and down the streets with no visible adults, and the school playground is in constant use, by both supervised and unsupervised kids, when school’s not in session. Kids ride around on bikes and scooters, usually but not always with helmets. I can’t imagine anyone even dreaming of calling the cops because they saw a kid walking down the block.

    At Halloween I hand out homemade cookies (fun-sized candy is REALLY expensive) and I’ve never had a parent say a word about it–half the time they go straight from the bowl to the mouth without ever hitting the treat bag.

    I’m not a parent so I don’t know how the playground chatter goes, but from the way I see kids run around here, I’d say the paranoia level is pretty low.

  41. SmartAleq September 13, 2009 at 6:13 am #

    This year in Portland OR a new program begins which gives the high school kids free unlimited TriMet (Max train, bus & streetcar) access just by showing their student ID–parents have to specifically request an opt-out. Not only does this foster independence in the kids, it saves the districts money on busses and trains a whole new generation of responsible public transportation users, epic win all around. My grandson is in eighth grade and is allowed to take the bus/Max to school–he can’t wait to get the free pass next year!

    Story here:

  42. cagefreekids September 24, 2009 at 10:22 am #

    (Posted by Lenore for Anna, whose interface wasn’t working with this site, for some reason!)

    I want to ask for your help with something. I am not trying to make money off of it or anything like that. It is just a tool I came up with that I thought could be useful to other free range parents.

    I have been reading this blog for over a year and enjoying the other readers’ comments as much as the posts. It was the comments where you describe all the great free-range things you do and the varying reactions of the people around you that have, in part, prompted this idea. It is also the sort of tool I wished had existed every time my daughter and I were moving (and we moved 4 times in her 7.5 years.)

    Most parents looking for a place to live will consider things like crime rates and green spaces, easy to find out through research or a quick drive through the neighborhood. But as a free-range parent, I want to know more. Do the kids in the neighborhood play outside every day or do they spend most of their time in front of a screen or shuttled to activities? Are they encouraged to knock on each other’s doors and get to know their neighbors or do they run away from “strangers” and only meet each other for pre-arranged playdates? Will an 8-year-old walking down the block alone prompt a warm hello or a call to the CPS?

    This is the idea behind Kid-Friendly Neighborhood Map:

    Each neighborhood on the map has a rating and a brief description. I believe that you can’t really tell how kid-friendly a neighborhood is without having lived there for a while. This is why there is only one neighborhood on the map right now and why I hope you will consider contributing information about your neighborhood. Any suggestions for making the map better are also very welcome.

    Thank you.


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  44. Kathleen February 1, 2010 at 10:49 pm #

    I quit buying Christmas presents after 2001 without a regret or a backward glance. I had never bought much and had been scaling down from that level. It saves brain damage. Now that my stepson and his wife are married with three kids, the two older hers from before, I won’t “get into that rat race” as I told my husband and he must have told her. She has an attitude now. Tough.

    And I don’t buy birthday presents or attend the parties because childrens’ birthday parties give me hives. They are fine for children. Last year she said, “you can make an appearance!” I just looked at her. So as to not be rude as she was without even realizing it.

    These things are about the parents, not the kids, is what I read into it. Children should be seen and not heard. That goes double for obsessive mamas I guess.