How to Give Your Kids an Old-Fashioned Summer!

Hi aizeyehnbb
Folks! This lovely and simple idea comes to us from Heike Larson, who is the Vice President of Parent Outreach at LePort Schools, a group of six private Montessori schools in Orange County, CA. She writes about education in general and Montessori in particular on the LePort Schools blog. – L.
This summer, instead of just enrolling my 6-year-old in camp, I decided to find a way to get her some real Free-Range experiences. I’ve organized for a group of about ten 5- to 7-year-old girls from my daughter’s school to have two weeks of “free play camp” in local parks. Here’s how it will work:
Each day, we’ll pick a different park, preferably one that is BIG. The parents will drop their daughters off at the park in the morning, and pick them up late in the afternoon. One parent will stay to provide minimal supervision (basically, to make sure no child leaves the park, and to serve as a safety net in case there is an injury or allergic reaction the kids can’t handle themselves). Mostly, she stays in the background. The goal is to leave the girls to themselves, to just play, like we used to do.
Since where we live, it’s not practical for the girls to just roam around the neighborhood at age 5 or 6, this is the next best thing. And the parks we’re choosing have  forests, big concrete slides, climbing walls, bike paths, creeks, even a lake. We’ll bring some gear — balls, picnic blankets, bikes, Frisbees, and lots of extra clothes — and then, of course, there are all the cool things that nature provides!
I’m very excited to see what the girls come up with: what games they’ll invent, how they’ll solve the problems and conflicts–and how they’ll enjoy this new experience. I thought I’d share this idea with Free-Range Kids, which is part of the inspiration of making this camp happen, because maybe it will catch on. I’ve been very encouraged by how excited the parents I approached have been about this idea. And it’s a great way to have a free summer camp, as each parent only has to supervise 1-2 days during the two weeks!  Wouldn’t it be cool if parents all over the country started offering their elementary age children a similar Free-Range camp experience? Maybe it can really happen!.
Cheers, Heike
Come out and play -- all day!

Come out and play — all day!


48 Responses to How to Give Your Kids an Old-Fashioned Summer!

  1. hineata May 6, 2013 at 4:24 pm #

    Sorry, just love this photo! That girl who appears to be turning away in a bit of a huff is just gorgeous….There’s always one! Am sure she got over it!

    @Heike – that sounds really cool! Hope the kids have a great summer.

  2. Emily May 6, 2013 at 4:34 pm #

    That’s a really cool idea. 🙂 I’m just curious, though, what’s the “rain plan?”

  3. Stephanie May 6, 2013 at 5:07 pm #

    That sounds great. My kids would sure love more time at the park. I mostly leave my older two to their own plans while monitoring my four year old, so everyone has fun, but we really don’t go enough.

  4. Freedomforkids May 6, 2013 at 6:20 pm #

    Why just girls? Why not BOYS too?

  5. anonymous this time May 6, 2013 at 7:28 pm #

    Here’s my advice to the supervising parents: bring a book. Don’t look up no matter what you hear, and only if there is a child right next to you, tugging on your sleeve or skirt.

  6. Heike Larson May 6, 2013 at 7:38 pm #

    Emily, we’re lucky here in sunny California: it rains very rarely in July and August, so we really don’t need a rain plan 🙂 Freedomforkids, it just so happens that my daughter is very close with a bunch of her girl classmates, which I understand is typical for 1st & 2nd graders. Since this camp involves the parents needing to know and trust each other somewhat (we’ll be taking turns being at the park), it was just easier to go with girls and the families we already know well. But I agree, the boys should be out there, too–and assuming this camp is a success, we’ll probably repeat it, with more mixed ages and both boys and girls, next summer, when my son will be older and can join the fun with his friends.

  7. Susan May 6, 2013 at 10:12 pm #

    Parks in Los Angeles are full of weirdos/bums/guys who expose themselves. I would not trust 5-6 year olds alone at a parl in OC. I barely trust my 12 year old to go running at a park,armed with a cell phone, when I’m in another area of the park. Hopefully, the on duty parent will be taking the kids to the restroom because that’s where the weirdos wash themselves.

    The kids would be much safer playing in their own neighborhoods.

  8. hineata May 6, 2013 at 10:24 pm #

    @Susan – I don’t know so much. ‘Weirdos’ and different people are all part of the world we live in. If these ‘weirdos’ are actually grabbing or physically harming people, then sure, it makes sense to avoid them, but if they’re only the type that mutter, mumble, or smell bad, then just seeing them isn’t going to harm kids.

  9. Warren May 6, 2013 at 10:34 pm #

    Awesome idea.


    In case of rain, mom sits in a gazebo, or under a really good tree, and let them play. They ain’t made of sugar.


    You are so right. We must keep the little china dolls inside until they are 30 yrs old. Then they will be safe to go out and play.

    @ on duty mom follow the four Bs

    no blood, no broken bone, no burn and stll breathing, they are good to go.

  10. Cynthia812 May 6, 2013 at 10:40 pm #

    Susan- I would be more worried about one 12yo than about 10 6-7 year olds, too. Safety in numbers. They’re probably fine in both cases, though.

  11. Emily May 7, 2013 at 12:09 am #

    @Warren–By “rain” I meant like, pouring rain, thunder and lightning. You wouldn’t pack in playtime for a little drizzle, unless the kids wanted to stop. But, hey, moot point, they’re in California.

    @Heike–What about random kids at the park? Will the “camp” kids be allowed to play with them too? Will the “random park kids” be allowed to join the “camp” group, if their parents are amenable to it? Maybe that could be a way to get some mixed ages and genders into the group.

  12. Gina May 7, 2013 at 12:34 am #

    @Warren…one more “B”…barf

    No barf, no blood, still breathing
    No burn, no broken bone
    Go and play with your friends
    And leave the grown-ups alone….

  13. Jen Connelly May 7, 2013 at 1:25 am #

    Sounds like fun if you can convince the girls not to go looking for the duty mom to handle every little squabble. I find if I’m at the park with my kids they constantly want my attention when normally they can play for hours there without coming home.

    I’m glad we live in such a free-range friendly community in the Pacific Northwest (which just seems free-range friendly in general–there are always kids out and about without adults). And we don’t have to worry about rain in July and August either. It’s bright sunny days most of the summer. Fires become a real hazard towards the end of August/early September.

    Anyway, every day of summer is old fashioned for my kids. My 11yo son rides his bike with a friend to the river to swim. My almost 13yo daughter hangs out at the mall with her friends. They play on the slip-n-slide or in the little kiddie pool (that is for my almost 3yo and 7yo). And they go to the playground down the street to have picnics (all planned and put together by them). They take the toddler with them most of the time so I actually get an hour or two alone sometimes.

    This is all pretty normal up here. The cops have gone by the park that is full of kids an no parents and all they ask is if the kids are having fun and being safe. They’ll ask kids that if they see them wandering around on their own. I don’t want to ever leave here.

  14. Helen May 7, 2013 at 3:18 am #

    That sounds like a great summer!

    Could I just suggest you don’t make it a different park every day? I remember we use to set up dens and things that we wanted to go back to – not start fresh every time.

  15. Kenny Felder May 7, 2013 at 6:15 am #

    This is the coolest thing in the world. I would love to hear more about how it goes. People need to hear these stories!!!!!

  16. Susan Jones May 7, 2013 at 7:54 am #

    Love, love, LOVE this idea. I’ll be interested to read how it goes.

  17. Warren May 7, 2013 at 8:49 am #


    Great point. Using the same park will allow the kids to feel like it is their park, and because they know the park, be able to look forward to what they will do the next day.

    They can basically make the park their own turf.

  18. Emily May 7, 2013 at 2:57 pm #

    About using the same park every day, why not take your cues from the kids? Maybe they’ll set up forts, etc., and want to keep going back to them, or maybe they’ll get bored of one park quickly, and want to go to another. Maybe one day, it’ll be hot out, and they’ll want to go to the swimming pool or the beach instead of the park, or maybe another day, it’ll be raining, and they’d prefer a visit to the library. I think it’d be a good idea to keep multiple options in reserve, and bring them out when the kids start to tire of whichever option you start with.

    As for the “five B’s,” I’m not so sure I agree with that–kids can hurt each other in all kinds of other ways, with words, threats, exclusion, gossip, by stealing from each other, and the list goes on. It’s especially true with girls. So, I don’t think I’d send a child back to play with a group of kids who were being deliberately mean, even if there were no physical injuries present. That’s not to say you can’t teach some coping skills (for example, keeping paper and crayons, bubbles, etc., on hand, so a child who doesn’t want to play with the group can have some down time), but you still have to be sensitive to non-physical bullying, and also to kids who just get overwhelmed by too much “group time.”

  19. Warren May 8, 2013 at 9:41 am #

    Your response to the five Bs.

    Holy Crap! Way over thinking. All those issues or situations you came up with, that need to be planned for, fall square within the realm of the overprotective, and helicoptering.
    Given the time and space these kids will work any problems out. You gotta trust em.

    As my old man would say, and I did with my girls, “You need to go to the hospital?” When they answered no, “Then why aren’t you out there playing?” They would say it hurt, “Well it will hurt just as much sitting here doing nothing, as it will playing with your friends, and having fun.”
    Takes a few seconds for them to get back out there.

  20. Ann May 8, 2013 at 12:57 pm #

    Great idea! I bet some of my neighbors would go for this!

  21. EB May 8, 2013 at 2:01 pm #

    One caveat: all day, every day with the same group may be too much for some of the girls. Be sure to have them bring books and/or quiet games for some down time. Otherwise, great idea.

  22. Warren May 8, 2013 at 5:03 pm #


    How can that be too much?
    Kids hang with the same kids at school day in day out. They play with the same friends day in day out.

    When we were younger, our group never changed unless someone new moved into the area.

    Again, over thinking. Just let them be. If they want down time, they will find it, in the trees, on a hill, staring at the sky. Wow, even in the free range world, parents have a hard time just letting kids be.

  23. Elzo May 8, 2013 at 6:19 pm #

    One thing you could do for an “old fashioned summer” is to give your children the gift of bare feet.

  24. Alison May 8, 2013 at 10:47 pm #

    Very cool! Our local park district runs a similar summer program, and the best part is that it’s FREE!

  25. Natalie May 9, 2013 at 7:32 am #

    This thread has officially become meat for a STFU parents nomination.

  26. Susan2 May 9, 2013 at 11:43 am #

    Warren, something tells me that you were never the kid picked on. Emily’s concerns may be more appropriate for older kids – the behavior seems to start around age 9 or 10, but it is very real. Just because we are Free Range doesn’t mean we will allow things to devolve to Lord of the Flies.

    And I also like the idea of bringing books, crayons, bubbles for kids that need a break. As an introvert, even as an adult, being with people all day every day is extremely draining. These little props that give kids an excuse to opt-out of the group thing every once in a while could be the very thing needed to make sure the plan remains fun for all the kids for the entire summer.

  27. Ann May 9, 2013 at 2:20 pm #

    LOL about planning and organizing a daily “free range” outing with selected kids who’s parents “drop them off and pick them up” every day right on schedule. Back in my day during the summer it was more: Mom would ask me, my sister and whatever friends/cousins we happened to have over at the time if we wanted to go to the park, not even bothering to ask their parents or designate any of them as helpers to watch for us “leaving the park”. We’d pick up and drive over, and Mom would sit on a bench. reading and ignoring us, not be on her laptop blogging about how free-range she was being. 😉 Then, if we wanted to leave, we left, weren’t forced to stay there all day because it was important to drag out a “free camp experience”!

    Sorry, I just couldn’t resist.

  28. Charla May 9, 2013 at 11:38 pm #

    Even the Huffington post is getting on board with the realization that American parents are helicoptering their children.

  29. Warren May 10, 2013 at 9:41 am #

    Really? Lord of the Flies? If you kids would sink to that level, play is the least of the issues you need to deal with.

    And yes, I was picked on, a few times. The person never repeated it, because I stood up for myself. I was also the one that stuck up for others being picked on.

    You say you were an introvert. This is one of the causes of overprotective parenting. They project their own feelings and experiences as a child onto their kids, instead of just letting them be themselves.

    The kids will bring what they want to the park, they will organize themselves, and plan what they are going to do the next day. They will do this, is given the opportunity to do so. Just leave them alone. This is not a group of complete strangers, these kids know each other. Stop underestimating children.

  30. Susan2 May 10, 2013 at 10:17 am #

    Warren – I spend a lot of time at a middle school where most kids are free range because their parents are working two and three jobs. I have seen first-hand that kids whose parents don’t helicopter still could use intervention from adults and a little bit of modeling of appropriate behaviors. I also know from stories that have come out among adults after things like the movie, “Bully,” that always leaving kids to their own devices to work things out for themselves can leave scars on people for decades.

    I completely support the Free Range philosophy, but I also keep in mind that kids are still developing and need guidance and, yes, sometimes an adult stepping in, to navigate the complex social and emotional world that is part of being a kid in the US today. Physical dangers are not the only ones parents need to worry about.

    I still cringe at my failure to completely understand what was going on at my daughter’s school and to react to things that were happening to some of her classmates behind the teachers’ backs. None involved physical violence, but they created an environment that I, as an adult, would not have wanted to face, never mind young teens. Because it wasn’t happening directly to my kid, I didn’t know the full story and didn’t dig deeper. Now I wish I had – not just for the sake of those kids that were being hurt, but because it did affect my daughter deeply to hear the types of slurs I later learned were going on in the hallways and locker rooms of the school.

  31. Natalie May 10, 2013 at 12:21 pm #

    Helicopter or free-range, Junior high sucks.

  32. Emily May 10, 2013 at 4:44 pm #

    @Warren–I don’t think helicopter parenting is the ONLY cause of introversion. Some people are just like that. You urge people to “just let their kids be themselves,” but what if, for some kids, “being themselves” means quietly sitting and reading or drawing (or whatever) rather than joining in at yet another game of manhunt? You say you’re a free-range parent, and you say you want to raise your kids to be confident in who they are, but it seems like your idea of “acceptable” for a child, consists of lots of sports, outside play, and group activities. Fortunately for you, it seems like your kids are into those things, but how would you handle it if they weren’t? Would you try to force them into situations where they were uncomfortable, or would you just let them be, if they weren’t hurting anyone?

  33. Warren May 11, 2013 at 12:46 am #

    Wow, Emily and Susan

    Why don’t you just send your kids to chess camp and be done with it.

    When we were kids we played from sun up to past sun down, and the only parental guidance we had was a parent yelling “Soups On!!!!”

    No one got killed, no one went missing. Sometimes feelings got hurt, and the parent of that child usually told them to grow up, it’s only words, get over it, and get your ass back out there. There was none of this worry about bullying or slurs or whatever, because back then we weren’t allowed to feel like victims. We were told to stand up for ourselves, and get over it.

    Would I make my kids do things they are uncomfortable with? Been there, done it, would not hesitate to do it again. As adults there are many times we are put in uncomfortable situations……….why the hell should our kids be immune from them. They need to learn how to handle it at some point.

    “Let the kids be themselves” means just that, what didn’t you understand? If they want to read, they will bring a book on their own, if they want to play with the group they will.

    As the parent, you take them to the park, let them loose, sit your ass down and relax, spread a blanket out and take a nap. The kids do not need you, or any other adult. They are fine on their own. How hard is that to understand?

  34. Natalie May 11, 2013 at 9:28 am #

    Wow. Chess camp.
    Awesome idea. You can learn strategy, spatial reasoning, math, problem solving, and even more importantly, self reliance. Ultimately, you win or lose based on your own intellect and ability to second guess the other player. My cousin’s 11 yr old daughter loves chess and she kicks a**.

    I’d certainly sign my girls up when they were old enough.

  35. Emily May 11, 2013 at 10:02 am #

    Warren, I’m in favour of kids playing outside, playing sports, being “one of the gang,” etc., if that’s something they want to do. If they don’t want to be turned loose at the park, or on the schoolyard, or in the neighbourhood, to be at the mercy of the other kids, then no, I wouldn’t make them. Last summer, when I ran the music camp with my pianist friend, we’d give the kids free time at the park every day, but that was just for an hour or so at lunch time. That was usually enough time for them, and they’d be still happy, but ready to walk back to the church with us for the afternoon’s activities. Since that worked well, we’ll be doing the same thing this coming summer. As for telling kids who’ve been bullied to “get over it,” I don’t agree with that either. That kind of attitude gives kids the idea that they can’t come to adults with their problems, and that if they’re being bullied (physically or mentally), then it’s somehow their fault. Also, the bullies pick up on that attitude, and figure that they can hit/tease/torment/exclude/gossip about other kids, and the adults don’t try to stop them, so it must be okay. So, my point is, there’s a happy medium between “bubble wrap” and “Lord of the Flies.” If everyone agreed where that happy medium was, then we wouldn’t even need this forum.

  36. Warren May 11, 2013 at 11:04 pm #

    I think you all reread the original article.

    This parent is creating a camp so that the kids can explore the outdoors, as well as explore how to overcome all the situations you are worried about.

    These are not kids enrolled in music camp, these are kids enrolled in a free play camp. Big difference.
    FREE PLAY CAMP, get the idea.
    Holy crap on a cracker. Even in here parents see their kids as incapable of dealing with life and free play.

    And there is nothing wrong with telling your kids to toughen up, get over it, grow a thicker skin, or stand up for themselves. Nothing wrong with it at all. We have got to stop over using the term bullying. We also have to stop teaching the kids it is okay to be a victim.
    There is absolutely nothing wrong with telling and teaching you kid to stand up to bullies. As a matter of fact, you want to put an end to bullying, teach your kid to fight back. The more kids that fight back, the less bullies there will be. It is that simple. And you do not have to fight back physically. There are lots of ways for a child to fight back, and as parents it is our duty to empower our children to do just that.
    Again, let the kids be. Stop undestimating them. Stop assuming they cannot handle things. Stop treating them like china dolls. They will have a blast, and learn more from this camp than you can imagine.

  37. Emily May 12, 2013 at 2:28 am #

    @Warren–I get the idea of a free play camp. However, our music camp had ample opportunities for free play. We had park time every day at lunch, shorter breaks mid-morning and mid-afternoon, with different things the kids could do in the church gymnasium where the camp was held (blocks, Legos, paper and crayons/markers, puzzles, balls and skipping ropes, or they could practice their music if they wanted to). Anyway, fair point–that was our camp, Heike’s camp is different. We did a music camp that happened to be very free-range, whereas Heike’s camp is purely free-range, with no other agenda.

    However, don’t you see something a bit ironic about the idea of “enrolling” a child in “free play camp?” In my mind, true “free play” would mean, the child decides whether to go to the park on any given day, or do something else–pool, library, friend’s house, or even climb up a tree with a good book, and stay there until dinner. As for the issue of bullies, when I was a kid, one of the tactics I was taught was to walk away. With the “free play at the park” camp (and on the schoolyard, and a lot of other places), walking away isn’t really an option, because the kids can’t leave the park/schoolyard/designated area. So, in that case, telling an adult seems like a pretty sensible course of action. Standing up to a bully isn’t always feasible, if the bully is much bigger and stronger than the target, or if the bully has several other kids on his or her side. That’s what bullying is–it’s an imbalance of power.

    So, no, there’s nothing wrong with teaching your child to protect themselves against bullies, but again, there’s a balance point somewhere. On the one extreme, there’s helicoptering and intervening for EVERY little thing, and on the other hand, there’s refusing to help your child at all, and sending them back to “play with their friends,” when they’ve made it clear that those kids AREN’T their friends, and they’re making their life miserable. Also, some kids just get worn out on all group activities, all day, and at a certain point, it just stops being fun for them. Again, we don’t all agree on where that balance point is, which is why we have this blog, so we can discuss it, in a peaceful way of course.

    Anyway, I’m not a parent. I don’t think kids are “incapable of dealing with life and free play,” I just remember my own youth well enough to know that kids can really be cruel. I still remember grade six, when I was being tormented at school at every turn, and then my well-meaning parents would send me and my brother to the park on weekend afternoons to go ice skating, where I’d run into the same kids I saw at school. After a few rounds of this, I’d simply leave my brother to skate by himself, and go home. Once I explained the situation to my parents, they realized that I had a good reason to want to avoid the skating rink, and I didn’t have to go anymore.

  38. vas May 12, 2013 at 12:29 pm #

    Dear Heike,

    Please don’t forget that running around barefoot is an important part of an old-fashioned summer!

  39. Warren May 12, 2013 at 9:08 pm #


    These kids are not you. These kids are not me. These kids are themselves. So leave them alone, stop projecting your own childhood issues on them, and let them develope their own.

    Kids are not born victims in waiting. Stop looking at them that way.

  40. Emily May 12, 2013 at 11:25 pm #

    @Warren–You’re right. Kids aren’t “born victims in waiting,” but they aren’t identical either. Obviously, Heike knows her daughter, and the other parents of the “free play camp” participants know their kids too, so this idea works for them, and that’s great. However, not every kid would enjoy that kind of thing, and that doesn’t make them defective, or “victims,” or anything of the sort. While it’s true that kids get some of their personality from their upbringing, they also get a fair bit of it just from themselves; from something that was there all along, or from experiences they’ve had throughout their lives, if they’ve been given freedom to explore these things. For example, my parents and I all hate roller coasters, or “high thrill” amusement park rides (although I love water slides). My brother, on the other hand, enjoys these things, and he’s actually training to be a pilot. This came as a huge surprise for the rest of us, and nobody knew where that came from, but he really loves pilot school, so this was a good surprise.

    There are other examples from my family, but I’m just trying to say that it’s entirely possible for an introverted child to be born into a family of extroverts, or an extroverted child to be born into a family of introverts, or a more sensitive child to be born to a parent who’s in the “stiff upper lip” camp. So, in some cases, it might not be helpful to tell a child to “get over it” in the case of bullying, because they might not have the physical strength to fight back, or even the inclination, if they’re naturally peaceful people–and that’s assuming that it’s a “one to one” fight, which it rarely is, because a lot of bullies have accomplices. Also, when you say you “weren’t allowed to feel like a victim,” I was struck by the absurdity of attempting to police someone’s emotions. I know you probably meant that you weren’t allowed to ACT like a victim, but feeling and acting are two different things. For example, some of the things a certain other poster said about how women are only meant to be housewives, made me FEEL like saying some choice words to him about that, but I didn’t do it, because that would have been rude. However, even though I didn’t chew the guy out, I still felt like doing it.

    Anyway, like I said before, in the adult world, you have more options. You can walk away from a bully, you can report a bully to the appropriate authorities (security at a specific place, human resources at work, the police if it’s extreme enough), and what’s more, it’s not even called “bullying” in the adult world–if someone is physically hurting you, it’s called “assault,” and if it’s verbal/mental/emotional, it’s called “harassment.”

    For kids, yes, they’re still learning, and some mistakes and hurt feelings are going to happen in the course of learning, so I wouldn’t advocate adults intervening for every little squabble (like, two kids fighting over one communal toy, or arguing about what to watch on TV), but if there’s a steady pattern of deliberate and premeditated bullying going on, then yeah, I’d step in, whether it’s physical bullying, name-calling, threats, cyberbullying, theft/extortion, repeated exclusion, or whatever. It wouldn’t so much matter what the nature of the bullying was, but rather, the effects on the kid being bullied. While it’s great to empower a kid to stand up for him-or-herself, you can’t expect a kid to do it completely independently right off the bat, any more than you’d teach a kid to swim by tossing him or her directly into the deep end, with no flotation devices or prior instruction. No, instead, you’d coach, support, and enroll Kiddo in swimming lessons if necessary, and if Kiddo comes back and says, “I don’t like swimming,” then you accept that answer, beyond a basic level of survival swimming, and find a different activity.

    Likewise, with social situations, rather than just saying “get over it,” it’s much better to brainstorm and problem-solve at home, and give the child tools to cope at school or on the playground. Sometimes, the parent can’t fix the problem independently, in which case they might speak to the kid’s teacher or principal, or even get counselling for their child, to help them navigate the proverbial “waters” of the social scene. Then, if the child comes back and says the he or she will never like Billy Bully or Domineering Donna, then it’s perfectly fine to allow the child not to interact with those kids, beyond a basic level of civility, so they’d know how to get along if they ended up in the same class at school, just like you’d require a child to learn at least minimal swimming skills, in case they fall out of a boat. That’s why I chose swimming as my analogy here, because I know that we both agree that it’s not just a fun sport; it’s a life skill.

    Anyway, in these cases, “bubble wrap” parenting would be banning a child from swimming despite having the ability, or not allowing him or her to learn to swim, just because you’re afraid, or preventing a child from socializing if he or she wants to–or, like the mother in the article I posted on Facebook, “vetting” her kids’ friends, so they only hang out with kids she “approves” of. You seem to favour the other end of the spectrum, which would be to just toss the kid into a melee of other kids, and hope (or demand) that they come out on top. I think “free range” is somewhere in the middle. True free-range parents don’t choose their kids’ friends or activities; instead, they give their kids the skills and tools they need to intelligently choose their own.

  41. hineata May 13, 2013 at 4:00 am #

    @Emily – excellent points.

  42. Natalie May 13, 2013 at 8:26 am #

    Emily – I love your post. I remember being picked on from about 2nd grade to about 7th to about 8th. Sometimes it was verbal abuse from kids that just enjoyed doing that kind of thing, sometimes it was ostracism from a group of people that were supposed to be my friends. The latter is the kind that hurt the most. But my tactic of dealing with the former was a combination of avoidance and ignoring. Standing up for yourself doesn’t work the way adults would like. We don’t live in a movie. I remember trying to think about it like a science experiment so it wouldn’t hurt as much, trying different tactics and seeing what reaction I would get, but it’s always one person against 2, 3 or more. And giving a reaction invited more verbal abuse. In the end, ignoring was best because they are trying to get a reaction. They’d move onto someone else, and come back to me when they got bored with the other poor kid.

    Ironically, in high school, I got along with the people that picked on me in grade school. And senior year the cliques mostly dissolved, which was pretty cool and made for a much more fun, relaxed year. I have no idea why the dynamic changed. Growing up is hard. I’m lucky in that my experience was pretty average, and left no scars that I’m aware of.

    So what’s the point of this post? Life is complicated. People have been trying to solve this problem for a long time. Which is what you were saying anyway.

    My opinion is that the best solution is to raise awareness so that kids understand just how hurtful they can be. Prevent bullying before it starts. I remember being in a position of power at a playground once and making fun of a kid. His mother came over and scolded me and I felt awful. I knew first hand how it felt to be picked on and here I was doing it to other kids. It happened about 25 years ago and I still remember everything vividly. Much moreso than the incidents in which I was picked on. Kids have a moral compass and appealing to it helps.

    I do this with my daughter, helping her empathize with whoever is on the other end of her actions/ words. She responds to it

  43. Emily May 13, 2013 at 9:06 am #

    >>Ironically, in high school, I got along with the people that picked on me in grade school. And senior year the cliques mostly dissolved, which was pretty cool and made for a much more fun, relaxed year. I have no idea why the dynamic changed. Growing up is hard.<<

    I think part of the reason why the dynamic changed towards the end of high school (and it did for me too), is BECAUSE growing up is hard. The kids think, "Gee, not everyone made it to grade 12/OAC/whatever. Ingrid In-Group got pregnant, Druggie Dougie got expelled, and floated in and out of juvie, and I don't even know what happened to everyone else. But, this one small group of us made it, and we'll all be scattering off to different universities next year, so we might as well get along now." That's what happened with me, anyway–in grade nine, popularity and status, etc., mattered, but by grade 12 or OAC, it didn't. We saw people move away, or drop out, or just plain stop coming to school, and by the end, there were only about 20 of us left.

    So, while we all had our own friends from the various different activities we participated in (which might have been another thing that kept us getting along, because we had other friends too, and there was less pressure on us), we also very much had a "been around since forever" group, that just quietly stuck together. I'm in contact with some of these people on Facebook, and it's pretty awesome.

    I also regained contact with people from elementary school (K-8 where I'm from), and for a lot of them, that happened a few years ago when a boy I went to school with died of a drug overdose. A lot of us went to his funeral, and then all of a sudden, all our old grudges were forgotten, and we all got along. The crazy thing is, when we were kids, this boy was very much the "peacemaker" at school, and he wanted us to all get along, and not fight and argue with each other, because he was mature beyond his years. At the time, we just couldn't make that happen, but in death, he managed to achieve what he never could as a ten-year-old on the schoolyard. I just wish he could be around to see it.

  44. Natalie May 13, 2013 at 9:41 am #

    That’s really sad, Emily.

  45. Warren May 14, 2013 at 11:44 am #


    I am not making light of your experiences, and feel for you. All I am saying is that your childhood, good bad or level, is just that yours.

    Let the kids have theirs. If they have to deal with the bad, then so be it.

  46. Sarah May 18, 2013 at 9:14 pm #

    I was one of those kids back in the 70’s running around until dusk with the other kids in the neighborhood. I would never wish those days on my own child. My days were not those nostaligic summer days everyone else seems to be remembering. Mine were hungry, bullied, hot, lonely, and sometimes downright scary days. I am not one of those people who “turned out just fine” I have lots of issues that interfere with my adult life that I can trace back to those “carefree” days of my childhood.

  47. Louise June 2, 2013 at 6:01 pm #

    I’m from New Zealand and was amazed that there’s a name for kids playing in a park called Free Range? We are foreign over here to the concept of summer camps…i know some Christian groups have them – but mostly us mums take it upon ourselves to get the kids out and let them play. I love it that you’re bringing that back, but also feel a little sad that the camps have taken over that much that doesn’t happen often. I normally take my son away and stay in a cabin by the beach, and we mix with the locals and he makes new friends and they head off on adventures.. he’s 6yrs old so he is quite capable of climbing trees and can find his way back out of a bush walk..but i’m also mindful of his safety and we do have strangers lurking..but i don’t wrap him in cotton wool as he won’t learn a thing. Loving it that you’re just letting your kids play… like how we used to do, organised activities are over rated and lack imagination.

  48. Christine August 9, 2013 at 4:47 pm #

    My kids are constantly barefooted! And black and icky-yay! I had a gravel alleyway I played in as a kid-without shoes! One suggestion-leave a pair of shoes in your car. I have taken off with my barefooted kids so many times without footwear for stores! Only in Maine have I gotten away with shopping without shoes! And we live a long way from Maine (much to my dislike).