No Child Left Un-assisted: A Day at the Playground

A tiraateink
dismaying letter followed by an infuriating news item. Aren’t you glad you got up today?
Dear Free-Range Kids:
My girlfriend and I were strolling through the Western North Carolina Nature Center. There’s a lovely climbing structure for the kids that is supposed to resemble a spider’s web. Though there is the usual soft material underneath, it would actually be difficult to fall off.
The thing that caught my attention was what we heard from the mothers in the short time it took us to walk  past. One called out, “Be careful! You’ll fall!” The second, “Remember that Allie is right underneath you, so be sure not to step on her.” The third was telling her son how to climb down — instructing him exactly where to put which foot and hand in sequence, like a bizarre game of kiddie Twister. (Photo below)

Keep up the good work.

Bob Woolley

What really appalls me about that story is not the parents worrying about falls. It’s the parents telling the kids HOW TO CLIMB. As if EVERYTHING has to be TAUGHT to a child. Maybe the mom would like to enroll her child in a night school class: Foot Placement 101.

Which brings me to today’s news item. According to this piece in The Daily Mail:

Parents have blasted a primary school after its head teacher has banned children from doing cartwheels and handstands at break times over safety fears.

Pupils at Old Priory Junior Academy in Plympton, Devon, were told they couldn’t perform ‘gymnastic movements’ in the playground after a number of children had been left with injuries.

Emma Hermon-Wright, the school’s interim head, said she has introduced the break-time ban because the children were attempting moves which are ‘beyond their capability’.

The BBC quoted Hermon-Wright saying:

“[At break times] we’ve got a lot of children in one go and you can’t be supporting every child for a backward roll, forward roll, cartwheel, handstand or whatever they’re doing at play time.”

How insulting we are to kids. Somehow we not only believe they are as fragile as glass figurines, but also that they require the kind of one-on-one instruction we give to dogs when we teach them to shake hands — heaps of help given to someone who otherwise could never figure this stuff out on their own. Grrrrrrrr. – L


My God! That poor child! I hope he survived the rest of this "joyful" activity.

My God! It’s like watching a train wreck! 


"Oliver! To step down, put one foot lower than the other and have your body follow."

“Oliver! To step down, put one foot lower than the other and have your body follow.” (Photo by Bob Woolley) 


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113 Responses to No Child Left Un-assisted: A Day at the Playground

  1. Vicki Bradley June 16, 2015 at 10:34 am #

    the exact same thing happened to my daughter at her public school last year. Her friends and she would practice gymnastics moves at lunchtime, and were told they weren’t allowed to because “somebody might get hurt.” – aargh! So, my daughter took it upon herself to write a letter to her principal, explaining why they should be allowed to continue doing gymnastics. Believe it or not, the principal relented, although she did put a limit on what gymnastics moves they could do. My daughter has also been told many times by “well-meaning” adults that she shouldn’t climb trees, even when I’m standing right there! I simply tell them I’m fine with her climbing the tree, and leave it at that.

  2. TRS June 16, 2015 at 10:45 am #

    I was the parent standing in the middle of the playground playing zone defense because I had twins that never wanted to do the same thing. I would have moms come up to me and tell me my daughter was climbing too high and I needed to spot her. I would just tell them that I had another over there and I had my eye on them. One of them does Triathlons at the age of 15 now and is Nationally ranked in her age group. When I take her to these races she is on her own out of my sight riding her bike with hundreds of others – they don’t close the roads for the races. Of course she made my heart stop when she told me she got her bike up to 40 mph on the down hills while her competitors were coasting. As a parent I just hold my breath and hope for the best. If I held her back she would never know this great experience. Of course she wants to qualify for the Kona Iron Man as soon as she is old enough. Parents need to put their fears in check and allow their kids to soar.

  3. Stacey June 16, 2015 at 10:50 am #

    I have often observed that a child must be instructed and coached through every moment of the day.
    It’s as though they’d walk into walls without that nagging, constant “cone of verbiage” to guide them. Actually many do that now.
    It never ceases even for the most mundane tasks. Wears me out to bear witness to it. I was at a doctor’s office one day and just to leave the waiting room I heard…
    “Ok honey it’s time to leave, let’s go out to the car”
    kid begins to move,
    This way honey, the door is this way (cuz the kid couldn’t figure out to follow her). That’s right honey, come on.
    kid walks a few steps to the door… Good job Sweetheart!
    Now open the door, that’s it, that’s right… push. Very good! OK! You did it! What a big girl!
    Now let’s walk down the hall to the elevator. Very good. OK! You want to push the button? Which button do you have to push? Down! That’s right. Go ahead, push the button. Great Job!
    Now we have to wait for the elevator to come pick us up. It’s not so bad. sometimes you have to wait. Let’s count how long it takes. 1,2.3.4. Here’s the elevator, Yay! Now wait for the door to open…
    Elevator opens…They step in…
    Ok honey now press the button for the Lobby. You know the letter L right? which button is the letter L? kid motions towards it… That’s Right! Good Job! now press it. Press it. Go ahead honey, press the button. You can do it. kid finally presses the damned button… Very good! Great job. You’re such a big girl.
    All of this in a nauseating, sing song voice (the same voice you now hear in all kiddie cartoons)

    I want to stick needles in my eyes whenever I am around parents with little kids that must narrate every moment.
    It’s even worse being trapped on a plane with people like this. The kid, usually is fairly quiet or well behaved, but it’s the parent that drones on and on and on.
    I just want to turn around and say…”Let the kid think for themselves for half a second!” You don’t have to fill every moment with stimulation/education/direction…

    But then I’d get thrown off the plane…

  4. Julia June 16, 2015 at 10:53 am #

    I want to speak to the “telling your kid how to climb” point. My 4.5 year old son likes to climb. But when he gets to the top of the curved ladder spider web thingy and is frozen with fear of falling, because he’s a little bit nervous about heights, I will certainly help him climb down. There’s a lot of “You can do this, just put one hand here and your foot here! OK, keep going!” I’m not going to forbid him from climbing because he might fall, but if he’s frightened and I’m standing right there – or, more likely, over on the bench talking to my friend – then I want to talk him through the fear and help him see that he can do it. Then the next time, he’ll do it on his own.

  5. Klgs24 June 16, 2015 at 10:58 am #

    ok wait a minute. I’ve coached my kids up or down on a two story spider web climber at our children’s museum. It’s an aerial feature and so feels like you’re climbing through nothing. It’s super fun but nerve wracking especially when you get to the top and have to look down to get back down. So they’ve needed help and encouragement at various times and now both adore it. I’m the most free range parent I know in my neighborhood, but if my kids need or want help I’ll give it to them. What happened to not judging others’ parenting??

  6. Donna June 16, 2015 at 11:02 am #

    It could be that the parent always micromanages her child’s play. It could also be that the child got up to the top, panicked and mom was talking him down. You can’t tell which from simply walking across the playground. Not all kids are born equally fearless or unafraid of heights. I would much rather see a parent allow their child to come down himself with coaching than to go rescue the kid and remove him from the climbing structure because he got a little scared.

  7. Miriam June 16, 2015 at 11:13 am #

    You can’t blame a principal that ALREADY had kids injure themselves and probably had irate parents yelling down at them to do something for implementing a policy to try to prevent it. I’ll admit that rules like that are as useful as telling your 5 year old not to jump on the bed. They’ll do it anyway and then when the occasional kid falls off, they’ll come to class with a cast on their tiny arm. (I’ve seen too many of those.) Side note: I am going to teach my kid to jump in the middle of the bed, lol.

  8. W June 16, 2015 at 11:16 am #

    You’re getting a little out of hand based on no information. Sometimes coaching a kid how to climb down IS free range parenting. When you have a three year old that proudly climbs to the top then notices how high he is and freaks out you really only have three choices. You pluck them off the toy and put them on the ground, you ignore them and let them cry it out, or you tell them that they really can do it and coach them until they get down.

    I’m sure some of you will feel free to disagree, but I consider the coaching to be the free range parenting option. It’s a good way of getting them down while bolstering their confidence in their own abilities. And based on my experience with small children I would seriously bet that is what the original letter writer witnessed. Because no three year old is going to listen to mom coach him down unless he feels like he needs the coaching.

    Reading the comments before I hit “submit” I see I’m not the only one saying this so hopefully Lenore will take note of it. I really feel like free range parenting is a good cause, but please be mindful of not over correcting. Sometimes kids do need a little help.

  9. Jennifer June 16, 2015 at 11:19 am #

    I’m going to chime in with the parents who’s kids like to climb, but then panic at the top. If I didn’t verbally guide my son down off of some of the things he’s climbed onto, he’d still be up there to this day – but I will never stop him from climbing up. Aaaannnd….. as my husband sometimes has to verbally coach ME as to where to put my foot while we’re hiking back down a mountain, I see no shame in helping my son the same way!

  10. Vicki Bradley June 16, 2015 at 11:21 am #

    Could Bob Woolley let us know how old the child who was being coached down was? Obviously, it will make a difference if the child is 3 versus 7 or 8.

  11. Michelle June 16, 2015 at 11:23 am #

    Yeah, this feels rather judgy. Nothing wrong with reminding a kid to be careful, and I completely agree with Donna that it’s better to coach a kid down than “rescue” him. I have a rule that I never help my kids climb UP, because I don’t want them to go higher than they can handle alone, but I have often stood under a tree or a play structure encouraging and instructing a child who is afraid to come down.

    I also have a personal rule that, while I have strong opinions on certain parenting ideas, I don’t judge other parents based on brief, one-time encounters in public. You can’t assume you know how someone parents from just one moment.

    Stacey, are you talking about parents with very small children, like toddlers? Talking to them – a lot – is how you teach them to talk. Besides, many parents find it enjoyable. And when they are that young, they’re not exactly talented conversationalists. What else are you going to talk to them about, other than what you’re doing? Bottom line, they’re not talking to YOU, so how about you just ignore them?

  12. Rachel June 16, 2015 at 11:31 am #

    My child looks absolutely normal, even stronger and fitter for his age than average but has dyspraxia and mastering coordination tasks requires massive effort from us and in Occupational Therapy. That said, we encourage him to be independent and free as much as possible. He now confidently walks the dogs with me on very busy roads for example — but can’t peddle a bike or swing himself for anything so I coach him relentlessly to persevere in the difficult things that come easily to others.

    Don’t assume you know everyone’s story.

  13. Montreal Dad June 16, 2015 at 11:32 am #

    When I was a kid, if I did a cartwheel during recess and got hurt my mom would yell at ME.

    Now, if a kid does a cartwheel during recess and hurts himself, mom yells at THE PRINCIPLE!

  14. Kay June 16, 2015 at 11:37 am #

    The ban on playground gymnastics is probably due to sue happy parents rather than over protective administration. In our district years ago, there was a kid who insisted on climbing on a play structure that was broken and had yellow caution tape strung all over it. The kid was told repeatedly not to use the structure and the playground aides had their eye on him, but kids can be sneaky when they want to. The kid got onto the structure and fell, breaking his arm. Of course the parents sued. Even if the parents don’t have a leg to stand on in court, the district still has to pay legal fees and lawyers. That’s why so many districts have become ridiculously cautious.

  15. Warren June 16, 2015 at 11:41 am #


    Yes I can blame an idiot principal for these types of bans. I don’t give a rat’s rear if there has been some injuries. This is typical. Stop all students because a few get banged up. These are not injuries that one student has inflicted on another, these are injuries the student has received as a result of their own action. Falls into the realm of personal responsibility. If worry wart moms don’t want their kids doing these activities, they should tell their kids not to do them, not tell the school to ban them.

    There is a huge difference between getting hurt attempting a cartwheel, and doing something that injures another. Why should my kids be banned from doing something they enjoy, because some cannot do them. That is life, deal with it.

  16. Vicki Bradley June 16, 2015 at 11:51 am #

    i agree with Warren. While my kids were in public school, I would get so frustrated by how much the principal limited the kids’ activities, to the point that I wanted to give them a signed document that indicated that I would not sue the school if my kids got hurt doing some normal, everyday activity. I never did draw up this document but I thought there had to be an answer to all the insanity of being told to basically stand still, don’t move, don’t touch…

  17. Tern June 16, 2015 at 11:57 am #

    Count me in the group that supports coaching under some circumstances. Sometimes my kids are much more willing to do things on their own the first time or two if they have specific instructions along the way. It encourages them to try things and is a step to making them more independent, not less. I’ve definitely said “Now put your left foot here” to help my kids down from a height. It seems far better than lifting them down.

  18. Jasmine June 16, 2015 at 12:10 pm #

    Another Free Range child abduction (for playing outside alone!) by police that you may be interested in:


  19. Maria June 16, 2015 at 12:11 pm #

    I’ve given my children instruction for climbing down. We all know it’s easier to climb up then it is down, and every so often (usually between 2-3 years old) one gets a little higher then they are comfortable with. They yell for help, so I assure them that they can do it, just take it slow if they need. Sometimes that’s all they need,ln to hear, but other times, they just want to be scooped up and carried down….. I won’t do that, so I’ll talk them through it, showing them that they CAN do it.

  20. Beth June 16, 2015 at 12:34 pm #

    Yes, you can blame the prinicipal even if other kids have gotten hurt. The parents of those kids can tell them “no more cartwheels” or whatever, if they are concerned about their kid getting hurt. And holy heck, they can expect them to follow their parents instructions. All parents do not need to be concerned about other kids getting hurt, just theirs. There was nothing in this article about lawsuits, just about “hurt”.

    And I think Bob and girlfriend were lucky they weren’t removed from the park because they didn’t have a child with them!!

    I’m with Stacey on the parents narrating every second of every day. Yes, we all liked talking to our children and know its value, but the “come this way, take two steps, oh you’re such a big girl, now stand, now take a couple more steps, so proud of you” crap is head-exploding-inducing.

  21. Michael Fandal June 16, 2015 at 12:43 pm #

    Before during after retirement from the NYPD I worked as a sub teacher for nyc. I loved it. The kids loved me and I loved them. I learned how to do handstands as a kid in Coney Island and did them on beach and in police locker room which leads me to a time when it was lunch time or phys Ed and I was showing kids how to learn handstand by positioning themselves near the handball court wall. You kick up and stretch and touch wall with feet for balance and support. The moment I assisted a fit kid to do it a supervisor assistant principal told me to stop. No discussion no chat no explanation. She robbed the kid of learning a fantastic skill. In 35 years I encountered many disturbed and incompetent administrators which makes me concerned that for too many education is in the wrong hands.

  22. Nadine June 16, 2015 at 12:46 pm #

    i remember being scared and holding on for dear life and having no one to talk me down. i did get down by overcomming my fear and learning to deal with it. I learned to breathe, open my eyes, focus at the task at hand and find my own way down, cause you can only be scared shitless for so long. There is a hing to be said for both ways and there probably is a middle ground. But leaving a kid at their own devices for a while should be an option even when it gets a bit scary.

  23. Meagan June 16, 2015 at 12:51 pm #

    For me, one of the best things that came from discovering Free Range Kids is gaining the confidence to not feel guilty when other parents at the playground give dirty looks because I’m not hovering.

    That said, in defense of the father instructing his son down, I’ve done similar when one of my sons loses confidence and wants me to just get them down. Instructing so they can do it themselves can sometimes be the more empowering choice. Without knowing context, sometimes we judge situations.

    I admit, I sometimes remind my boys to be careful when they run off to play. I also remind my husband to be careful if he’s driving a long distance, especially at night. It’s about caring, not undermining.

    Maybe once the kids successfully climb that spiderweb the parents will relax because they know their kids are capable.

  24. Kelly June 16, 2015 at 12:52 pm #

    #1) If you don’t want your child getting hurt while doing gymnastics during recess, then tell your child not to do them. Don’t go to the principal and prevent every other kid from doing gymnastics, particularly those who can deal with getting hurt occasionally.

    #2) Being afraid never killed anyone. Being afraid and figuring a way out of a scary situation, usually instills great confidence even if the experience was terrifying. When they finally get back down, they’ll either say “I’m never doing that again” or “I did it! That was GREAT! I can’t wait to do it again!”

  25. Brooks June 16, 2015 at 12:53 pm #

    Over the years, I have taught many a child how to water ski. While I use various methods depending on the child, the first thing that I require is that the parents get out of the boat. This increases the chance that the kid will get it right the first or second time tenfold if not more.

    I learned years ago that the constant coaching and cautioning was usually the problem for kids who just couldn’t get it.

  26. Penny June 16, 2015 at 1:17 pm #

    I have to agree with those supporting coaching a kid down from some climbing toy. What would be sad is just climbing up and carrying your kid down when they are too frightened to get down on their own. I don’t think it is micromanaging to remind them when they have reached the top and become frightened, to calm down and coach them a bit until they are more comfortable.

  27. Stacey June 16, 2015 at 1:22 pm #

    For everyone chiming in on coaching… I don’t think Lenore was really going after folks who give a little coaching or instruction on how to get down. I think it was just an imperfect example of the real point. Micromanagement/over narrating every-freakin’-moment.

    And back to you….

  28. Eric S June 16, 2015 at 1:40 pm #

    If my kid wanted to try something on his own (keeping in mind, he was ready, and I felt he was ready), I let him go to town. If he needed assistance, he knows to ask for help. Kids need to learn and understand every aspect of their activity. Which includes failing. This is how humans learn and grow. Stifling that natural process, will only hinder a child from becoming successful adults.

    Quoting Thomas Wayne from Batman Begins. “And why do we fall, Bruce? So we can learn to pick ourselves up.” This totally applies to many aspects of life. Young to old.

  29. Wendy Constantinoff June 16, 2015 at 1:43 pm #

    I was going to email you the cartwheel story but got waylaid by life. The only time I have ever instructed a child in climbing was when one of my class got stuck and didn’t know how to get down because she panicked and that was only a couple of rungs until she felt confident to carry on. She was about six. I worry about all these children, how are they ever going to manage as grown ups?

  30. Jenny June 16, 2015 at 1:54 pm #

    Like a previous commenter, my child has motor deficients (mild cerebral palsy) and does need to be coached to learn how to do things that come naturally to others, like kicking a ball, climbing up or down, etc.

    The point of pointing this out is not to say “that kid on the playground whose mom was coaching him might have had cerebral palsy.” Rather, it’s “while we’re giving our own kids freedom that we think they can handle and asking others not to judge us as bad parents for it, let’s not be hypocrites and judge other parents because they are making choices that differ from the ones we think we would make if we were in what we imagine to be their shoes.”

  31. Mimi June 16, 2015 at 1:58 pm #

    My favorite parenting reminder – “Be careful what you teach, it might interfere with what they are learning.” (Magda Gerber) And while her focus was on babies, I think in a general sense this can apply to everyone, young and old alike!

  32. JulieC June 16, 2015 at 2:05 pm #

    I’m with Stacey on the annoying parents (usually moms) who narrate every moment of the kid’s life. It’s usually done in a high pitched voice, with a constant stream of “Good job Buddy”, “Awesome” etc.

    I sat near a kiddy pool one day with my toddler and a mom (whom I did not know) had a couple kids with her and did that for every-single-frickin-thing those kids did. “Great sharing!” “Good job” over and over. I wanted to clock her.

    To this day I can always get a laugh out of one of my teenagers by saying “Good job buddy!” in a smarmy voice…

    I’m convinced that parents think this is somehow creating a kid with high self-esteem (as if!). They don’t realize it just cheapens the value of life’s achievements.

  33. Warren June 16, 2015 at 2:09 pm #

    My kids would call from playground equipment with the I’m stuck. “You got up there. I’m sure you can get down. Think it through. “. Worked every time.

  34. tdr June 16, 2015 at 2:24 pm #

    I heard a local radio commentator talking about this story yesterday.

    He said something like “I remember when, if you came home with a bruised chin and a scraped knee it meant you had a good day.”

  35. tdr June 16, 2015 at 2:26 pm #

    No wonder kids get used to tuning out adults. Who wants to be instructed all day long.

  36. Brian June 16, 2015 at 2:33 pm #


    I love the phrase “cone of verbiage.” I got in the habit of doing it after my oldest was born. It’s a great way to help very young children develop their language skills. Narrating the trip to the grocery store, etc. My youngest is now a toddler, and I still do it. (I try not to do the constant and effusive praise.)

    But… I’m not sure if I ever gave much thought to when to taper it off. Thinking about it now makes me both laugh and worry. I continue to think that it’s a great idea for young kids, and yes, can be a bit ridiculous to overhear–that’s the laughing part. But your comments have made me genuinely contemplate if sustaining the approach, even as kids get older, instills tendencies for vapid chatter instead of thoughtful silence. (My older kids indeed have a propensity for chatter!)

    I’m sure I’ll still sleep at night, though. 😉

  37. MichelleB June 16, 2015 at 2:51 pm #

    How old were these kids?

    I wonder — has Allie been stepped on before? Because, if she has, that warning makes sense. Some kids don’t pay attention to their siblings and I don’t think a reminder is always a bad thing.

    I’m the mom who quietly cheered when he then-youngest did a face plant off of a low piece of playground equipment. Up until then, I’m not sure he believed in gravity yet and it was a relatively safe reminder to slow down and maybe hold on a little tighter.

  38. Stacey June 16, 2015 at 2:52 pm #

    It seems to me that kids raised years ago, before all the books were written about what “helps kids learn language/develop/move/think”, that everyone did quite well. In fact, the average person raised 30-50 and more years ago, is much more literate and communicative than all the little darlings being raised under the auspices of whatever the latest academic psychology trend is. We are hard wired to learn language if we are exposed to it. You don’t have to make a conscious effort to promote “language learning”. Hearing normal, every day conversation is enough.

    Yammering away at your toddler doesn’t “make them learn faster”.

    The more the parent talks at the child, the more passive the child becomes, the less the kid talks. They are not learning to respond, they are only learning to be passive listeners.

    In dog obedience competition you are immediately disqualified if you give a command more than once. Training the owners is the hardest part. First, I observe them, with their dog Fluffy:

    Them: Sit Fluffy. Fluffy doesn’t move or understand. Sit Fluffy. Come on Fluffy sit. Fluffy! Sit! Sit! Sit!
    The voice gets sharper and sharper…FLUFFY SIT! (dog is not deaf) Come on FLUFFY I Said sit!.
    Finally the dog happens to sit down because it felt like sitting. The owner gives the dog a reward.
    I say, Congratulations, you just taught your dog that it takes begging and pleading and negotiating to get it to sit. You just rewarded the behavior you didn’t want. The dog did not need a litany. Just correction/instruction on the original command. 1 time.

    Translate that to situations you see with people in public with their kids. If you negotiate with a child, they are in charge. They don’t need coaching to negotiate every obstacle.

  39. James Pollock June 16, 2015 at 2:53 pm #

    Several points:

    1. I might object to a school that limits children out of an outrageous fear that something bad might happen, but the chances are incredibly remote. I am far less likely to object if a school limits children from an activity that has already resulted in several injuries.
    (And, contrary to a claim made above, you don’t know that children doing tumbling runs are a danger only to themselves. If the green is crowded enough, you start to have problems with children running into each other because in mid-tumbling run, it’s hard to steer and harder to stop.
    (would a better solution be an area set aside for tumbling, limited to children whose parents signed off on allowing them to do it? Sure would be. On the other hand, that approach w2ould require sending information home to each student’s family, collecting and enforcing the results. A blanket ban is damaging to child’s autonomy, but not by much… it’s not like child play is without alternatives to tumbling.)

    2. Criticizing parents who are assisting their children seems like the sort of thing the fearful parents do. When you walk up, and a parent is helping their child, you don’t know if the child needs help or not… the parent is the person best suited to make that determination.

    3. When you have children of different ages on the same playground area, there is a tendency for the bigger kids to play without regarding the younger ones. This often results in the little ones getting roughed up. This is natural… children have to be taught to take other people into consideration. The problem isn’t too many parents saying “be careful, little ones are near”, it is too few.

  40. TheOtherAnna June 16, 2015 at 2:55 pm #

    It really depends on the child’s age, maturity, experience, temperament, and a number of other things. It’s much better to coach or spot your kid through things that are either slightly dangerous or scary/difficult for them than to (a) forbid them from doing those things altogether, or (b) letting them get injured or too scared to try such things in the future. Don’t judge others based on so little information. You don’t know their kid or their situation.

  41. Hancock June 16, 2015 at 2:55 pm #

    My kids are pretty normal. If they climb and get stuck, I’ll help them once. If they climb and get stuck again, they are on their own unless I think they really are in a state of emergency.

    “You got yourself up there, you can get yourself down”

    They know I am not their personal rescue worker, hero, or babysitter. I am their mom. I’m there for them when they fall and need a hug or a bandage; but it’s not always my place to stop them from falling.

  42. hineata June 16, 2015 at 2:59 pm #

    I sympathise with the principal. After a rash of actual breaks and sprains etc, I think it’s quite legitimate to ban activities until such time as the kids have had sufficient training to do the activity with a reasonable chance of not breaking a limb.

    We had one class banned from using the playground for a month a couple of years ago because every second day we were having to call an ambulance for another break. It turned out in that case that there was a pact thing going on – the kids wanted to experience plaster. 7 and 8 year olds – the things that go on in their heads!

  43. Hancock June 16, 2015 at 3:00 pm #

    Yes, I’ve let them cry, paralyzed in fear at the top of a climbing structure. This happens between 3 and 4 years of age. After no more than ten minutes, they find their own way down, and inevitably come to me smiling and proud of their accomplishment, then go back for another thrill.

  44. Shannon June 16, 2015 at 3:09 pm #

    I have to throw in my 2 cents that it really depends on the age of the kids for a lot of this. The climbing help, I did give some guidance for my daughter like that last year. She had just turned 2, and REALLY wanted to climb like the big kids, but would get stuck places. When she started to get nervous I coached her on a bit. My almost 6 year old on the other hand was on his own, with an occasional: “you can figure it out.” when he got stuck.
    I also tended to do a lot of the kind of coaching Stacey complained about when my kids were just started walking. (Not in the baby voice though, I hate the baby voice). I had to keep urging them to come along because they would get distracted but I would ask them things like “we need to go to the 2nd floor, which button should we push?” I congratulated them, because identifying the number at that point was a big deal. Narrating what is going on when they are very little does actually help with vocabulary and making them feel connected to what was going on around them. Sure they get high fives or whatever is appropriate the first time they make a new step towards independance (even if it doesn’t seem like a big deal to an adult) I don’t think it cheapens anything down the line

  45. hineata June 16, 2015 at 3:20 pm #

    Also I think we forget sometimes that principals ARE in charge of their schools and have the right to institute rules as they see fit. It might be different in the States as I am not sure what superintendents are, but here, while parents are certainly free to protest and schools must communicate their rule changes etc., the buck stops with, and much of the power in a school rests with, the principal. School is not a democracy.

  46. Havva June 16, 2015 at 3:24 pm #

    If you exaggerated even a little, that could have been me. I even remember someone following me closely the last time I had such an insipid afternoon at the doctors office.

    “This way honey, the door is this way” is just the acceptable version of “come here RIGHT NOW!” *cry* “no we are not going back to see the fire truck in the exam room. It is time to leave, NOW.” I wouldn’t be surprise if she felt a little embarrassed that I treated her like a baby who didn’t know her way out.

    When someone has followed at a small distance from the doctor’s lobby to the elevator you can bet I’m telling my stalling kid how to operate the buttons with idiotic praise because. It beats any of the other approaches which are sure to lead to her crying and the other adult giving me a the death glare.

    If you see me nattering at my kid about the way out, and pushing the elevator buttons, do us all a favor and walk around us and take care of you, instead of lurking a few feet behind us staring and judging. That just leaves me trying to figure out how to keep her moving without offending you. She can be like that some days when she doesn’t want to get moving, then an hour later amazing people with her confidence in where she is going and her ability to operate elevators.

    If you move on, I can have a little privacy to grab her by the hand and make her move, or tell her “if you wanted to push the button you should have done so promptly.”

    If I don’t have any privacy, or am feeling very patient about letting her try something new and at the far edge of her capabilities, I wind up nattering, and using incipient praises to keep from saying “about d*mn time” and “finally.”

    I hate how I sound too.

  47. The Other Mandy June 16, 2015 at 3:33 pm #

    I was at the park with my kids last week and overheard a dad micromanaging his kids and all I could do was shake my head. Then I noticed he had SIX of them under 8 or so and wondered how on earth he had the energy to micromanage all of them (and he was, indeed, micromanaging all of them), including using the infamous, “Don’t run!”

    I have definitely coached my nearly-3 yr old down from a high place, but usually I tell him he’s ok and should figure it out himself. In fact, one of his first phrases was “Figure it out.” More often these days I’m telling him, “Pay attention where you put your body.” He steps on my feet, and his sister, often but less and less so.

    I’m a developmental optometrist (see if you want to know what that is) and I see kids all the time who have no clue where their bodies are in space. I firmly believe it comes from limited mobility, e.g. being carried around in the bucket seat, confined to a play yard or “exersaucer” (what an abomination!), being plopped down in front of the tv or ipad. I used to see these problems only in orphanage kids and other seriously developmentally delayed kids, but now more and more in supposedly neurotypical ones. My colleagues who have been doing this work longer report even more alarming trends. The best thing for physical, and visual, development is what FRK advocates: let kids play, on their own, and preferably outside.

  48. Warren June 16, 2015 at 3:52 pm #

    No, it’s not reasonable. By your logic, the bans will be in place forever. There’s always going to be an influx of new students unable to do things. Also a school wide ban penalizes those older students than can do whatever.

    You don’t have kids, do you? My girls loved tumbling and they and their friends would not attempt it through a crowd. They did it where they had room. You just love being stupid don’t you?

  49. Stacey June 16, 2015 at 3:55 pm #


    Evidence we are truly infantilizing children on a very real, physical level.
    Proprioreception and general physical skills are declining.

    Cartwheels help.

  50. James Pollock June 16, 2015 at 4:03 pm #

    You don’t have kids, do you?”
    And the streak continues. Wrong again. Gee… how many times have I referred to my custody case…

    “My girls loved tumbling and they and their friends would not attempt it through a crowd.”
    Good for them. Obviously, if they wouldn’t, then nobody else ever anywhere would, either.

    “You just love being stupid don’t you?”
    This, coming from you, is precious.

  51. James Pollock June 16, 2015 at 4:08 pm #

    ““You just love being stupid don’t you?””

    (Oh, and you punctuated this wrong.)

  52. Yocheved June 16, 2015 at 4:16 pm #

    Stacey, the only explanation I can think of for that constant coaching scenario, is if the child is on the Autism Spectrum, and had severe problems with transitioning from one place to another. I have a child with Auditory Processing Disorder, and I do have to tell her to get her socks, wait, then her shoes, wait, then her coat…. if I told her to get 3 things at a time, she’d end up in her room playing with dolls, forgetting that we were getting ready to leave!

    If this child is neurotypical, then I feel exceptionally sorry for her having to put up with that!

  53. Stacey June 16, 2015 at 4:17 pm #

    Gosh you worry too much what other people think. Say what you need to say to your kid. Your kid has probably learned that they can get away with whatever they want in public because of this.

  54. Stacey June 16, 2015 at 4:19 pm #


    Don’t ya know, every kid is Autistic/ADD/ADHD/special needs now…. Have you checked the DSM V? We are all ill.

  55. Sonya June 16, 2015 at 4:22 pm #

    My friend’s son wasn’t allowed to breakdance at his primary school disco in case he got injured. Ridiculous

  56. Warren June 16, 2015 at 4:24 pm #

    James ,
    So because of a stupid student or two, you have no problem penalizing the ones that do things properly. This proves two things. You do not trust your kids, and that is your failure, and you are a moron to believe it is fair to restrict my kids because you didn’t raise yours properly. Good job. You are always good for a laugh.

  57. James Pollock June 16, 2015 at 4:40 pm #

    “So because of a stupid student or two, you have no problem penalizing the ones that do things properly.”
    Gee, if only I’d said something differently that could disprove this. Oh, yeah… I did.
    Where I said
    “(would a better solution be an area set aside for tumbling, limited to children whose parents signed off on allowing them to do it? Sure would be.”

    “This proves two things.”
    It proves that you can’t, or won’t, read.

    “You do not trust your kids, and that is your failure”
    Wrong again. No longer a surprise.

    “you are a moron”
    You keep misusing this word. Apparently, it means “person who is smarter than Warren.”

    Bet? Or no bet?

  58. Dean Whinery June 16, 2015 at 4:47 pm #

    Kids climb. Kids will climb almost anything.
    The children of two of my friends were more than adept at climbing about the same time they learned to walk. Who coached them to climb to the top of the refrigerator? Or the apricot tree? Or anyplace else? Who coached them back down?
    Nobody, in fact, their mothers were often nearly speechless as the rushed toward their toddlers who were calmly moving down, and soon going about other routines that were “normal” for them, indoors or out. I’ll admit I did once step in and catch a tyke as she walked backward off the dining room table while her mother’s back was turned.
    When they reached kindergarten age, the nanny state took over. Swings, slides, climbing bars were removed from the playground. And, whether in kindergarten or sixth grade, they could not walk the half-block home without a parent to “help” them.

  59. Echo June 16, 2015 at 4:50 pm #

    I think it’s really judgemental the way you picked apart that poor mom giving instructions to her child. I understand that kids need space to figure things out alone and maybe that mom does too… Just like you are always asking the world… Should this mom be judged by this one action at the park that day? Do you know her? What were the circumstances of that climb? This mom probably feels similar to the rest of us… Constantly under scrutiny for every parenting choice. How about instead of judging each other as moms we support one another and our different chives on how to parent… Not put a poor mom on public blast for helping her kid at the park on day. I’m disappointed in you today, Lenore. I think it leads people away from the cause and message you’re when you come down on moms for innocent choices that didn’t hurt anyone… Please put out into the world what you wish to receive back…

  60. Steve June 16, 2015 at 5:14 pm #

    lets post judgmental crap based on snippets of conversation overheard on the way past. I generally agree with a lot of the posting here but the CLIMBING issue is nonsense. Whats the recommended method for teaching climbing techniques?

  61. Steve June 16, 2015 at 5:16 pm #


    sounds to me STACEY like a parent interacting with a kid. It might sound annoying but have you ever had a conversation with a two year old? Sounds pretty much like what you overheard. Maybe your style is to give a grunt at junior and then head out, if he follows good for him if not well then …..good luck kid.

  62. Jill June 16, 2015 at 5:25 pm #

    Some of the moms who were coaching their kids with climbing may have felt they were being helpful, or possibly their children have some sort of visual/motor/neurological/emotional disability that requires extra assistance or reassurance.
    However, I’ve noticed that there seems to be a trend today for women feel the need to prove to the world at large that they’re “good moms.” It becomes a competition to see who can praise their kids the most effusively (“good job!”) or hover the most protectively.
    Maybe they think the constant stream of “good jobs!” builds their kids’ self-esteem, or that it’s something they’re expected to do as parents, but to me it ‘s just irritating to hear kids praised for every little thing they do. I wonder what will happen when they get to be adults and their employers fail to throw them a ticker-tape parade simply for showing up for work?
    The bar was lower when I was a child. You were considered to be a good mom if your child was adequately fed and clothed, didn’t get into trouble at school and was polite to adults. Moms could kick back, hang out with their friends and let the kids play without obsessing over whether they’d get stuck at the top of the monkey bars or up in a tree and be unable to get down.
    Also, nobody went to the gym back then, so the idea of “spotting” someone who was attempting a gymnastics move was an alien concept. Sometimes we fell down and hurt ourselves. Sometimes we fell on other kids, who yelled and punched us for falling on them. Somehow we survived.

  63. Beth June 16, 2015 at 5:31 pm #

    I was at some botanical gardens a couple years ago, and there were 12-18 inch high barriers between the walkways and the gardens, about 12 inches wide…so IF a kid were to want to, he could jump/climb up and walk on them.

    I was following a grandma, mom, and maybe 5-year-old, who did want to walk on them. Every time he (quite easily) got up there, one of them would say “You’re going to break your leg”. They said this repeatedly to this poor kid who was 99% UNLIKELY to break his leg. I wondered at the time what kind of life he would live if he was under this threat of bad things for the most innocent of activities.

  64. Monica June 16, 2015 at 5:39 pm #

    Having been a teacher, I can vouch for the fear of lawsuits making principals and administration act nuts. I got written up one time for “removing kids from the educational area” because it was a beautiful day and we took their math sheets outside to sit at the same tables they did at lunch. One girl stepped off the side of the sidewalk and broke her ankle. Mom and Dad sued the school. And were not talking about little ones. These we’re 7th graders…so 12-13 year old. The school settled with the parents for several thousand dollars because a court case would have cost more

  65. Emily June 16, 2015 at 6:04 pm #

    >>There is a huge difference between getting hurt attempting a cartwheel, and doing something that injures another. Why should my kids be banned from doing something they enjoy, because some cannot do them. That is life, deal with it.<<

    Another thing–a lot of the time, kids learn things like cartwheels, handstands, sports moves, playground games, songs, hand-clapping and jump-rope rhymes, drawing/hair braiding/Rainbow Loom/whatever techniques, and other similar things from other kids–a passing down of "kid culture," as it were. But, if every moment of kids' lives is micromanaged and scheduled by adults (between the excessive rules, and the relentless parade of ballet, soccer, swimming, Brownies, piano, karate, gymnastics, rinse and repeat), then there's no time for that "kid culture" to happen. I mean, sure, kids can (for example) learn to do a cartwheel in a formal gymnastics class, and that's the adult-approved "safe" way, but that just becomes another box to tick off in Level 1 Gymnastics, and if you see the child doing a cartwheel, and ask how he or she learned that, the answer is pretty boring–"I learned it at gymnastics class." When a kid learns to do a cartwheel from another kid, it can become a really nice bonding moment, and a positive memory to look back on later, like "When Jenny and I were six, she taught me to do a cartwheel on the playground. After that, I showed her how to make a fishtail bracelet on the Rainbow Loom. We made matching bracelets that we wore until they fell apart." That impromptu playground cartwheel lesson could well be the beginning of a new friendship, or a highlight in an established one. It's a learning opportunity for the kid learning to do the cartwheel, and also for the kid teaching that skill, because it necessitates breaking down the action into small, manageable steps so the other child understands. If kids are constantly told "no, you can't," and shuttled from one adult-led activity to another, they may still learn the concrete, "hard skills," but the "soft skills," like how to teach something to someone else, or how to be a good friend, get missed. So, I don't think it's such a horrible thing if a few bruises or grass stains or scraped knees happen in the process–that's why we have ice, Band-Aids, and soap and water.

    Also, Vicki Bradley, your daughter is awesome for advocating for herself and her peers, by writing the "why we should still be allowed to do gymnastics" letter to the principal. Lenore, I think it'd be a good idea to start a new feature on this site, called "Free-Range Kid Of The Month," where we feature a young person who did something positive for the Free-Range cause. Obviously, Izzy Skenazy would be the unofficial first child (because he did his Free-Range thing–riding the subway alone at age nine–before Free-Range Kid Of The Month was a thing), but if we do this, I'd like to nominate Vicki Bradley's daughter as the first official Free-Range Kid Of The Month.

  66. Donald June 16, 2015 at 6:10 pm #

    We need another blog to follow. This one is great but we need an additional one. Lenore helps us to understand that kidnappers and pedophiles aren’t lurking on every street corner ready to pounce on every opportunity possible. We need a similar blog that helps us understand that there isn’t an ambulance chaser on every corner ready to sue you on every opportunity possible.

    The legalphobia has some truth to it. Nevertheless, a woman bought a coffee in a drive thru and spilled it on herself because she was drinking and driving. (coffee) Mc Donalds settled out of court for not warning people that coffee is hot. This happened once but the story has been repeated 1,000,000 times. (and the accuracy altered to make it even more outrageous. I’m probably not accurate either)

    This is the same as the rare kidnapping that gets reported worldwide for several years.

    I’m not saying that the compensation culture is a myth. It’s real. Times have changed.

    In the 70’s you may hear parents yelling at children, “EXPLAIN THESE BAD GRADES”! However today they instead yell at the teacher, “EXPLAIN THESE BAD GRADES”! Children still learn reading, writing, and arithmetic. However they also learn that it’s always someone else’s fault.

    Schools are caught in the middle. That’s why they ban cartwheels. However by doing so they also strengthen the understanding that if the child gets hurt for any reason, look for someone else to blame.

  67. Vanessa June 16, 2015 at 6:14 pm #

    Gymnastics actually can be pretty dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing – that’s why gymnastics coaches spot their athletes when they’re learning how to do a new skill. I think banning cartwheels is extreme, but I can see why a principal wouldn’t want kids trying to do moves where they genuinely could break their necks. Even in the early 80s when I was in grade school, we used to get in trouble with teachers/playground monitors for that kind of thing.

  68. hineata June 16, 2015 at 6:18 pm #

    @Warren – I can change a tyre if need be. That said, I certainly couldn’t do all the other stuff you can do with regard to your business.

    Same goes vice versa. I have no doubt you could work with a group of children or young people for a short period of time and get good results for whatever from them. But you could not run a school. Even I couldn’t run a school and I have most of the bits of paper required.

    So how about you leave the running of schools to those who are qualified to do it, and who know it’s a tad more complex than it looks on the surface. Just like running a tyre shop.

  69. Donald June 16, 2015 at 6:26 pm #

    I drew this cartoon. I made it so that it can be printed as a 4″ x 6″ photograph at any photo kiosk.

    Make as many copies as you want. I only ask that you keep the watermark on it.×6-200×300.png

  70. Donald June 16, 2015 at 6:34 pm #

    Sorry. the previous cartoon was a low resolution one.×6.png

  71. hineata June 16, 2015 at 6:38 pm #

    Also bans don’t have to go on forever. …they certainly don’t in NZ. We usually ban things for a short period of time, then bring back whatever it was. If stupidity or accidents continue to occur, back goes the ban.

    We have kids practicing cheer lifts and pyramids on the grass. I hate it, personally, but until someone breaks something it won’t be banned.

    As for the break dance comment, not sure about your dance halls but ours’ aren’t that big, so of course break dancing is banned. It takes up too much space.

  72. Francis June 16, 2015 at 6:40 pm #

    Even if there was an injury, I don’t think “stop all cartwheels foreverrrrr!” is a great idea.

    Kids get hurt. They get over it. When I was a kid I did some terrible stuff to myself, (as a random selection, burned myself badly, fell off multiple swings at the top of the arc, cut myself on sharp rocks) most of my classmates broke at least one bone sometime during growing up. We all got over it. It’s just a part of growing up.

    I’m not saying that parents shouldn’t take reasonable precautions against their children hurting themselves but these things happen. Life loses something when any danger at all terminates the activity.

  73. Nick Stuart June 16, 2015 at 6:51 pm #

    I grew up in the 50s, the era of true “survival of the fittest” playground equipment. Cracked my head on the monkey bars. Got the wind knocked out of me falling off the tall slide. I have personal memories of classmates permanently maimed from bicycle accidents, summer job accidents, etc.

    Yes, it does seem like we’ve gone too far the other direction (like a pendulum, swinging from extreme to extreme, passing the midpoint at maximum velocity). But I would encourage parents to take safety very seriously. Helmets for bike riding, skateboarding, and rollerblading. Extreme caution with watersports.

    Safety is a silly pain in the neck, until your child is maimed or killed. Then it’s living with regrets for the rest of everyone’s life.

  74. Owen Allen June 16, 2015 at 6:58 pm #

    🙂 I feel I need to put a big smiley to start. Perhaps parents secretly want to be up on the ropes. Their instructions can be a mirroring of lost hope. Sighhhh. Meanwhile at the Baggot Comunity After School program in Darwin, Australia, the supervisors have defined a risky play policy to show why they ALLOW the kids to climb a huge Banyan tree in the community. They’ve been doing this type of activity for ever and there is a whole learnt group play in which the bigger ones help the smaller into the lower reaches of the the, and as they get older they climb higher until mid teens are seen at the top of the tree. Collaboration in risk – that sounds like something that could work for a powerful society. Needs the leaders,teachers, guides, mentors, fearless.

  75. James Pollock June 16, 2015 at 7:16 pm #

    “Even if there was an injury, I don’t think “stop all cartwheels foreverrrrr!” is a great idea.”

    Nor do you know that anyone has advocated for such. And, it may just be that there isn’t a suitable place to do them.

    “Kids get hurt. They get over it.”
    Every once in a while, though, they DON’T get over it. If other people’s children are placed in your care, it’s entirely reasonable that you implement rules to keep them from hurting themselves while you are responsible for them. They can come back, after school, and turn all the cartwheels they like. For that matter, they don’t even have to return… they can do those cartwheels right in their own yards.

    “I’m not saying that parents shouldn’t take reasonable precautions against their children hurting themselves but these things happen. Life loses something when any danger at all terminates the activity.”
    When you’re in school, the school has rules… no talking during classtime, no running in the hallways, no bringing a loaded gun for show & tell, no bringing beer in your lunchbox. Kids have been dealing with oppressive rules in school for rather a long time, and they get over it. Some of them write hugely popular songs about it, but even the ones who aren’t in Pink Floyd somehow manage to get their creativity into the world.

  76. Christina June 16, 2015 at 7:43 pm #

    So glad I have twins. No time for that. So long as neither has run out of the park into the street, it’s a win in my book.

  77. JKP June 16, 2015 at 8:10 pm #

    @Donald –
    “A woman bought a coffee in a drive thru and spilled it on herself because she was drinking and driving. (coffee) Mc Donalds settled out of court for not warning people that coffee is hot. This happened once but the story has been repeated 1,000,000 times. (and the accuracy altered to make it even more outrageous. I’m probably not accurate either)”

    While I agree with your point that our culture has become overly litigious, you should stop using the “hot coffee” lawsuit as an example of that. If you read the actual facts of the case, you would quickly realize that particular case is a perfect example of why we sometimes do need lawsuits and big $ verdicts to hold companies accountable.

    You can watch the documentary “Hot Coffee” on Netflix streaming.
    Or this link has more facts:

    She didn’t spill while driving. She was a passenger, and the vehicle was stopped while she put cream and sugar in the coffee. “McDonalds coffee was not only hot, it was scalding — capable of almost instantaneous destruction of skin, flesh and muscle.” She had 3rd degree burns over 6% of her body, requiring 8 days of hospitalization and skin grafts. In spite of over 700 customer injuries with 3rd degree burns, McDonalds “enforces a requirement that coffee be held in the pot at 185 degrees.” “Other establishments sell coffee at substantially lower temperatures, and coffee served at home is generally 135 to 140 degrees.”

    Basically, McDonalds was serving coffee at a temperature that guaranteed any spill would cause 3rd degree burns in 2-7 seconds. After the court case, they now serve it at a safer 155 degrees.

    Please find a better example of a “frivolous lawsuit.”

    On the subject of lawsuits, often times it’s not the parents or injured party who is suing. If you were ever hurt outside your home and your health insurance paid your medical costs, they very likely sued the place where you were hurt to recover your medical costs. So even if you sign a waiver that you won’t personally sue the school, even if no parent ever has sued the school, that doesn’t mean that the school hasn’t been sued by an insurance company to recover money. That would be the systemic problem to address rather than people as individuals being litigious. Maybe we as a society need no fault insurance requirements, like some states have with car insurance.

  78. orange roughy June 16, 2015 at 8:18 pm #

    ba ha ha this is the best and so funny………because it’s true

  79. lollipoplover June 16, 2015 at 9:00 pm #

    I miss the playground days.
    Parents of all types brought kids to play. I wish I could go back and tell myself to relax and enjoy it a little more, but I was probably one of the moms yelling at my kids for climbing too high and giving me a heart attack. My kids were risk takers and scared the crap out of me. Now that they’re older and I know them more, I have a better perspective. But yeah, I’ve had climb up and rescue a few or talked them off the ledge.
    My son once scaled a book shelf at a church preschool music class. Horrifying.

    OT, but this is made my heart melt. Love, love, love:

  80. Barry Lederman June 16, 2015 at 9:09 pm #

    One thing that really disturbs me in the original letter from Bob Woolley is the mother who told her child, “You’ll fall!” I think laying such pessimism and negativity on a child is wrong wrong wrong.

  81. Warren June 16, 2015 at 10:26 pm #

    Or a health care system like Canad’s. Works just fine.

  82. Francis June 16, 2015 at 10:27 pm #

    @James Pollock
    “Every Once in a while they don’t get over it.”


    Every once in a while someone will die randomly or have something bad happen to them. You can’t stop that. One of my childhood friends had an unknown heart problem and just… died one time. I spent 4 years of my teens with a serious illness. Sometimes bad stuff just happens. You can’t prevent all bad stuff from happening.

    This isn’t to say take no safety precautions, but going overboard isn’t actually going to save many people, and it’s going to negatively effect everyone.

    The school rules argument is even weaker. School rules have meant you can’t chew a pop start into the shape of a gun. That doesn’t mean those rules are sensible.

  83. Emily June 16, 2015 at 11:12 pm #

    Nick, there’s nothing wrong with “safety” if it means seat belts (or car seats for smaller kids), bike helmets, life jackets for non-swimmers in boats, smoke alarms in homes and buildings, and buckets of water at campfires, et cetera. The problem is when people fall into the trap of thinking that if some safety precautions are good, more are better. So, “seat belts for all, and car seats for smaller kids,” becomes “seat belts for all, car seats until puberty, and rear-facing in said car seats until age four.” “Bike helmets” becomes “Helmets, knee and elbow pads, and gloves, and don’t even think of letting kids ride on the road,” which becomes “No bike riding for kids without adult supervision,” which becomes “No bike riding at all,” because adults often don’t have time to provide supervision. “Life jackets for non-swimmers in boats” becomes “Life jackets in swimming pools for all kids under X age who can’t pass a swimming test, never mind that wearing a life jacket prevents them from practicing for said swimming test” (link here: “Smoke alarms in homes and buildings, and buckets of water at campfires” becomes “Don’t even think of lighting birthday candles, or making microwave popcorn or toast indoors, because that’ll set off the fire alarm” (that really happened in residence in university, on several occasions), and Girl Scouts making campfire-free s’mores with Marshmallow Fluff (link here:

    Then there’s the mistaken belief that the almighty Adult Supervision can prevent any and all dangers to children, so that’s why adults must now escort their kids into public bathrooms, watch their kids like hawks in public, even at kid-oriented places like playgrounds, swimming pools, and the children’s section of the library, drop their kids off and pick them up at the school bus stop, when the bus comes, or sign them in and out of school and all their activities, so they’re always within the care of either a background-checked “perfect” adult, or a parent or relative, who don’t need to be background-checked, because *heavy sarcasm here* everyone knows that family members never, EVER abuse children. The more we ramp up the safety measures, the more people believe that it’s necessary and buy into the fear……so we ramp up the safety measures even more.

    I agree that basic, common-sense safety rules aren’t just a “pain in the neck,” but safety rules that infantilize kids, or prevent people (of any age) from engaging in activities that are already mostly safe if you don’t act stupid about it (for example, don’t allow a group of Girl Scouts to practice the “whip your hair back and forth” song near the campfire), ARE just a pain in the neck, and counter-intuitive to boot. I mean, going back to the Girl Scouts example, a Girl Scout who’s been raised on campfire-free Marshmallow Fluff s’mores is going to internalize the message that “fire is dangerous.” A Girl Scout who’s been taught to build a fire, contain a fire, cook things over a fire, tie her hair back around a fire, stop drop and roll if she catches fire, and douse a fire that gets out of control, is going to internalize the (more accurate) message that “fire is a tool that must be used responsibly in order to be safe.” Now, suppose your power went out on a cold winter night, and you had to build a fire to keep warm. Suppose this power outage just happened to coincide with a time warp, wherein you met one contemporary Girl Scout, who was a product of Generation Lawsuit, and one old-school Girl Scout, who’s been allowed to take some age-appropriate risks. Now, which Girl Scout would you feel SAFER having around in that situation? Surely not the one from the troop that’s obsessed with “safety” to the point of making fire-free s’mores, right?

  84. hineata June 17, 2015 at 12:52 am #

    OK just checked the link and it does look rather ridiculous. I thought they had had a spate of breaks etc but it sounds like just cuts and bruises. That said though the principal is in charge, not parents – let’s hope they manage to talk her around.

  85. Warren June 17, 2015 at 2:16 am #

    When those in charge are doing a good job, I will leave them to it. When they are being idiots, I will be on them. That simple.

  86. Andy June 17, 2015 at 2:42 am #

    I normally like this blog, but I do not like the “I have seen 10 seconds of somebody’s life and go all outraged because those 10 seconds were not perfect according to my child raising philosophy”. Frankly, people afraid of being judged for tiny small things this way is part of why helicoptering got so out of hand. Obsessing over tiny insignificant decisions other parents do is not healthy.

    Maybe the kid got stucked and did not knew how to go down. Mom had a choice: put him down, let him fall or teach him how to go down. And maybe she was stressed due to unrelated reasons so she acted more protectively then normally. And maybe she normally let the child figure things out but just liked the structure, wanted the kid to get most of it and kid was too small to figure it out alone. Is the last one fully freerange? No. Will being helped couple of times harm kids future independence if helping is not constant part of his life? Not at all.

  87. sexhysteria June 17, 2015 at 3:10 am #

    Why can’t the kids simply wear crash helmets?

  88. bsolar June 17, 2015 at 6:26 am #

    @Sexhysteria: “Why can’t the kids simply wear crash helmets?”

    It might actually not make the kids safer:

    “Children were positioned up on a platform, on a bike or wearing rollerblades, and they were presented varying heights and inclines from which they selected the greatest one they go down when wearing and not wearing safety gear appropriate to the activity; when making their ratings they anticipated actually doing the task. Results revealed that children engaged in significantly more risk taking when wearing safety gear, thereby demonstrating risk compensation, and this was significantly greater for the activity with which they had greater experience.”

    Basically safety gear makes you feel safe which makes you take more risks. Depending on the situation the net effect might very well cancel out the increased security the gear offers. Or as stated by a popular skydiving rule: “the safer skydiving gear becomes, the more chances skydivers will take, in order to keep the fatality rate constant.”

  89. James Pollock June 17, 2015 at 9:45 am #

    “Please find a better example of a ‘frivolous lawsuit.’”

    A frivolous lawsuit is one filed with no cause of action for which relief can be given. As when I sue the phone company because the sun comes up every morning and disturbs my sleep.

    The McDonald’s coffee lady didn’t file a frivolous lawsuit… she won, and by definition, lawsuits the plaintiff wins are not frivolous.

  90. E June 17, 2015 at 9:56 am #

    In regard to the WNC Nature center….sure maybe the parents are helicopter parents. Or maybe it’s just as wrong to judge 1 overheard conversation at a playground.

    I’ll add this. This place is likely visited mostly by people on vacation. I know that I would prefer that my kids not get hurt while we travel. If this results in more caution, so be it. I’m more aware of the germs we are exposed to before we travel on big vacation because I don’t want anyone sick (I did this myself recently when I was traveling solo and my husband had an awful cold just prior).

    There really is no difference between judging a parent harshly for “neglect” during a chance encounter and judging a parent for “hovering” during a chance encounter.

  91. Sara June 17, 2015 at 9:58 am #

    My children are free range. They are miles ahead of some of their peers in respect to being able to navigate the world independently – all except for one.

    I have a child with anxieties who loves to climb trees and would have loved this type of playground equipment when she was younger. However, experience tells me her anxieties would probably get the better of her but she would really want to play on it. I would then coach her up and down her first climb to show her she can do it while giving her the reassurances she needs to overcome her anxiety. After the first trip up and down with my coaching, she would then be capable of climbing on her own. She is now 13 and still works to overcome her anxieties. I recently had to miss a day of classes to accompany her on a field trip because her anxieties weren’t letting her go. It doesn’t happen as much as it used to when she was younger, but if she needs to have me there telling her where to put her feet,until she has the capabilities to deal with her anxieties, I’ll be there. She’s made leaps and bounds through counselling and cognitive behaviour therapy but she’s still only 13. My goal is to have a self-sufficient adult, not to force my anxious child to overcome her mental health problems without my guidance.

    My point is, parents know their kids. Let’s not judge them on a moment you see for less than five minutes. Isn’t that what we’re asking all other parents? Don’t judge our parenting ability on the five minutes you saw my child walking alone from the park?

  92. AmyO June 17, 2015 at 10:49 am #

    I’m not even exaggerating: the last time I was at the playground with my daughter, I heard a parent yell at his two kids: “No running or jumping!”

    Going there has become a chore because there are as many parents on the play structures as the kids, and the adults get in the way as they try to take photos and videos and tell their kids where and how to play.

    There are also parents who have both little and older kids, and don’t trust any of them to be out of arm’s reach. So, they either put their toddlers on the structures that are way too big, putting them at risk of being trampled by 10 year olds, or force their older kids to play on the smaller structures, where they play too roughly for the preschoolers.

    Meanwhile, I can’t enjoy my book on the bench because I have to keep an eye on my daughter so she doesn’t get zoned in on by a nosy parent.

  93. AmyO June 17, 2015 at 10:57 am #

    I just read through the comments, and want to reiterate what Stacey said. There are parents who coach their kids who are stuck on a structure, and then there are parents who follow their school-aged children around the park and talk them through all of their interactions with the play structures and with other children. I don’t think anyone is suggesting a kid who needs encouragement is on par with a kid whose parent follows them out of misplaced fear.

    I sometimes wish that there was a roped-off section in the park where parents had to stay while the kids ran around. It would actually probably make things safer, since the adults are always in the way.

  94. Rina Lederman June 17, 2015 at 11:16 am #

    I love the captions on the photo’s.

  95. JR June 17, 2015 at 11:35 am #

    @Stacey –
    You are so right about the “Cone of Verbiage!” I’m going to borrow that phrase, if you don’t mind.

    I work in food retail and I interact with quite a few parents (usually moms) and little kids every day. You’re absolutely right – almost every phrase out of mom’s mouth is some encouraging sing-songy drivel that’s meant to reinforce the child’s self-esteem for walking and breathing. These are the same parents who will walk WITH their four-year old to put away a child-size shopping cart ten feet away in full line of sight. And the most annoying thing? They end every sentence with the word “OK?” like they’re timidly asking for their child’s compliance rather than expecting it.

    I’ve noticed that kids spoken to in this way generally are the least likely to obey, because they’re so used to being asked and consulted. What’s funny, though, is that when I give the kids a direct but polite order in a normal adult voice, such as “Please put your cart away now,” they do it without any hassle.

  96. pentamom June 17, 2015 at 11:41 am #

    @Beth — At that botanical garden, I would have forbidden my kid to walk on them for the reason they’re there — to protect the plantings. If the kid falls off, he’s probably going to damage the plants. Even if the risk is small, they’re not my plants, so I’m not going to permit the kid doing something that subverts the protection put in place.

    It’s ridiculous to forbid climbing on something of that height because “you’ll break your leg.” But I wonder if the mom thought “Don’t do that” or “you might hurt the plants if you fall” would not be effective, so she made up that silly threat of personal injury.

    It’s hard to know whether it’s worse when parents exaggerate dangers because of their own exaggerated fears, or because they’re disingenuously manipulating kids who haven’t learned to listen to their parents out of respect. You see both, I think.

  97. pentamom June 17, 2015 at 11:45 am #

    Sorry, grandma, not mom,, in Beth’s story.

  98. SKL June 17, 2015 at 1:05 pm #

    A forward roll is beyond some kids’ capability?

  99. Grace Conlin June 17, 2015 at 1:31 pm #

    I am amazed, actually not so much, that parents are trying desperately to wrap their children in a bubble. You do realize that these small versions of humans need to get out all that energy at some point. They can do it on the playground (an acceptable place) or at home, in a restaurant, church or grocery store (all inappropriate places). Come on, you guys act like you were potty trained at gun point, let kids be kids. All your doing by doting over them constantly and telling them all the horrible things that can happen is create a neurotic spaz that needs constant attention and eventually therapy and medication. Your a parent, let kids make mistakes, its the best teacher in the world. Take it from someone who has 8 children.

  100. Melissa June 17, 2015 at 2:57 pm #

    Just a little devil’s advocate here on the foot placement coaching. We have one of those spider web contraptions (it’s very cool!) at the soccer field. My three year old loves it. I have done the foot placement coaching thing with her when she first used it, as she went up to the top, then freaked out that she was too high to come down. Instead of rushing to her aid and plucking her from the ropes, I had to “talk her down” step by step.

  101. hineata June 17, 2015 at 3:02 pm #

    @Warren – be on them as much as you like. Just be aware that, sadly or not, they call the shots. In school at least.

  102. John June 17, 2015 at 3:29 pm #

    With all this talk here in America of how helpless children (anybody under the age of 18) are and how they are incapable of doing anything without adult guidance, I think the following story proves otherwise. Although I’m surprised Child Protective Services wasn’t called on the nearest adult for allowing these boys to enter a burning building, even if it was to save a life:

  103. hineata June 17, 2015 at 3:31 pm #

    On the talking down – did anyone else have to get a parent or older friend to come and talk someone down from a tree when young? We climbed some pretty massive ones and occasionally someone had to be called for. Beat calling for the fire brigade

  104. Nikki Cole June 17, 2015 at 9:35 pm #

    I have had recent similar park experiences…it’s heartbreaking to me that people won’t just let their kids PLAY.

  105. Andrew June 18, 2015 at 1:59 am #

    Well, you know, it doesn’t get much better when the kids grow up.

    I’m currently off work with a bad back because my management team have me confined to a desk all day with half an hour for lunch. I am an historically very active person, ex-forces, commercial pilot, scuba instructor, etc. We have to keep active to keep fit.

  106. Havva June 18, 2015 at 10:51 am #

    @ pentamom & @Beth,

    The tendency to yell exaggerated threats at kids is one thing I wish no one would do.

    There is a kid the same age as my daughter living two houses away. A little while back I heard his grandma, I think, scream at him not to open the gate. That wasn’t particularly note worthy. But I was pretty shocked when she followed up, loud enough for me to hear every word, “If you open that gate you will get yourself KILLED!!!”

    I can understand that concern with a fast toddler, and maybe grandma hasn’t been around enough to realize he is well past running into the street. But it was a pretty stunning thing to yell. And it made me wonder what all she is teaching the boy, how much he gets good information to protect himself, and how much he gets nebulous threats of death and horrible injury.

    My daughter got really quiet and took my hand. I’d like to think she knows something was wrong with yelling that. For comparison my daughter and a slightly younger neighbor are free to run all over their unfenced yards front and back so long as there is an adult in earshot. They love running circles around the houses and hiding behind the bushes. Most of the time we know exactly where they are from the giggling. 🙂

  107. Puzzled June 19, 2015 at 12:21 am #

    I don’t remember how old I was (but it was quite a bit older than 5) when I got myself “stuck” in the fun house (not fun for me, by the way) at a fair. I had gotten to a cargo net, had climbed halfway up, then made the mistake of looking down. Yes, my mother talked me up the net (can’t go down until you get to the top.) The alternative would have been letting me be a nuisance to the park by continuing to block the thing. Then she told me I could only play on climbing things at home until I’d shown I could do it by myself. I still avoid it, honestly.

    Actually, come to think of it, another time I got myself “stuck” on a ropes course and the teenage staff ended up, first, talking/directing me through a few obstacles, and finally shutting down the course so I could get out backwards since I had reached one I just couldn’t get past. I was 33.

  108. Warren June 19, 2015 at 11:19 am #

    Got to thinking about this post this morning. At a playground, it was the mothers that were heard. I stopped near one this morning and it was the kids I heard. All small kids running around, moms reading or chit chatting.

  109. JP Merzetti June 19, 2015 at 4:15 pm #

    What’s wrong with this picture?
    Kids figuring out all by themselves (or with each other) how to do things –
    because there are no adults around.
    Break time.
    From Adults.
    You deserve a break today. Here, have an unsupervised moment.
    I used to get pretty annyoyed with people who texted while out in public with their kids.
    Maybe that – is the unsupervised moment.
    Otherwise, if an adult just simply HAS to be around….then the thing they have to do to kill their own boredom,
    is to supervise. Micro-manage.
    I can’t think of how many times I’ve seen and heard this going on…..and I can tell – just from the tone of voice – these people are not having fun.
    What a novel question. Is this “fun” for you? Are you having a real good time?
    Hell. I used to play with my kids. I miss those times.

    I can well imagine that a pretty sizeable number of Olympic athletes…….about the size of Baltimore…..have, as children, all performed daredevil feats while unsupervised. And then they grew up and went on to higher things.
    They weren’t all just “lucky.”
    It would have made me bat-crazy as a kid.
    It would have made me bat-crazier, as a parent.
    OMG! A bored, unsupervised kid! I must ease their pain!
    (I wonder sometimes, how much of that adds up to ADD)

    And the darkest of the dark sides. What happens to the kids who don’t have universal health care?

  110. Jennifer June 21, 2015 at 8:53 am #

    I think that you must be an amazing mom and raised your child well enough that you have trusted him to be a good citizen, respect others, abide by the law, be aware of surroundings and if your child were alone in a playground or traveling the city, you can feel confident that he will be just fine because the likelihood of being kidnapped is not very high. I would like you to do more promoting of educating parents rather then promoting free range children. While you may be a great mom, there are parents that don’t teach the fundamentals and set their kids off to be free – children that vandalize public property, steal, assault others, and are the nightmares of the public playgrounds where they place other children at risk. Because of you, parents that neglect their children even mentally and or physically abuse them set there kids out alone to be with other children where these kids lash out. It is sad that you only discuss the great stories of lone capable children without even making the community aware of the other children that are violent aggressive and delinquent. For every responsible law abiding child in the playground that is alone, there are 10 disrespectful dangerous child. You would do more good in this world if you would have blogs about HOW to raise an independent free range child with respect for the rules and regulations and respect for others. instead your message is: Set them Free, basically because of you, irresponsible parents that don’t want to bother with their children – they just send shaquana, Jose, Malika, Allison out into the world after slamming the door behind them to reak havoc on the many respectful independent free range Children. At the very least give people a warning to what is out there. I have been in one park where about 50 kids were alone, sure they survived no one was killed and they made it home safe but there was graffiti broken glass bottles destroyed foliage plants and bushes uprooted children smacked pushed and bullied foul language theft so much litter shrewn feces smeared on walls actually dedication in the playground flashing private parts as a joke. Yes it is reality along with nudity and this is the reality of free range children that don’t come from good parenting support. Just let them free to do as they please according to you. Trust them they are capable yet do you ever think about what they are capable of without good parenting? You don’t even have a guide on how to raise them properly. You are not teaching others about what you did that was right and what you fostered in your son that made him who he is. You are irresponsible because you are obligated as a Public Figure to make this right as soon as possible. Teach first and then send them out there. Give tips on how parents can know if the kids are not ready – if they show signs of bullying teasing hitting if they are still biting other children if they are destructive of property if they still fling toys across the room then tell parents NOT to send their children out there to go “play” without supervision. It is the parents responsibility to protect other children from their offspring that are dangerous. I saw a 10 year old lone child bite the face of a sweet little 6 year old that was playing near her mom. We could not find the parent because the parent was not in the playground. This is a big thanks to you because you put the message out there that it is perfectly ok.

  111. robin June 22, 2015 at 2:08 pm #

    Schools ban this type of activity because they do not want to be sued. We live in a “sue” happy world. Simple as that. It’s a shame.

  112. Sarah June 22, 2015 at 5:01 pm #

    I just visited this site for the first time. While I love the principle of free range kids, I am disappointed to see so much time spent bashing parents who may be seen as overprotective. You never know what kind of physical or mental limitations children and their  families may be dealing with. For instance, my 5 year old daughter suffers from muscle weakness in her legs, and she was extremely afraid to take physical risks when she was younger. I worked hard to coax her up onto playgrounds to help improve her confidence and her gross motor skills. Now she is 5 and just as active and brave as her peers. A few years ago, if you had seen me on the playground talking my daughter down a ladder, step by step, you probably would have seen me as an overprotective helicopter parent. You wouldn’t have seen my daughter bravely holding back tears as she overcame her limitations. You might not have noticed her beaming with pride when she realized she could do it, and then did it 5 more times on her own.

    Please do not make snap judgements about the parenting of strangers. Focus on celebrating the free range families, instead of insulting the parents who do it differently, for whatever reason.

  113. Lenny u June 25, 2015 at 3:54 pm #

    Ha the people that watch us 4 lunch don’t let us arm wrestle bc we can fracture a bone