I Send My Kids Outside to Play…But They Don’t Know How

Hi btndtkkaes
Folks! Here’s a note that resonated with me so much. It’s why I tried to start that “I Won’t Supervise Your Kids“class with kids of all different ages, and why I want kids to meet up with each other and HAVE to figure out how to have fun on “Take Our Children to The Park…And Leave Them There Day.” Even as I write this my 14-year-old is trudging off to school knowing that at 3:30 he won’t find anyone to play with at the park just opposite the school because…the kids don’t do that. They go straight home and don’t come back out again. So my son does, too.

Breaks my heart. – L 

Dear Free-Range Kids: I try to send my 9 and 11 year old kids outside when at home but they don’t explore the neighborhood. They just play with each other around the house and often end up fighting and coming in. I find myself wondering if it would be cruel to lock the door to keep them out and I’d like to know what other parents do to push their kids to explore more. I feel like they are missing out on a childhood like I had where playmates were available when you called on them, or they were outside already. Now, it seems that nobody is outside these days!

I was happy when they ventured to the school playground three blocks away one day by themselves, but deflated when they came back “because there were big kids there.” I don’t know if the big kids were mean, or if my kids are just programmed to think that different ages shouldn’t mix (they are separated by grades at recess during school). I live in Perth, Ontario. Any suggestions appreciated. – Bummed Mom

My son would desperately love to be part of an after-school scene like this.


98 Responses to I Send My Kids Outside to Play…But They Don’t Know How

  1. Cynthia812 October 16, 2012 at 1:23 pm #

    Do they have bikes? And is there somewhere you could send them on an errand or something? I’ve noticed with my kids that once they’ve gone somewhere on their own once or twice, they automatically increase their ‘range’ that far.

  2. LRH October 16, 2012 at 1:29 pm #

    I don’t know if this helps, but in sharing what I’ve done, maybe you will be helped.

    I knew from the jump-street I wanted my kids to be outdoors, as much as for my sanity as for their own good. I didn’t want my kids “underfoot” nagging me to be their entertainment, when I’m NOT their entertainment (that doesn’t mean I never interact or entertain them any at all, just that I’m not supposed to be practically the sole source of such). Thus I set up an appropriate play area outdoors & had them going in there starting from when they were about 2 & 4; heck, I think it may have been more like 1½ and 3½. They are 3½ and 5½ now, and play outdoors forever without any issues.

    The thing is, because this was fostered on them from day one, it wasn’t a big “jolt” to them. Did I lock them out of the house? In effect, yes, because this area is (and was) a fenced-in area that they can’t get out of. They can’t even make it to the front door to start with. If they yell–we’re enough in the boonies for no one else to notice or care, and if it required it, I would’ve plugged my ears with the MP3 player so I couldn’t hear it. It didn’t come to that, but I would’ve done so had such been the case, I was bound & determined they were going to learn how to entertain themselves and do so outdoors.

    They love it now.

    Hopefully others can give you better advice on how to “break them in” at ages 9 & 11. All I can say is that, in terms of whether or not I’d lock the door–I most certainly would. I am most certainly an advocate of parents using their superior size, physical strength, and intellect to have their children comply. They can call that “bullying” or “might makes right” all they want, but I’ll play that card if I have to. I call it being a parent, frankly.

    You may have to start out with 10 minute intervals, say, then work it from there to be longer, that’s how I did it with mine, insomuch that at first I’d come out and check about every 10 minutes to see that they were okay. Even then, though, I didn’t alert them to my presence, as I feared that upon seeing me they’d want to come indoors. I just looked, saw they were okay, then went back inside.

    Over time, I lengthened it to 20 minutes, then 45. Now: it’s nothing for me to let them be for 90 minutes without interruption, and they’re fine.

    Good luck. Earlier is always better, I’m so glad I started early–but they also say better late than never.


  3. Emily October 16, 2012 at 1:31 pm #

    I agree with Cynthia. An errand might also get them to notice somewhere else to play.

    Also, maybe a family walk around the neighborhood might be a good “baby step” in this case. They might just get curious and start exploring more on their own!

  4. Tara October 16, 2012 at 1:34 pm #

    I tell mine that I am not the entertainment committee and that they need to go outside and find something to do. Open ended things like balls and sidewalk chalk (maybe even for 9 & 11??) are good imagination things to play with. I do also think that giving them an idea of what to do is a good start. If nothing else, tell them that if they don’t go out and stay out for X amount of time you’ll have work for them! You don’t say if they are boys or girls, but maybe send them on a scavenger hunt around the neighborhood or show them how to make a hopscotch game on the driveway. Sometimes they may need a little direction at first if they’re not used to this type of “activity”.

  5. Silver Fang October 16, 2012 at 1:35 pm #

    Don’t forget the obligatory “mom knows I’m out and I don’t need a ride home” letter for them to carry in case “helpful” police or neighbors wonder why they’re out alone.

  6. Jess October 16, 2012 at 1:35 pm #

    You could start by giving them scavenger hunts or a boot camp-style work out to do at the park. The more used to free ranging they are the more they will want to explore and the less they will need your guidance but the first few times can be tough.

  7. Sabrina October 16, 2012 at 1:38 pm #

    Send them to the local store to buy a carton of milk!

    1) They get out sans supervision.
    2) They learn how to be responsible with money.
    3) They know that you trust them to buy the right kind of milk and bring back the correct change.
    4) They are out of your hair for a bit and feeling independent and important!
    5) You get a carton of milk and didn’t have to stop what you were doing in order to go and fetch it! Win-win!

    For the record, my twins are 10 and we started sending them on little errands to the local store when they were 9.

  8. Charlie October 16, 2012 at 1:38 pm #

    My 14yo has the same problem. She never had a problem when she was younger because my neighbor babysits so for 5 days a week the adjoining back yard was full of kids (the neighbor is a grandmother, so she does ‘negligent’ things like taking the kids outside to play). But now she’s too old to really want to play with those kids and I had to find a solution to her natural teenage instinct to stay inside staring at a screen. So every day this summer I gave her a scavenger hunt list. An average list would be something like this:
    2 blue things
    1 man-made thing
    3 different leaves
    something edible (but don’t eat it)
    something dead
    something triangular
    something round
    the outside of something

    She’d some back with a grocery bag full of junk, but she’d walk all over looking for that junk, and then she’d come explain to me how the things matched the list and which thing was for which criteria. By the end of the summer “ubiquitous beer can” would be on the list, in her writing, as she endeavored to clean up the ditch down the road. (probably not technically legal but still good for the ditch.) Anyway, the list got her out of the house and busy, and it genuinely interested her after the first couple days of electronics withdrawl.

  9. Tracy October 16, 2012 at 1:38 pm #

    We have lots of sports equipment…frisbees, soccer balls, footballs, a basketball hoop, baseball gear. If your boys don’t play any of these sports, it may take getting out there and throwing a ball or shooting hoops with them. Teach them how to play HORSE if they don’t know. Having a time where the family plays together can then help create time where they play games independently.

  10. Charlie October 16, 2012 at 1:39 pm #

    ps- Something dead always ended up being either a cicada shell or a dead plant, never roadkill or anything like that. lol

  11. Scott October 16, 2012 at 1:42 pm #

    What do they ENJOY doing? Try to encourage the behaviors that you want. It may mean you need to do some training and teaching to get them where you are – most everything is a learned skill, and thus can be taught given time and talent.

    I was never an athletic/active sort despite my parents’ best efforts (mid 30’s now) – so if my mother just told me to get out of the house, I figured out where I could snag a book or three and hopped on my bike and rode far enough I was out of sight and read outdoors (versus reading indoors) – I should ask her how much she was aware that I obeyed the letter, if not the spirit, of the law now that I’m the father of an 18 month old.

  12. Kris October 16, 2012 at 1:45 pm #

    Sadly, I am grateful it’s not just me with this problem.

    My little guy (age 6) will go outside and play by himself in the driveway, but he get bored being alone so he comes in. The older two, ages 10 and 12, play on the computer after homework is done. This is my fault and I am working to change it. I am going to take the advice in the previous comments. I’ll start with essentially forcing them to stay out for at least 15 minutes and expand the time as time goes on. We have a trampoline in the backyard, which if it doesn’t start getting used I will sell. They all have bikes, and a ride to the playground shouldn’t take too long.

    I long to be in a community with some shops for the kids to walk or ride to (take their allowance $$, buy a drink and a snack). Suburbia doesn’t allow for this, just a nominal bit of playground equipment with a rule that says kids can’t play without a parent until they are 10 or 12.

    Things like this makes me want to open a school that is more Free Range, fostering independence and creativity.

  13. Paula October 16, 2012 at 1:45 pm #

    We had new neighbors move in several months ago, and the kids rarely played outside. I’ve noticed that they’ve begun coming out more to play with my son, who’s out every day after school and pretty much all day on weekends. I love it for my son, who loves having playmates, and I love it because they’re out coming up with things to do. My son has clearly defined limits, but within those limits is free to do whatever he wants (he’s five). Last week they came over to get him after school, and they all went to another neighbor’s looking for his kids. Those kids are only there every other weekend, but it was great to see them out rounding up their people. I am hopeful that soon the little girl who lives a few houses down is going to be able to join them.

  14. Jennifer October 16, 2012 at 1:54 pm #

    What usually works at our house is “Do you want to be inside helping me clean the house or do you want to go outside and find something to do?”

    As far as expanding the area in which they play, we’ve had good luck just sending them out to knock on doors where other kids about their age live. If you get them to go a few blocks away and ask someone to come out and play, the kids will naturally expand their range, and lots of times they’ll get other kids to play with them.

  15. Gigi October 16, 2012 at 1:55 pm #

    I am so glad someone wrote about this. I have started sending my five and three year old sons outside to play together in our yard or driveway. I know three is pretty young but I watch very closely from inside and will only intervene if he tries to go into the street. Their play centers around toys they take from the garage and often doesn’t last long before fighting ensues. Although this play is creative in nature it isn’t the typical scenario of children coming up with games and spending long periods of time outside. Maybe they are too young? I just refuse to hover and create their play for them or intervene in every argument they have. Not sure I am doing this right…..

  16. SKL October 16, 2012 at 2:03 pm #

    My kids don’t spend much free time outdoors unless I take them to the park (which I do as often as I can). There are a variety of reasons, mainly to do with my work schedule, which has them away from home until at least 6:30 each day. I look forward to being able to set them loose on society in a few years. Since they have each other, they usually have no trouble finding something to do. They do have a foundation of having been outdoors a fair amount over the years. Part of that foundation includes walking with me (or another caregiver) around their neighborhood (about a 1 mile radius). This gets them familiar with the neighborhood and vice versa, so when they are ready to navigate it alone, they’ll have some ideas of where to go. For example, they know where some kids live on other streets and have walked to the nearest park (a mile away) many times.

    My kids’ school offers a “late room” program where kids can hang out, supervised, until 6pm. Initially I was bummed that the program appeared to mainly involve sitting in the school cafeteria with a TV blaring from the wall. However, it has grown on me. There is a variety of kids from 1st to 8th grade doing all the indoor things those kids do, and my little ones are learning from them. Checkers, chess, card games, and other traditional kid games that get handed down from generation to generation. Natural kid-to-kid interaction (which is valuable since they don’t have older siblings). The older kids help the younger ones write captions on their drawings and understand game rules, etc. I also found that they do go outside for part of the time. The old lady in charge seems pretty smart about letting kids be kids. Even the fact that they watch TV is a positive, because we don’t watch it at home, and they do need to be exposed to media BS somehow so they can learn how to process it. Might as well do it during free putz time. Once I pick them up, we have pretty busy evenings.

  17. Drew October 16, 2012 at 2:04 pm #

    We were lucky that our neighbors had kids around the same age as ours, and those kids would play outside from sun-up to sundown, and sometimes beyond. So our kids grew up playing outside — just like we did. The only problem is that if the neighbor kids aren’t outside for some reason, our kids are less likely to go outside by themselves. They needed someone other than their own siblings to interact with.

    We have also been reluctant to allow them electronic gadgets, although this past year we did finally add a Wii to the house (first time for me to have a videogame system in the house in 25 years — things have changed!). They enjoy it, but they’ll gladly leave it to go outside and play with the neighbor kids.

    It probably helps that we are a family who likes being outside a lot. It’s not unusual for us to just drive to a state park or someplace to just go for a family hike. We’re not extreme sports fanatics by any means, but we just like the outdoors.

  18. Alisha October 16, 2012 at 2:07 pm #

    When I was a kid, I found a book at the library, from the 1960s, full of stuff for kids (well, *boys*) to do outside, including plant ID, building a shelter, mumbly peg, etc. My brother and I spent weeks outside lighting stuff on fire with a magnifying glass and playing some game involving buckeyes and shoelaces. Maybe some bad influences from a free-range era would help your kids?

  19. Cynthia812 October 16, 2012 at 2:11 pm #

    Gigi- my middle two are 3 and 5. They are starting to have days when they play imagination games with each other all day long, but it’s still hit or miss. And I know they have learned it earlier than my oldest because they have been around older kids who taught them. So if your kids have lots of free time to play together, I’ll bet they’re right on the cusp of having a lot of fun.

  20. Beth October 16, 2012 at 2:12 pm #

    The errands could also be more enticing things. My oldest son used to love going to the barber. Unfortunately, I did not like his barber (too gruff for my liking.) I started sending him on his own to save having to sit and listen to him.
    The side benefit was that my son gained confidence in going out on his own and being assertive with adults.

  21. Drew October 16, 2012 at 2:15 pm #

    It’s been a joy to watch my kids and the neighborhood kids playing all those kid-games like Kick the Can and Ghost in the Graveyard — knowing that these things are being passed down to another generation, organically (I never told them how to play!).

    As much as my wife and I are anxious to get a country home, I don’t think my kids would be having these experiences if we didn’t live in a residential neighborhood with all these kids. Our street seems to have a lot of kids who like to play outdoors.

  22. Lollipoplover October 16, 2012 at 2:17 pm #

    Playing outside after school is almost a requirement for my kids. They get to blow off steam after being cooped up indoors, especially 9 and 11 year-olds.

    I second the suggestion of sports equipment. We have an inexpensive rack in our garage with soccer balls, basketballs, tennis rackets and balls, and various scooters and cones. It’s amazing what games they come up with on their own.

    I also think biking is a great idea. Whenever my kids say they are bored or have no one to play with (which is rare, because all the kids in our neighborhood play outside), we make them go on a bke ride with us or a run around our neighborhood, which is 2.5 miles. They rarely are bored.

    Do you have any bodies of water (creeks, ponds) nearby? Fishing is a favorite activity of my 11 year-old…he loves looking for worms under rocks to fish with and trying to catch the giant catfish in the pond near our house.

  23. Nicolas October 16, 2012 at 2:24 pm #

    Sickeningly true, alas. When my daughter was a toddler I urged my wife to let her play alone sometimes: even indoors. But she always had to be her playmate, and so my daughter now is incapable of playing by herself. Unfortunately, the helicopter parent, who is usually the mom, wins. If I had allowed my kid to run free my wife would have used it against me in a custody battle. So much of this problem is because men have been driven (or left) from their kids’ lives, or they stand for nothing.

    Here, courtesy of The Onion, is the typical American child:


  24. Kelly October 16, 2012 at 2:29 pm #

    If they’re older, I recommend a cheap video camera. Then they can make their own movies. We used to do that for hours when I was a kid.

  25. Fear less October 16, 2012 at 2:34 pm #

    I have an 8, 10, 11 and 14 year old. Here is my advice. 1. Encourage them to knock on their friends doors and ask if they can come out and play. Siblings often do not get along and need other playmates. They have a right to ask their friends to come outside IMO. If the parents don;t let them, then the parents have to deal with that. 2. If the kids fight and come inside and (gasp) expect you to work out their differences the consequence should always be that they should each have to do some chore separately. One can sweep the floor and one can load the dishwasher. If they complain excessively, give them additional chores. Do it without anger. It will take some time, and many chores, but eventually your kids will start to work out their differences on their own, or just stop playing with each other when they get too annoyed with each other. 3. Find out what each of them loves to do. Encourage them to explore their interests. Since you are free range you can let them do things that other parents might not, like archery, whittling, building a treehouse, etc. Understand that they are highly structured at school and under a lot of control most of the time, with little opportunity for creative expression, so they may need some time and experimentation to discover what they really enjoy. My 11 year old loves archery, and building fires in our fire pit, and my 10 year old enjoys using tools like hammers and nails. He has a saw and a miter box and builds frames for his artwork. My 8 year old is still into bionicles and legos and the like, but they do grow out of this stuff and want to practice adult activities. Also my 8 year old enjoys creating animation videos with his camera. He can do it inside or outside, and it entertains him for hours at a time.

    Keep it up, you are doing the right thing here, it just takes some time.

  26. AlanaM October 16, 2012 at 2:44 pm #

    Scooters. My 13 and 10 yo boys have had them for 3 years now. When they annoy me, I tell them to go scooter somewhere and come back in an hour or so. Within scootering distance is the library (which they never go to), two parks, a shopping center, the school, a community farm, and a farmers market on Saturdays. Often only the older will come back because the younger stopped at a friend’s house to play.

  27. Beth October 16, 2012 at 2:47 pm #

    We’ve also always allowed our children to bring “inside” toys outside. Barbies and webkinz have lived in trees, rolled in the mud–
    My mom used to let me drag a METAL play kitchen down the stairs banging the walls all the way so I could set it up in the front yard under a tree and we’d play for hours in our “outdoor kitchen.”
    Now that my kids are teenagers I still get them to bring their indoor play outside—board games are played at the picnic table, art projects are done out there too, books are read on a blanket on the lawn.
    I also agree with previous posters that especially for the older children, jobs and errands work very well and increase range, confidence and skill….and are fun!

  28. CrazyCatLady October 16, 2012 at 2:52 pm #

    What Fearless said about knocking on doors of friends. If they don’t know where kids in the neighborhood live, on the weekend they should go around and ask if there are kids they can play with.

    When my kids come inside and say “I’m bored!” I give them ideas of things to do, like, clean their rooms, clean the toilet, things along that nature. When I get to the toilet, they are usually back out the door.

  29. AW13 October 16, 2012 at 2:55 pm #

    Luckily, in our neighborhood, there are kids who play outside frequently. Unfortunately, they are all older than my son (by quite a bit) and he is a little overwhelmed by them. They are friendly, but noisy and bigger than he is. However, I have high hopes for him as he grows up, and as the little girl across the street (who is a year younger than my son) also gets older, as she is outside quite a bit with her parents, who are friendly.

    We have a park within biking distance, and we go there daily. I’ve watched my son (3) try to engage the other children in play, or join their games. Occasionally he finds a playground buddy, but more often than not, the other kids just ignore him. He shrugs it off and plays by himself, but it bothers me – it’s as though these children do not know how to interact with anyone other than their siblings (or the children they came with). Has anyone else ran into this problem?

  30. Lark October 16, 2012 at 3:02 pm #

    If I remember from my own childhood, outdoor play was much more of a thing when I was probably 6-11, much less of a thing after that. There were several reasons for this: the really simple games that were fun when I was little were boring; I was caught up in ‘what does it mean to be almost a teenager’; my classmates were meaner and more dangerous, which meant that roaming around at the park or other places could be scary (not that this was something I talked about with my parents); I had new cognitive abilities that I enjoyed exercising (it was before the internet, so this was mostly about reading and somewhat about watching more ‘grown-up’ TV shows and movies. And yet I wasn’t old enough that solitary walks were fun, and I wasn’t old enough to get too much out of patiently observing nature. It’s a tricky age.

    Bike riding, errands, trips to the library and trips to the bookstore or similar shop to browse were all things I enjoyed as I started to get old enough to go further than the yard and nearby park. Something that I did not need but that I would have been fine with: what about telling your kids that they need to play outside for thirty minutes before they can have their screen time? Or forty minutes? Or send them to ride their bikes for an hour? Usually, kids get into things like that and the time flies by. And if it’s not open-ended then they don’t feel as deprived – it’s not like they can never, ever play computer games again because they have to be outside.

  31. Captain America October 16, 2012 at 3:05 pm #

    Biking’s a great idea. Back in the day, Captain America used to ride his damn fine purple Schwinn hither and yon exploring various parts of the suburbs. Age 10 and alone. Kind of interested in seeing all the different styles of houses out there, and with the goal of making it to a large park.

    My neighborhood was filled with kids, and the kids were great, range of ages, but I had some my age. We built a fort in back out of scavenged materials. I took my transistor radio, attached some wires to some small speakers I had removed from a broken phonograph and voila! home sound system for the fort! My brother was fort librarian.

  32. RedinNC October 16, 2012 at 3:06 pm #

    So nice when there are things within walking or safe biking distance, but this is unfortunately not the case for a lot of suburbia. We live on the corner of 2 rather busy streets, no sidewalks or bike lanes and nothing worth biking to less than a couple miles away. Neighbors have tall fences so you can’t see who’s outside playing. It’s unfortunate, but this is the environment that many of us are raising kids in.

  33. PaigeN October 16, 2012 at 3:08 pm #

    We have a fenced back yard and my kids play outside all the time (sometimes even in the rain and yukky weather which means my indoors sometimes has more dirt than the outdoors).

    I nanny and I’m surprised at the number of kids who don’t know “how” to play outside, so here’s what I’ve done. I send them on a “treasure hunt”. It’s fall, so have them find 3 different leaves. “different” can be color, shape or ???.

    Have them find 2 small rocks and 1 large rock.

    Give them a gardening shovel and let them dig a hole (in an “approved area” — not your prized rose garden!).

    Give them a cheap thrift store camera and have them take pictures of anything that catches their eye.

    Pretty soon, you won’t need to “send” them outside, they’ll be dying to go outside!

    Good Luck!

  34. SKL October 16, 2012 at 3:09 pm #

    Speaking of size. My eldest is a 37-lb, 42″ just-turned-6yo in a 1st grade class full of 7/8yo giants. (Her sister/classmate, who won’t be 6 until January, is a bit bigger but still the 2nd-smallest in the class.)

    Call me crazy, but I think small size is an advantage. Why? Because she has to fight to be seen, heard, and taken seriously. Any time a kid has to work for something, I see that as a good thing.

    I’d encourage at least some time with older, bigger kids because useful stuff can rub off on the littler ones and actually put them ahead of the game with respect to their own age group / size. Obviously they aren’t going to tolerate each other for long, but even 20 minutes is worth something.

    Also, there’s always the chance that someone else with a young kid will see yours at the park and think, “OK, now my kid can go play since she won’t be the only one.”

  35. Warren October 16, 2012 at 3:15 pm #

    We moved a couple of times when my girls were around that age.
    I bought them a couple of bags of cookies or treats, and sent them down to make friends at the park.
    Sugary snack foods are a great ice breaker, for kids.
    Kids are alot better at making friends than adults, and usually they only need a slight edge like sugar, lol.

  36. MHM October 16, 2012 at 3:29 pm #

    My suggestion is simple. Have them go knock on the door of a friend to ask if they can come out and play. I’m betting that most parents don’t send their kids out because they don’t see other kids.

    Also, show your kids how to play red light green light, Simon says, red rover…before going to the park. Then basically ignore them.

    When its nice outside I let my daughter play at the park next to her school. There are a lot of kids that get to play after school. Parents chat and the kids play. Its great. I don’t send her outside much cause she’s only 5 and there are no other kids outside playing but she’s allowed backyard by herself.

  37. Warren October 16, 2012 at 3:30 pm #

    Bummed Mom,
    We are not too far from you in Napanee. This whole thing with the schools seperating grades at recess is an issue that we deal with, as well. I do not agree with it, because it segregates the kids on basis of age, with no thought as to individual needs, wants, or friends that are in different grade levels.
    We are not segregated by age in the real world, so what possible benefit is there to doing it in school.
    And nobody give me the bullying crap. Bullying is nothing new. What is new about it, is we don’t allow our kids to handle it effectively. Between the schools, the media and the shrinks our kids have been told that if you are bullied you are traumatized.
    They should be told if you are bullied, stand up for yourself and get over it.

  38. Beth October 16, 2012 at 3:34 pm #

    The other Beth and I are on the same page. When my kids were little, we had indoor toys outside all the time. I spread a couple big beach towels on the lawn, and they ended up covered with Barbies, Legos, “castle men”, and books. The kids ran back and forth between the indoor toys and swinging/biking/sidewalk chalking, but pretty much everything they needed was outside every day.

    I often brought a book out myself; I feel like nothing was better than those summer days spent reading and listening to the kids play.

  39. Fahay October 16, 2012 at 3:40 pm #

    Get a dog!

    I grew up in a village in the countryside and when we were kids we used to go with my mom or dad walk the dog at least one hour every day, no matter what the weather looked like.
    We got used running in the fields, we discovered all the streams around, this helped us knowing the area perfeclty, the forest, the dangerous areas (the ones with deep holes in the ground, or old bunkers that might collapse), the best places to build a treehouse and how to clean a wound when we felt, or which fruits we could eat or not on the way. Then when we were a bit older I remember other kids from the neighbourhood used to come with us and after a while my parents stopped coming with us (they would not leave the dog with us until we were older, maybe 11/12 years old because you never know when those animals will decide to run after a rabbit or something). But we were so used to play outside the whole day long, and we knew very well the good places for each activities, and we were able to keep ourselves safe enough with all the basics rules we had learn, so we kept the habit of going out all the time, winter or summer, with or without other kids. We were very proud to have our own backpacks with water and food and bandaids!

    I’m also glad to report that, when I was a teenager, I would take the dog out on my own sometimes, alone in the fields and forest, and my parents biggest fear was the hunters, not the murders/abductors. Once I was walking along the road and a car stopped by me, with two totally drunk men in it, and they tried to grab my arm to get me in the car with them. I think they were mostly drunk and trying to “have fun”. I ran out in the fields with the dog, knowing exactly the way home through the forest, and while it freaked me out, I think I haven’t been in real danger (of course they were only two drunk guys, but sill, that’s what’s nice when you teach your kids to use their brain and instinct to escape a danger).

    I hope I can do that with my kids when they grow older, but I’m sorry that advice will only work in the countryside 🙂

  40. CWH October 16, 2012 at 3:40 pm #

    My husband’s (and consequently my) classic way of dealing with this is to tell them: “You have a choice. You can either clean the bathroom (insert your own unappealing household task) or go outside.”

    It’s not a perfect solution; too often they hang around the house aimlessly and shortly thereafter they beg to come in. But it works, probably more often than not.

    My kids are somewhat known in town for being free range. The librarians and the folks at the corner store know them by name, and enjoy seeing them. But they still don’t go out & explore nearly as much as I wish they would. We recently discovered a network of trails in the woods behind the elementary school. If I’d had something like that when I was a kid, I’d have been there every day, but my kids have no interest in exploring. When they do venture out, it’s usually on an errand: to get a particular book from the library, to buy treats at the store. The concept of just *going exploring* seems to be lost on them.

    My youngest child, who is the social butterfly in the family, might be the one to change this trend. She’s not allowed to venture too far yet on her own, but if she goes with an older sibling, they’re allowed to explore the neighborhood, and lately she’s been bringing her brother along to knock on all the doors where her friends live. She’s not shy about it. When my son goes on a scooter ride alone, I don’t normally bother telling him when to be home because he’s not gone very long. So I’ve had to learn that when he takes his sister along, they are likely to be gone much longer; if I need them back soon, I need to give them a time limit.

    We also have a farmer down the road; I’ve been known to give the kids $10 and tell them to go get me some salad veggies.

    It would be great if there were more kids in the area who my kids actually liked playing with, but my older 2 are introverts and choosy about their friends, and none of their friends live close by. My youngest is a different story, as mentioned above. 🙂

  41. Suzanne October 16, 2012 at 3:47 pm #

    I like to keep a chore jar available. I put things in there that generally always need to be done like wiping the walls. Then if they can’t find anything to doon their own I have them pull a chore out of the jar. It is a great motivator for helping them find ways to entertain themselves. I think they only pulled a couple over summer break before they figured out that it wasn’t my job to find fun stuff for them to do. Also, in my opinion there isn’t anything wrong with them playing with each other because there are no other kids around, I try to let them work it out themselves – outside.

  42. CWH October 16, 2012 at 4:04 pm #

    Scott, my kids, when kicked out of the house, will frequently bring a book with them and just sit outside and read. I don’t have a problem with it, as long as they’re outside and not staring at a screen. No need to hide.

    My son does often add a physical component to reading outdoors. He’s a climber. He will climb a tree, 20 feet up, and read a book while he dangles in the branches. He’s surprised a visitor or two coming up the driveway, when he speaks to them and they wonder where the voice is coming from, high up in the air. 🙂

  43. Katrina October 16, 2012 at 4:11 pm #

    A young girl, maybe seven, came to my door and asked if I had any kids!! Imagine that. I do and I sent them both out to play with her. Instant friends.

  44. Jean Oram October 16, 2012 at 4:41 pm #

    This is an awesome post and I LOVE all the suggestions and ideas from your readers, Lenore. Wow! What a great group of people. <3

    As for suburbia not being designed for families–talk to your city, Cite stats and studies. You might just see sidewalks and bike paths start popping up in much needed places. Let them know sidewalks are NOT a budget cut that we will take lightly.

  45. Jennifer October 16, 2012 at 4:43 pm #

    @Fear less I’m in complete agreement with you, but I have to laugh at the comment about growing out of LEGOs. My partner and I belong to an adult LEGO building group that builds and displays models nationwide. We’ve certainly never grown out of this sort of play, and my 9 year olds yearn for the day when their creations look as cool as the ones the grownups make.

    We also all spends lots of time outside.

  46. Sarah October 16, 2012 at 4:45 pm #

    I have a son that is nine too. Boys this age love building things. Try scvaging around for some builing materials, 2X4’s plywood, boxes, ect. and encorage them to build a fort or clubhouse of somekind. If you have a front yard this would be sure to attract neighborhood boys. Thankfully in my neighborhood (socal) plenty of boys ride bikes and skatebord after school.

  47. Jack Crawford October 16, 2012 at 5:18 pm #

    Balls, sticks, rope all are good. I remember we had an old tire hung from a tree in front of the house in a Washington DC suburb. Looked like the Beverly Hillbillies before they moved. I remember we used to play a game with our pocket knives where we threw them into the ground, but I don’t remember what we did after that. Get your kid a knife.

  48. Lori October 16, 2012 at 5:28 pm #

    Charlie – thanks for clarifying about the “dead things.” I was wondering about that, lol!

    This post reminded me about the things I would play as a child when I was outside with my sister or friends. Our swingset would become a streetcar or bus, complete with passengers and tickets. Overturned lawn chairs became forts. Dirt was made into mudpies. We’d jump rope and draw with chalk on the sidewalks. We played hide and seek and added playing cards to the wheels of our bicycles.

    As for my own kids, I think the thing they played with the most was the water hose!

  49. Badger Girl October 16, 2012 at 6:07 pm #

    Keep it up! You’ll see results!

    My older kids (8 & 5) know they have to play outside a certain amount of time a day no matter what time of year. They don’t go far because, as we all know, there’s no reason to since seldom are other children out. But, mine are out with each other and they have found ways to entertain themselves and play.

    It’s ok if they don’t go further than their yard yet. As for the fighting, I tell mine it’s not allowed out of respect for the neighbors. Of course, no siblings are perfect about that.

    Stick to your guns. Tell them how long they need to be outside and follow-through. I think yours will become successful at it, too. (And, happy about it.)

    And, if they don’t already, make sure they can properly cross the street and look for cars. It seems some kids haven’t learned this…..

  50. EarlVanDorn October 16, 2012 at 6:16 pm #

    A Catholic guy from a big family told me that he never spent any time at home as a child. How did his mother do it? If he was at home she put him to work!

    Probably doesn’t work as well today, and he lived in a town that was completely compact and accessible on foot.

  51. Aimee October 16, 2012 at 6:28 pm #

    My husband grew up in a Catholic family of 10 – Earl… do you know my husband? Because that was his mom’s strategy too!

  52. Danielle October 16, 2012 at 6:48 pm #

    I live in an extremely rural area, my kids can’t just walk down the block to a friend’s house or playground. I take them to playgrounds and out to local nature parks, etc. I invite my friends with kids the same age, and then we just go with the kids lead. its harder, but I can’t stand the thought of sitting around the house…

  53. Jen October 16, 2012 at 6:54 pm #

    We just moved to a quiet neighborhood with lots of kids….it’s an older neighborhood, built back before trees and playgrounds were replaced by cookie-cutter houses and HOA’s. A few kids run amuck, small children in the streets, making the elderly neighbors cluck their tongues and shake their heads. For the most part, though, people watch out for each other. My six-year-old can walk the half mile to her friend’s house, crossing one non-busy street, and no one (so far) has suggested that I’m being foolhardy. (However, I won’t let her ride her bike that distance yet. She’s still proving to me that she can follow safety rules while riding.)

    For the most part, kids congregate at one or two houses. Bikes pile in the front yards, and shouts and laughter come from the back yards.

    Yesterday I came home from my 6 and 12-year-olds’ swim practice (I drive my kids when I can, even though it’s less than a mile, because it’s chilly and they have wet hair) at about 7pm. I found my 3 and 4 year old happily being bossed around in the back yard by the 10-year-old neighbor girl. I think they were playing cops and robbers…I’m not sure – I briefly checked on them, and then went inside to start the dishwasher. I called them all in at 7:45, time for baths.

    Kids CAN learn to entertain themselves, but it takes practice. I’m so thankful for my neighborhood.

  54. Jenna October 16, 2012 at 6:55 pm #

    We had this problem when we first moved to our area we live in now because where we had just moved from, it was too hot in the summers to go out and play and my kids were little–the oldest had only just turned six when we moved here. When I first started letting them play outside here, they were bored and would come in after a few minutes. It wasn’t until they really started riding bikes (more than one of them) that they really started spending more time outside. It seemed the more I pushed them outside too, the longer they started staying out. These days, I have a hard time getting them to come in and the hardest time with my 1-year-old who desperately wants to be outside with them but I don’t trust that they’d keep a sufficient eye on him (to keep him out of the street). But all my kids now (ages 9, 8, 6, and 4) will play outside all afternoon after school and all day on weekends when I let them. We also have a book (someone else mentioned a book) of 100 things to do before growing up, or something like that and they’ve gotten ideas from that. Also, my older two are in cub scouts and they are always coming up with ideas of things to do from that. We do have a playground right across the street from us in our little neighborhood, but it’s kind of a boring playground. They like to climb the rocks that surround the playground and when they first started doing that, I was super nervous about them falling, but now I’m not so worried.

  55. Krolik October 16, 2012 at 7:47 pm #

    Charlie, what a great list for a scavenger hunt! I did something similar for my daughter and her friends this summer, only my list also included the subversive “say hi to a stranger and ask them to take your picture” and “climb a tree” (they all got cameras to take pictures of things they could not bring.)

    Regarding getting them out to play every day though, I don’t have any ideas. My situation is even worse. With an only child who is very social, she won’t stay outdoors unless she can find a playmate. When we first moved to the neighborhood this summer she met a girl who lived next door and they took an immediate liking to each other. Since then they’ve called each other almost every day, trying to meet up. But one of them always has an afterschool activity, or an errand, or too much homework. So in two months they have met up exactly twice, both times for less than an hour. I’m so frustrated I could cry.

  56. CWH October 16, 2012 at 8:09 pm #

    Krolik, we’ve encountered that problem as well: overscheduled kids. We have given up on EVER getting one of my daughter’s best friends to our house. Last spring I emailed the mom to see when her daughter was available. I was told not until school ended. So we deliberately scheduled my daughter’s b-day party to be after school ended so her friend could come. Can you guess? She couldn’t come. Too busy. My daughter was devastated. Of course the mom promised me that they’d do it another time. I tried to pin her down to a date & finally got told the kid wouldn’t be available until late August.

    Of course she wasn’t. It never did happen.

    Thankfully my daughter has finally made another friend who actually has time for her. But it’s really a problem; this is an extreme example but we’ve seen the same thing time and time again with my kids other friends.

  57. Julie October 16, 2012 at 9:03 pm #

    We have a similar problem. There are kids in the neighborhood (though none directly across or beside us), but they are rarely out and about, so sending my 7-year-old out to go play isn’t a lot of fun for him. We are very close to a park, but it’s usually either preschoolers there with their parents or local organized sports. It seems almost all the school-aged kids are in organized activities or in after-school care until dark. (Not judging, we ourselves do some organized sports, and I certainly understand the need for two working parents.) It does make free-ranging the kids a bit more tricky when other kids aren’t out there to roam the neighborhood with them.

    How I remember Mom’s mandate to be back home by dark and how I want those days for my kids as well.

  58. Rosemary October 16, 2012 at 9:07 pm #

    I find that my kids like to have jobs to do outside and they gradually devolve into playtime, whether I want them to or not! I wonder if you gave them a task to do–sweeping the steps and walkway, raking leaves, etc.–and left them to do it if you wouldn’t find them jumping in the pile of leaves by the time they were “done?”

  59. John October 16, 2012 at 9:10 pm #

    Not sure what the sex of your two children are BUT my niece’s husband would offer to play catch with their boys or a pickup game of touch football. Perhaps your hubby or you could say to them, “Hey, let’s go out and kick the soccer ball around for a bit” and be very interactive with them in an outside activity whatever it is instead of just telling them to go outside by themselves and find something to do. Eventually, they may love doing it by themselves or with a friend. It could be just a matter of “jump starting” them on a fun outside activity.

  60. Donald October 16, 2012 at 9:56 pm #

    I live in Brisbane Australia. There are many concrete cycling tracks here that are completely separate from cars. I cycle on average 50km per week. I ride all over Brisbane. However I rarely see a child on the bike path.

  61. JJ October 16, 2012 at 10:03 pm #

    I know there is some criticism of organized sports on this site but it has the wonderful side benefit of occupying the kids independently. If your kids get interested in organized basketball, soccer, baseball and are motivated to do well, they will want to practice at home (they will have to, to get better). Plus, when they make like-minded friends on these teams the kids want to get together to shoot, pitch, etc. They might not be neighbor kids (my kids sadly don’t play with their neighbors either) but maybe it’s a bike ride away.

    And yes I agree about the errands or the “lure” of a Popsicle. Those were the very first free range steps I took after reading the book. My kids thought they were klng and queen of the neighborhood when they started going to the cheesy corner store a few years ago.

  62. Lafe October 16, 2012 at 10:48 pm #

    When my kids used to come to me with “I’m bored”, I always gave them chores to do. They never tell me they’re bored now.

  63. Stephanie October 16, 2012 at 11:15 pm #

    I’m much quicker to send the kids outside than my husband. He finally got used to the idea that the kids can cross the street and play a ways down the the block just fine, but he really didn’t like it at first. He comfortable with it now, but it took time.

    My kids were lucky enough to start playing outside when there were a bunch of families outside taking their kids out to play while they watched. I had an infant at the time, so the parents understood that I wasn’t going to spend much time out there, and I told them to send my kids home if there were any problems. Kids were welcome at my house too, but that never happened. Parents here just tend to watch their kids too much. Now I never see that group of kids out at all. They’re elementary school age now, so I’m guessing activities or being sent to daycare.

    I have one neighbor who will once every few months send her daughter to play with my kids. She’s a student, so I’ve told her that any time she needs quiet study time, send that kids over! Doesn’t happen much, but all the kids have fun when it does.

    I agree about the scooters. Our block is big, about a mile loop, and my kids go around it on their scooters. Our front yard is too sloped for easy play, but there’s a grassy area my kids play in down the block, and my oldest often reads in the trees and has taught several other kids to climb. One mom was disappointed but understanding that my 10 year old taught her teenager to climb trees – she’d hoped her kids would never learn that!

  64. Sky October 17, 2012 at 12:07 am #

    The truth is kids don’t really want to play outside unless there are other kids to play with, and sometimes a single sibling just doesn’t cut it. We’re fortunate to often have other kids outside to play with…so pick up games of soccer, tree climbing (truck climbing, unfortunately, too), riding bikes, riding scooters, chase, make believe games, etc. goes on. Honestly, my kids come in after twenty minutes if there’s no one else out there to play with. It’s sad that it isn’t as easy to find kids to play with as it was in our day. There were ALWAYS other kids in the street, from school out until dinner.

  65. Heli October 17, 2012 at 1:05 am #

    I have a rare neighbor who lets her 5, 8, and 10 yo’s play outside unsupervised (on the sidewalk, and in the small parklike area across the street since we live in walk-up apt’s that do not have yards). I’ve been admiring this all year. Recently, I’ve started fostering a relationship between my kids (ages 3.5 and 5.5) and hers – we go play in the adjacent church parking lot when they’re therem we walk to school together, we started sharing a babysitter, and we invite them over for playdates. This is starting to work. What is was missing was relationship. Two days ago, the neighbor’s kids came over to ask if my kids could go scootering in the church lot, and I said yes – my 5.5yo went quite eagerly (my 3.5 wanted to stay home). Yesterday, we played together again after school and I left them in a school playground alone for 30 minutes (there were lots of parents and kids around – everyone was 100% fine).

    So, slowly my kids are getting used to this idea. My suggestion is to help foster relationship/community with neighborhood kids – get to know their parents, invite them over, share meals, have playdates, walk to school, babysit for each other, and so on.

    Good luck to you!
    Heli, Brookline MA

  66. Court October 17, 2012 at 1:14 am #

    This reminds me of my husband’s family growing up. There were 9 boys and every Saturday their mother would send them all outside and lock the door while she and the two sisters cleaned the house. When they complained that they were hungry and wanted to come in they were told to eat pears off the tree (or whatever was in season, they lived in the country). But, the trouble those boys got into and things they did would make even the most free range parent shudder….

    When my kids have that problem I do one of two things, I either have a chore jar so that when they come in they have to pick a chore to do, or I give them a game or challenge to complete. It usually just gets them started and then they start to figure things out on their own.

  67. lisa abramson October 17, 2012 at 1:31 am #

    I have two boys. I used to send them outside for “yard time.” I locked the door and set the timer. The first time they pulled the patio chairs into the yard and sat there for 15 minutes. I felt like a horrible parent because my kids didn’t know how to play outside. I realized that the only way to improve their skills was to keep trying. I did and they got better. Now they go outside and play for hours. The best part is that other parents are letting their kids outside too. Kids I’ve never seen before keep showing up to play. It’s fantastic and it just takes one parent to set the example. So keep trying, it works.

  68. Merrick October 17, 2012 at 1:35 am #

    You’ll have to start with some modeling – Provide some fun — give them some sheets, cardboard boxes, etc to build forts, recommend locations for hideouts, tell them about things you did when you were a kid. Offer sidewalk chalk and basketballs, twine for making stuff with sticks. Foam swords, waterguns, badminiton raquets, etc.

    Read books together where kids play outside and suggest that they can do that (Ramona’s Tin Can Stilts can be a great idea, Kirsten’s Fairy House inspired my kids to build fairy houses all over! )

    Be Out There Activity Finder

    Kids in Nature

  69. Lollipoplover October 17, 2012 at 2:13 am #

    The children playing outside by themselves is such a great topic. My kids are always asking me questions about my youth and what I did when I was a kid. I told them of the days spent playing in the woods by my house with our neighborhood gang and family dinner bells calling the kids home.

    We recently visited my old home and the kids wanted to go in the woods right away. When I was young, I spent hours digging in the creek beds for “treasure” which were very old bottles. Apparently this was an apothecary dumping grounds from the late 1800’s and we dug and discovered bottles for hours. Going back with my kids I warned them that there probably would not be any bottles left- surely some other kids in the past 20 years discovered this spot and found the rest of the treasures.

    Well, no one has gone back there since I was a kid. The paths we carved out with our bikes were totally overgrown, but the creeks were full of very cool bottles. They must have dug out 50 bottles (old Milk of Magnesia blue bottles, poison bottles, pestles, Wyeth, Squibb, and other original pharma bottles). My oldest is FASCINATED by these artifacts and declared this dump the coolest place ever. He is working with friends at school to date and determine what was in each bottle. They are studing pollution and his teacher welcomes the enthusiasm and findings. Best of all, it’s free.

  70. rhodykat October 17, 2012 at 3:05 am #

    I was stuck getting my 9 & 7 year old to roam this summer, so I sent them to the farmstand on their bikes to get eggs. Farmstand is past the school with the playground, so they started going there, too. My other ploy is to have them go see the old ladies around the neighborhood (we have several) to visit for awhile. The ladies love to see them, and my kids love the candy they don’t think I know they get. Once they are out initially, they will stay out forever and start looking for friends – for us, it is the initial out the door that is a problem.

  71. linvo October 17, 2012 at 3:19 am #

    I never just went exploring for the sake of it as a kid. I only did it when i had a goal like walk home from school, go to the shops or walk the dog. Then I’d meander, take detours, invent games, collect chestnuts and acorns and autumn leaves etc. I think it’s kind of normal.

    Now as an adult I still don’t go for walks or bike rides for the sake of it. I ride or walk to work or school or to exercise the dog. I think it’s my main reason for having a dog actually.

    Not everyone has the temperament for being ‘a wanderer’and I think that’s fine. So maybe do give your kids errands to run or make up tasks for them. They will do their exploring and gaining independence along the way.

    My daughter climbs trees and picks tree fruits on her way home from school. I have never told her to come straight home and she is allowed to take her time. Though she knows not to take that long…

  72. Donna October 17, 2012 at 3:53 am #

    If you’ll notice, all the stories from our past outside involve “we,” as in the kids in the neighborhood. Few involve anyone happily spending hours a day playing outside by themselves. The outside wasn’t the draw; outside was just where the other kids were.

    I agree with Sky here. Kids just aren’t that interested in spending lots of time outside by themselves. Never have been. I don’t remember spending lots of time outside by myself in the 70s. It was rare to go outside and not be able to find playmates but, if I couldn’t find some within a few minutes, I’d head back in. My daughter is the same in 2012. She will play outside for hours if she is able to lure the other kids out and the do all the things we lovingly remember from our childhoods. She’d just as soon spend her time playing inside with her toys if she is by herself.

    Yes, our kids are missing out on our childhood. Locking them outside without other kids to play with doesn’t get them any closer to that childhood. They are still stuck in 2012 reality; they are now just living it outside.

  73. Reader October 17, 2012 at 3:56 am #

    I first started “exploring” at the age of 11 or so, so it can be done. I was a bit lonely too — most of the neighbourhood kids were boys, who didn’t want to play with me, so I tended to hang around alone. I guess I already “knew” what to do outside, as I’d been allowed in the garden by myself for as long as I can remember, and I had been allowed to ride my bike around the footpath outside our house for a few years at that point.

    The kind of stuff I did:

    1. Rode my bike. This was pretty much my primary means of transport as I was still young enough to legally ride on the footpath.

    2. Went on playground equipment. Surprisingly rarely; I guess I was getting too old for it and it wasn’t much fun on your own.

    3. Wandered through some bushland. I actually think this was going a bit too far as a safety issue when I did it by myself — I would now recommend this as an activity for two or more kids together (even adults generally don’t hike alone I believe). Once I did this with another kid and we climbed over some rocks; this was good as we could warn each other if we were about to put our hand where there might be something dangerous, eg. a spider.

    4. Looked for interesting things — a waterfall, nice flowers, etc. Depending on your view on kids incorporating technology into their walks, maybe you could encourage this by lending them a cheap camera?

    5. Explored streets I hadn’t ever seen. I STILL do this, now I’m an adult and can walk wherever I want. Look at interesting houses, nice views, or just getting to know the layout of your own area. Considering the age of the kids, you might have to set parameters, either:
    — place, eg. “Don’t go past X street” and/or
    — time, eg. “Start walking back at 2:30, be home by lunch/dark”
    — Again, depending on what your view is toward technology/your participation, it might be fun to do things like “see how far/to what place you can get in X minutes/hours then call me to pick you up” — this also allows them to walk further, for example, if the cinema is so far away that they can’t walk both there and back, they could walk there, then you could pick them up after the movie finishes.

    Though I know some people on here have different attitudes to kids having cell/mobile phones, if they are free-ranging widely it CAN be useful in case they get “stranded” due to sudden onset weather/injury/illness/accidentally walking so far they genuinely cannot get home before the specified time or due to being too worn out. Depending on the public transport situation in your area, this may not be necessary if they can find a bus stop. It also allows them to have the option of calling for emergency help (eg. if someone falls off a bike and breaks their arm).

    And indeed, “How to get help for yourself/someone else in a real emergency” is a free range lesson in itself, as this video demonstrates (warning: despite the happy outcome to this story, the voice recording is quite distressing to listen to):


  74. Reader October 17, 2012 at 4:04 am #

    Oh, as a supplementary to my points above, I DON’T think that it is un-free-range to give your kids a phone so that they can call emergency if needed. Assuming that you yourself are an adult who carries a phone for this and other purposes, eventually kids should reach the point where they are so “free range” that they are independent of the parent (at least temporarily) and thus need to be able to independently be able to access the means of reporting an emergency or calling for help if needed, just as an adult would in the same situation.

    The above story reminded me of the story on here, about the college kid who called her parents instead of 911 (American equivalent of Triple Zero) in an emergency. Good thing these kids were more independent!

    In preschool, I was taught both
    a) How to call for emergency if needed
    b) The importance of ONLY calling emergency in an actual emergency.

    Knock on wood, I have never needed to use this knowledge. But as the above story shows, it’s an important lesson. And my massive admiration to those kids for keeping so calm and saving their mum!

  75. Alice Ferguson October 17, 2012 at 7:55 am #

    I think the factor of other kids playing out is crucial. Who wants to cycle up and down an empty street with no one else about? This, along with trying to tackle the ‘car problem’, is one of the main reasons we set up ‘playing out’ – short, organised road closures as a way to try to kick-start a culture where kids being out on their street is normal again (see http://www.playingout.net). Mike Lanza, author of ‘playbourhood’, is coming from a very similar place and I would recommend his book to any parent wanting to ignite this culture where they live. Just sending your own child out to play on their own can be hard but there are ways to try to make this more of a collective movement in your neighbourhood. This isn’t about over-parenting but just finding a way across the impass.

  76. NicoleK October 17, 2012 at 9:13 am #

    My kid is turning 2 on Tuesday, and she has been playing outside since the spring. Our yard is totally fenced in. We have lots of toys for her outside… a Bobby car, a shopping cart, a lawn mower, balls of various sizes, etc. For her birthday we got her a swing set, which we will set up for her party Saturday. She asks to go outside. Our kitchen opens up onto the patio, so I just leave the doors open. When it is cold, I’ll go outside with her. Hopefully she will still like the outdoors when she is older.

    Also, we go for a walk most days. Not this week as we have colds, but generally we walk to the village center which is about half a mile away. Since she could walk holding my hand we did it sans carriage.

    I’d say for a 9-year-old, bikes and errands. If they have a bike, they can go further than on foot, so even if you live in the kind of suburb where there isn’t a village center, there’s still gotta be a Subway or a gas station or something within a few miles. Go first as a family, so the kids get to know the route and you can observe them dealing with traffic and busy streets. Then ask them to fetch you something.

    Do you live near woods where they could build a fort? A stream where they can catch tadpoles in the spring? A pond where they can canoe or something?

    Depending how big your yard is, you could give them some wood and nails and suggest they build a club or tree house. Or get one of those swing sets you build yourself and ask for their help.

    Teach them games like kick the can. Show them how to build a twig log cabin/fort for their Barbie/GI Joe. Give them a patch of garden to plant their favorite fruits or veggies.

    A lot of stuff that you do indoors can be done outdoors… reading a book, playing with dolls or action figures, playing dress-up. We used to play “starving orphans”. We’d dress up in rags, go to the (non functioning) greenhouse and pretend it was our house. We’d put dandelions in jars and bemoan the fact that pickled dandelions were our only food.

    “We” was either the girl next door or whatever kid came over for a play date that day after school(we didnt call it play dates, we called it “coming over”). If there aren’t kids in the neighborhood, then invite some over.

  77. Andy October 17, 2012 at 9:43 am #

    A lot of people here just went out there, there was already a lot of kids and apparently a lot of people here just roamed and been happy. But even back then, not everyone liked the same things and was in the same situation.

    If it would be upon me when I was a kid, I would spend all the time inside reading books. I tried to just go bike, because I liked my bike. But unless there was somebody with me or unless really wanted to go somewhere (library) I usually lost motivation in 10 minutes. Biking without a goal or purpose just felt empty and entirely pointless to me. I came back and that was it.

    My parents tended to send me to go out, our neighborhood did not have that many kids and I was shy. Even if there was already someone out, I would just avoid him. I usually rang to friends living in the same house and called them out. Being outside with friends was something else entirely.

    Older kids tend to form groups and are not so keen to play with any random kid that comes around. It is different if everybody knows everybody of course. But expecting that every 11 years old kid will be able to just walk into a random group of 13 years old and make them to accept him is too much.

    Adults do not do that with random adult groups on the street and kids are on their way there.

    Playing alone outside and playing alone at home is not that different, except that it is better at home. At least, you can build legos or read. I sort of understand them, it is quite possible that their childhoods are more like mine.

    The other point is that our kids will miss on our childhoods no matter what we do. We can not force them to reproduce it and there is no point in trying. They have to live their own childhoods. And if the general opinion changes and the kids after them will spend all the time outside, we will see our kids saying: “Those kids have no patience, they just want to run outside all the time. They are missing on all those important activities: lego, reading kindle, discussing your opinions on forums and so one.” (They will remember forums as a place with deep ideas and discussions and will forget all those pointless dummy ones. )

  78. Cassie October 17, 2012 at 9:51 am #

    I follow a really interesting blog about a preschool teacher who runs a very free-range preschool.

    Worth reading and full of interesting ideas. I realise the age-group is different but so much of the concepts are applicable to all ages.


  79. Melissa October 17, 2012 at 1:06 pm #

    Fun topic!
    My 6 year old has recently started riding his bike to a friend’s house up the street. I am thinking that his friend’s family thinks us a bit crazy for allowing this as when the kids come back they are always accompanied by an adult. It does make me happy when a group of neighborhood kids are playing together because there is so little “play” left in the world. We should be embracing it and encouraging it.

  80. Rick October 17, 2012 at 2:02 pm #

    Your part about coming home because of the “big kids” touched a nerve with me! I run an after school program at our local elementary school, and one of the things we emphasize is mixing age groups, and helping kids develop cross-age friendships. Here’s a piece I wrote about it in my blog:

    Having older kids learn nurturing while younger kids learn that “big” doesn’t necessarily mean “bad” is a big step towards community. And studies have also shown that kids that have multi-age friendships during their elementary years are less susceptible to bullying.


  81. Lollipoplover October 17, 2012 at 2:21 pm #

    @Merrick-from your link for Kids in Nature, to have an organization that is devoted to Helping Parents Get Kids Outside is a truly sad state of our culture. Necessary, unfortunately, but sad that we have made the great outdoors so obsolete to some children.

  82. Hels October 17, 2012 at 2:57 pm #

    As a kid, I loved playing in the sandbox and on swing sets, and all kinds of jumping and running games with friends… but as we got older, I can’t remember much playing. By the age of 10 or so definitely not playing, but taking long walks all over the area – usually to the main shopping street or to the flea market, or the big supermarket to get groceries for our families – whatever we could carry. And talking all the way. Sometimes, it was just walking around and talking… sometimes with a purpose – let’s walk all the way to that really good donut shop (45 minute walk, crossing many busy streets), sometimes for no reason other than wanting to talk and burn some energy (wander around the quiet neighborhood streets for a couple hours)… And if it was not in the city but out in the country on the weekends, it was usually mushroom hunting, or berry gathering, or fishing, or just wandering through the woods for the heck of it, or going along the river (have to be very careful in the swamp!) to check out the beaver huts and freshly gnawed trees, or try to wash for gold at the ford, where water was barely ankle-high (they used to have a commercial operation there, until they took most of the gold out and it became unprofitable, but you can still get a sparkling speck if you try), always something to do. Not to mention A LOT of outdoorsy chores to do. No child of my mother’s could complain of nothing to do outside – it was more trying to get away from the endless trees that needed trimming, vegetable patches tha needed weeding or hoeing, flowers that needed watering, etc.

  83. Fear less October 17, 2012 at 4:30 pm #

    @Jennifer, I had to laugh at myself about that! I also have many adult friends that still build things with Legos when I think about it, and there are legos that are just for older kids and grown ups too. For some reason, my older kids stopped playing with them at some point, but my 8 year old might play with them into adulthood and that is totally fine with me! He wants to build roads and bridges when he grows up, so you never know.

  84. Fear less October 17, 2012 at 4:40 pm #

    Re: The idea that kids won’t want to play outside alone:

    Playing alone has to do with personality. Extroverted people like to be around others more often than not while introverts tend to like more alone time. 2 of my children are very introverted, and one is very extroverted. The other is in the middle.

    My extrovert looks for playmates the second he gets home from school, and he likes a big group. My introverts are more selective about who they play with. If the friend they like is not available they’d rather be alone, and they enjoy one on one time best with their friends rather than large groups.

    But even my extrovert will spend lots of time outside by himself if he is working on one of his projects, which involve sawing and wood and hammer and nails.

  85. EricS October 17, 2012 at 4:41 pm #

    Back in my day, age and size never mattered. Literally, the more the merrier. We played with younger kids (usually no more than 2-3 years younger as we were around 8-10). And we’ve also played with the older kids (11-13). Some of us were bigger than the older kids, and some as small as the younger ones. But the common things was, we just wanted to play and have a good time. The majority of the time, we all did. We also stuck up for each other, even the ones we just met. That’s how we met friends. After play we would sometimes head over to one house, bringing our new friend(s) with us. And the parent at that house would welcome everyone just the same. As well as treating us like their own. So every house we went to, we were taught respect. If we misbehaved, we were put in check. Sometimes they would even get us to call our mothers, and they would talk. And when we got home, we got a stern talking to by our parents. Parents back then teamed up (even if they didn’t know each other), in making sure we were all respectful and nice to each other.

  86. Donna October 17, 2012 at 5:05 pm #

    Playing outside alone does have to do with interests; it has nothing to do with introversion or extroversion. Introversion doesn’t mean that you always want to be alone. It means that you enjoy small groups as opposed to large and need some time alone to recharge.

    I am an introvert. I still only wanted to play outside with others. Not packs of kids – our immediate neighborhood didn’t have packs – but my couple of good neighborhood friends. Why? Because the things I enjoyed doing outside were more fun with a friend. Playing Charlie’s Angels (our favorite game) is pretty impossible with just one. You need at least one other angel. Ice skating was not allowed with just one. Everything else was more enjoyable with a buddy to tag along. If I wanted to be alone, as I often did, I would stay inside and read or play because inside was where the things that I liked to do alone were located.

  87. Donna October 17, 2012 at 5:13 pm #

    Because I hit submit comment before I finished …

    If you have an introvert who likes to do things outside alone, great. The 2000s are the perfect time for him or her. But you probably aren’t lamenting about the past and its fun times outside if you do. The problem is that extroverts and those introverts who are not nature lovers don’t find much appealing about being outside these days unless in an organized activity. Not because organized activities are great but because that is where the kids are in many areas.

  88. Marlene October 17, 2012 at 8:50 pm #

    I don’t understand several comments I’ve read that you go INSIDE to read and that reading is one of the inside activities. When I was a girl I read outside all of the time. I was an introvert and certainly not a nature lover. But I did find it relaxing to sit under my favorite tree or on our porch swing and read for hours. I also played a lot of things outside that you can also play inside – like taking my dolls for walks in my carriage, hosting tea parties with my dolls, drawing, playing dress up, playing store, playing school, playing house, etc. Maybe kids aren’t taught these can be outside activities? I did have an older sister but she didn’t always play with me and there was a little girl who lived down the street that would sometimes play with me, but often I played these games with my dolls or imaginary friends. (Think of Christopher Robin and his favorite playmates.) I think nowadays parents are so anxious for their kids to make friends as toddlers and get them in nursery school to be around other kids, they never learn to use their imaginations to create playmates when no one else is around. I think there is some merit to that and probably why I was satisfied being by myself as I got older. Another reason I think I didn’t minded being outside to play was because it was just a fact of life. Nowadays with so many working moms, and education starting so young kids are cooped up in schools and daycares a good portion of their days as toddlers and so they learn that is what is normal. When I was a kid, moms were at home tending their children and we were encouraged to spend large amounts of time outdoors as just part of living. My mother was outside, too, gardening, hanging laundry, shelling green beans, etc. It was just what people did, so we learned at a young age that outside was a pleasant place to be.

  89. Donna October 17, 2012 at 11:07 pm #

    I don’t think that kids are not taught that “inside” activities can be outside activities, some people simply don’t want to do them outside much of the time. Take reading as an example. Do I like to read outside? Absolutely, when it is nice outside. Do I want to read outside in freezing temperatures or snow? No. Do I want to read outside in the rain? Possibly if I had a comfortable dry spot on a porch, but otherwise, no. Do I want to read outside when it is sweltering? Sure, if I am sitting by a pool or other body of water that I can jump into at regular intervals to cool off, otherwise, no.

    This is not to say that people should not engage in activities outside during less than ideal weather. There are many things that my family happily does outside in the cold, snow, heat and rain. Reading – an activity that is exactly the same whether done inside or out – just isn’t one of them.

    I suppose central heat and air is to blame for this. Back in the day when inside and outside where basically the same temperature, reading outside v. inside made little difference. Now reading is more comfortable inside than outside much of the year in most places. As Andy said, we can’t reproduce our childhood for our children. I see no point in pushing my child to uncomfortably read outside due to some mandate that children spend X hours outside because that’s what kids did in 1975 when the inside is a much more pleasant place to read at that time.

  90. Marlene October 17, 2012 at 11:45 pm #

    No one is talking about forcing kids to read outside under all conditions. But there is something to be said about mandating that kids spend time outside daily. Like I said, when I was a child it was just the way things were and were used to it. Today being indoors cooped up is just the way things are. No, we can’t recreate our childhoods, nor should we. But if there is something unhealthy about our children’s childhoods, then it should be addressed. Today doctors are concerned. There is not enough exercise, higher absorption of chemicals from being around artificial surroundings 24/7, very low vitamin D levels nationwide from being indoors so much, etc. Everyone is free to parent as they choose, but maybe just saying, matter of factly, “It’s outdoor time, and that is where we are going”, would be the best solution to kids not knowing how to entertain themselves. I’ve heard all these comments (and the main article) that the child goes outside, finds no one to play with, and then comes back inside. Let me ask you – They come back inside to do what? Play video games? Watch TV? Surf the internet? If so, I can see why they are coming back in. These things are hard to do outdoors – although not impossible. 🙂 But if they were willing to play with friends outside, then I’m guessing it probably wasn’t too hot/cold/wet for the child. So they can easily be told, “Dear, take that book outside and get some fresh air.” There are many indoor activities, besides reading, that can easily be done outdoors. If getting your child outside to get fresh air and sunlight is important to you, then you can easily show them the fun things they can do outside and all the fun things they enjoy doing inside that can be done outside. I understand that not everyone believes in the health benefits of being outdoors, but many do and sometimes you have to pull the “I’m the mom and I said so” card. You will go to bed at bedtime, you will do your chores, you will eat your vegetables (or at least take a bite), and you will go outside for some fresh air and sunshine – because it’s good for you. 🙂

  91. Andy October 18, 2012 at 11:31 am #

    @Marlene I read inside because that is where the shelf with books was. Reading inside means that I could switch the book whenever I decided that I want read another one. I could start reading inside immediately, I do not have to put the shoes on and go looking for an empty bench.

    There was no point for me to take a book and go to read outside. No gain and it is less practical. Which I guess hold true for any other typical indoor play – drawing, lego building or dolls. Musical instrument playing.

    Some inside activities are possible outside only if you have a house and garden with calm place: any kind of crafting, anything that requires concentration and work with tools or small things. Models from wood or matches, plastic models and so on.

    I used to cut and glue those paper models – impossible to do outside, wind would take away all your work. Computer programming – did that a lot during high school.

    There are plenty of good things you can do inside that does not involve TV. I named only those that I personally engaged in. Art oriented people could probably name plenty of other activities.

    Plus, reading inside means that I could read without being interrupted by curious people going around. (What are you reading, what it is about is it appropriate for someone of your age? – but I admit that it does not happen that much often to be a serious problem.) Which is a big benefit also when you do those other activities.

    If you try hard enough, some of these things could be done outside. But they are more practical inside, especially if you live in the city.

    At least for me, all those activities have been way better then being outside alone. I liked doing them and I liked looking at results of my work. I’m sure that they count as “entertaining myself”, because no one organized them for me.

    Assumption that inside is inherently “unable to entertain yourself” and spend only by passive TV watching is incorrect.

  92. Jenn October 18, 2012 at 11:38 am #

    My kids rarely tell me that they are bored because they know that I will offer them some chores that need to be done. A trick my mom used on my sister and I and it worked!

    My kids started being the only kid sin our neighbourhood outside. They would call on other kids only to find out they were at daycare or after school sports/classes, or not allowed outside or busy with video games. I told them to knock on the doors of little kids. I thought that maybe this may convince some newer parents to send their kids outside if mine were there with them. My kids are now 8 and 6 and usually have a couple of kids under age 6 as part of their little gang. They’re having such fun that we’re seeing some of the older kids come out to join them.

  93. Marlene October 18, 2012 at 7:11 pm #

    Sorry Andy. I thought I wrote “entertain themselves outside”, but apparently I left out the outside part. I agree there are many ways to entertain yourself inside. I just personally believe in great health benefits of fresh air and sunlight. I’m 92 years old and to this day I make sure I spend a significant amount of time outdoors each day, breathing in the fresh air, soaking up the sunshine, walking, gardening, reading on my swing, or pursuing other interests .I don’t claim it as the sole reason, but I do believe it contributes greatly to my good health at this age when so many others of my age have resigned to indoor life and are much worse off. Now, I suppose if you worked by an open window with sunlight streaming in you could some get the same effect. And I’m certainly not saying EVERYTHING can or should be done solely outside. I was just trying to make a point that if you have kids who want to spend all their time cooped up inside, you can show them ways to take some of the things they like doing inside outside. And I still say you should mandate some outside time each day in most circumstances. As for art oriented people, I’m an artist – or used to be more so – and there’s nothing I enjoyed more than going outside and painting or drawing the beauties and people around me. I know a lot of artists who enjoy this. I still do it some, but not as much as I used to. 🙂

  94. Andy October 18, 2012 at 8:52 pm #

    @Marlene I’m not trying to deny healthy benefits of sun. I’m trying to spend time outside too, but I understand most-of-time-inside people, because the attraction is strong to me too.

    As for art, I’m very non artistic person – unable to draw or to do anything similar. Art lessons in school have been the most stressful to me. I no idea what you people do, I just assumed that there will be plenty of it and that it will be different from what I do :).

  95. Lisa October 19, 2012 at 9:12 pm #

    This has been a heartache for me as well. When we first moved here 11 years ago, my older sons were 5 & 8. There were at least 5 other kids around (on the block, around the corner) for them to play with, and the kids were OUT. Now I have a 9 year-old and there are NO kids. Not on the block, not down the street, around the block, nowhere. It breaks my heart that he’s not out playing every day. Sometimes his 16 year old brother will throw a ball around with him, but not often. Even sadder to me is that he doesn’t even know what he’s missing! He’s never played tag (not allowed at school) or kick the can or any of the wonderful things you can do outside in suburbia. We’re over a mile to the closest store and the library and I wouldn’t want him walking that far without at least a buddy. I do like to do outdoor things and will on occasion take him to places to hike, etc., but it’s not the same.

  96. Warren October 21, 2012 at 3:10 am #

    If suitable for your family, the best solution is get him a dog.
    A working breed such as Australian Sheperd, German Sheperd, Labs, and the like. They are very good with kids, very smart, very loyal and protective, and they just plain like being with “their” people. Although they have gained a bad rep, because of their size and strength, and that they are used as guard dogs, Rotti’s are great with families and kids.

  97. John December 18, 2012 at 1:43 pm #

    I never went outside to play as a kid. I grew up in the 90s in a large, suburban city. I was on a residential block with few kids where the nearest stores were 2 miles away. I never played tag, rode a bike, climbed a tree, etc. I only had a couple of friends and no parental supervision. But I had a very fast metabolism so I never gained weight. I was also an A+ student in school so I spent most of my time doing homework or figuring out things on the computer. That same pattern allowed me to graduate 1st in my high school class and become the lead design engineer of an electronics company in my early 20s.

    That being said, I’m 26 now and never do anything outside of work. At work I design systems, solder circuits, and write computer programs. Lots of hands on stuff. But when I go home I just mess around on the computer. I look in neighbor’s garages and they have camping gear, rowboats, fishing tackle, tennis rackets, basketballs, bikes, croquet sets, dartboards, guitar amps, paint canvases…all kinds out outdoor, game, sport, art, and recreation stuff. I have a ladder, some pool acid, and a toolbox in mine. I don’t know how to fish, camp, play baseball, ride a bike, play a guitar, or paint. I think I missed a lot in life, probably b/c I never learned to play…


  1. I Send My Kids Outside to PlayBut They Dont Know How - SAHM Solution | SAHM Solution - February 12, 2013

    […] Hi Folks! Here’s a note that resonated with me so much. It’s why I tried to start that “I Won’t Supervise Your Kids“class with kids of all different ages, and why I want kids to meet up with each other and HAVE to figure out how to have fun on “Take Our Children tSee all stories on this topic » […]