Take the Free-Range Challenge of the Weekend

Folks — I just got a letter from a reader wondering what Free-Range thing she can do that won’t get her shunned by the other parents or cited by some uptight cop. My answer: Do something YOU loved doing as a child that you wish you could let your child do, too.

Let your child make a s’more or walk around the neighborhood or knock on a friend’s door or play in the park with a sibling but without you — or go to the movies. You’re the parent, so you know that you wouldn’t send your 2 year old to be supervised by your 3 year old. Just dig back into the past for a template of normalcy again. From what I’ve seen, just doing this ONCE reassures both the parent and the child that the activity is not a crazy idea, just fun.

SO — without me making this into a 28-step big deal, send your kids out with the simple caveats of don’t go off with anyone, don’t cross the street unless you’ve agreed that that”s okay, and come home at an agreed upon time. (By the time your child is old enough to be outside on her own, I think she probably can tell time, too. Right?)

And then report back here by Monday. Tell us what you did. Inspire the rest of us! And if you don’t have a great idea for the first “challenge” make it super simple: Have your kids play on the front lawn/stoop/sidewalk for an hour with them not coming in and you not going out.

If that sounds ridiculously easy, that’s because it is. ย – L.



Kyra’s sidewalk drawing, photographed by Charlie F.

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39 Responses to Take the Free-Range Challenge of the Weekend

  1. SKL August 9, 2013 at 3:11 pm #

    I can’t, because my kids are going for a sleepover. ๐Ÿ˜›

    But last week, they had a massive, unsupervised water fight in the backyard / woods. Involving actual squirt guns (I made this awesome find at Pat Catan’s for about a dollar – yippee, there’s at least one business that hasn’t banned water guns!). They finished off by dumping the remaining water supply on their heads, and came in laughing and asking for towels. They thought I was going to yell at them. Nope. ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. Michelle August 9, 2013 at 5:54 pm #

    My kids have already been doing that all day. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Well, with frequent water breaks; it’s really hot out today!

  3. Natalie August 9, 2013 at 6:55 pm #

    It rained buckets today. Which means that they are now out splashing in puddles and looking for worms. BY THEMSELVES. (Gasp!)

  4. This girl loves to talk August 9, 2013 at 8:41 pm #

    I went to our equivalent to your state/county fair yesterday. And though I was with my four kids 95% of the time, I let my older 2 kids go off in the crowds to purchase their showbags and to look at the animals alone and to meet me back at a certain spot. They enjoyed a bit of independence but knowing I would be at a certain spot not far away to meet them.

  5. Nicole August 9, 2013 at 8:47 pm #

    I am letting my kids and their cousins sleep in a tent in the backyard tonight. I am pretty free-range but it is making me nervous. We live one house over from a golf course, so golfers will be out when they wake up in the morning. Of course the idea that some random golfer is going to bother them is crazy, but it has me worried. However, I’m glad they are doing it and I’m sure they will have a great time.

  6. Jenn August 9, 2013 at 9:05 pm #

    When I was a kid, my sister used to be in a gymnastics club that would do free shows at the local mall in order to increase registrations. I found it pretty boring so I used to walk the mall alone (as a 9 year old) and buy little trinkets and candy with my lemonade stand earnings and birthday money. Today I was at a shopping centre and the kids (9 and 6 years old) wanted to go to the toy store instead of the shoe store so I sent them on their way with their wallets full of cash from Grandma and their lemonade stand. The outing would have taken twice as long had we done both together. I finished up first so I found them in the store, trying to decide between some candy or joke shop tricks. The salesperson said that children aren’t supposed to be left unattended so I clarified that the `children’ are the customers who have the money to spend so if they aren’t allowed to shop there alone, then they (or I) won’t be shopping there, period. I got a stunned look and walked out. I waited in the car while the kids made their purchases. Money talks!

  7. DH August 9, 2013 at 11:37 pm #

    Hmm. My kid has been home with my currently-unemployed husband the past few weeks (he has a new job but it starts in mid-September). And since we haven’t really discussed it, the husband has been letting the 7-year-old do more than I have been and it’s wonderful to see he can.

    Now, he can walk down to the park which is at the other end of the subdivision. My husband didn’t realize it, but he gave the kid permission one day when the kid was being annoying to walk down to D’s house and see if D could play. D lives right next to the park.

    The kid and D have also been running all over the forest preserve property which borders the subdivision to play storm troopers. I don’t see a reason to stop him from doing that once they’ve done it and demonstrated they know how to do it safely.

  8. DH August 9, 2013 at 11:41 pm #

    (Oh, and for the record, I didn’t actually know how old D was. I knew he was a year behind the kid in school but because my kid falls right on the front side of the cutoff, I thought that D was just a few months younger than him. But D just turned 6 and he’s been running all over the subdivision and the forest preserve for longer than I’ve let my kid do it. I have to respect his mother for that.)

  9. hineata August 10, 2013 at 12:07 am #

    Thank goodness mine are older now and I don’t have to think about this sort of stuff much now. Mine will be having a free range fortnight in a couple of weeks though when we go overseas without them, and are planning lots of fun, so we’ll have to see how that goes. Am not sure that it counts really as free range because the oldest is almost seventeen, but I guess if they weren’t already able to basically look after themselves and get themselves places we wouldn’t be able to do it. Yay for responsible kids ๐Ÿ™‚

  10. Really Bad Mum August 10, 2013 at 1:33 am #

    Tried to palm 9 year old off to the in-laws, stupid me!!! Yet again they say no to my kids and yes to the other grand kids ๐Ÿ™ then they act surprised when mine behave and the “golden child’s” kids act like brats…
    So it the spirit of the weekend challenge-
    Anyone want a 9 year old?

  11. Natalie August 10, 2013 at 7:51 am #

    @really bad mom
    Does he like playing with younger girls? If so, we’ll take him! My friend has 3 boys that are all older than my girls and they get along so well together. I have a picture of them forming a human pile according to size.
    I think it really says a lot about a child’s adaptability when they can play outside of their specific age range/interests.
    Good for my girls, good for her boys, and the two of us kick back and have a nice cup of tea!

  12. Donna August 10, 2013 at 7:58 am #

    Taking my little fashionista to the big mall to replenish our mainland attire after 2 years in the tropics (I probably should have thought through putting all my court clothes in storage with no way to get to them until we move back into our house in a few weeks BEFORE going to the tropics). We’ll have to see what free range opportunities arise.

    Hineata – Where are you off to?

  13. Jess August 10, 2013 at 8:36 am #

    A few weeks ago I sent my newly turned 6 year old across the grocery store to get some produce that I had forgotten. When he came back, I had just turned aisles and he missed me. He started systematically walking down the rows looking for me when he ran into the receptionist from our pediatricians office, whom we are casually friends with. She asked him where I was, to which he calmly replied “I don’t know. I’m looking for her”. Receptionist friend freaked out, thinking he was lost and started dragging him toward the front of the store to have me paged. He calmly said to her “Why don’t you just call her, here is her cell phone number”. We were reunited a minute later.

    I was so proud that my little guy was completely un-phased and calm. He knew he would find me and knew the information to give to help the adult find me. The only person panicking was the grown-up!

  14. Really Bad Mum August 10, 2013 at 11:12 am #

    @ Natalie, he is a little womaniser lol, he pretends he doesn’t like girls but he goes all mushy when he sees pretty girls… Plus he has an older sister and a dad who works 2 weeks on (1700 Kms away) and then one week home, so the poor boy has resigned to the fact that he is surrounded by women lol… I am assuming u live in the U.S other wise he would be on ur door step after I do a slow and throw lol

  15. Really Bad Mum August 10, 2013 at 11:17 am #

    And yes he will play with anyone, as long as they are nice kids who have manners otherwise he just goes off and does his own thing and ignores them, the girl on the other hand is what you could call a tad dramatic, a bit bitchy and completely normal for her age… If I can resist killing her, she should outgrow it lol

  16. Jade August 10, 2013 at 2:04 pm #

    I let my 4.5 year old go into a little store on her own to buy a lollipop today. She decided when she was in there that she would actually prefer a candy bar, so she took one of those and went to pay for it – only of course I hadn’t given her enough money for a candy bar, seeing as she had told me she wanted a lollipop!

    Apparently a gentleman in line behind her paid the difference. She was so pleased when she came back outside ๐Ÿ˜€

  17. hineata August 10, 2013 at 3:55 pm #

    @Donna – Malaysia, yay, great place for a holiday, though I’d rather eat my liver than live there again …:-)

  18. Michelle August 10, 2013 at 5:49 pm #

    Nicole, my mom gave the kids a little tent last week. They immediately set it up in the backyard, and have been taking turns sleeping out there almost every night. (It’s only really big enough for two.) Of course, the only one who has actually managed to stay out all night, without getting hot, scared, or uncomfortable in the middle of the night was my 8yo daughter. We’ve been teasing her older brothers about that, and they’re determined to make it all night themselves. (Didn’t tease the older sister because her complaint that she doesn’t really fit in the tent is pretty reasonable.)

    Jenn, last year my oldest daughter (14 at the time) went to the mall with her church youth group. The leaders gave the kids a scavenger hunt list and set them loose in small groups. It went well until a security guard insisted on escorting the kids back to the adults, saying that kids are not allowed to walk around without an adult because “teenagers cause trouble.” Note that it wasn’t *these* teenagers causing trouble, but they were punished for the actions of anonymous other kids. How insulting! I was pretty shocked, too, considering I’ve dropped the kids off at the mall movie theater plenty of times without a problem.

  19. Rachel August 10, 2013 at 7:28 pm #

    My girls and a neighbor girl put a water slide together in our backyard using a couple of tarps, a slide and a hose. I was inside sewing and had no idea until they banged on the back door asking for towels! Then they all walked to the local deli, bought snacks with their allowance, walked over to a park to play, then stopped by the firehouse to watch the firefighters wash their trucks. They had a watch and a set time to be home. All was well and a lovely discussion about our neighborhood followed during supper.

  20. Really Bad Mum August 10, 2013 at 11:43 pm #

    Ok asking for everyone’s opinion here, not asking for judgment or anything, just would like to know how others would deal with the situation we dealt with…
    So 14 nearly 15 year old daughter ” Princess Bitchface” wanted to go to a party, now I’m talking boy/girl, drinking, and I assume some kids smoking cigs and pot, kind of party.. She wanted to go with her boyfriend 15 and cousin nearly 15 ( girl cousin). We asked her to get all details where when if parents home etc which she did, the 3 of them where invited to another ‘Getz’ as they call it which she collected same info, we agreed she could go, before they left they received a call saying one had actually become an own house party, so they discussed it and decided to go to the other one. Now as we knew there would be drinking and since there have been cases of drink spiking we bought them a 6 pack of pre mixed cans. 2 each. And dropped them off to suss the place out, they where told to be home by 1am, since in was just down the road 40 min walk and there were 3 of them and it is a quiet, safe good area ( and I was having a lazy arse moment)… During the night I text them to check everything was fine. At 12:15 we hear a car pull up and I went out to find the 3 of them paying a taxi. They where a little tipsy, none of them actually drunk, and they came in had some food and water relayed the nights events and went to bed ( girls in seperate room to boyfriend ).
    Ok yes you should give alcohol to minors ( had permission from other parents to buy for their kids) and there are so many risks, it works for our kids, but I constantly feel I’m doing a terrible thing and am constantly defending my choice to parents who forbid their kid ( who snuck out coz daughter said they where there) to go, at least if something goes wrong my child can call without the fear of getting in trouble for sneaking out… What do u guys think?

  21. Really Bad Mum August 10, 2013 at 11:44 pm #

    * open house party* damn you predictive text

  22. Emily August 11, 2013 at 1:08 am #

    @Rachel–I’d like to see some pictures of the homemade water slide.

  23. Jenny Islander August 11, 2013 at 1:36 am #

    Our kids are going to a birthday party at a park that is just barely too far to walk to. They are going to ride their bikes all around that park, with a mob of other kids, and without me. If it’s raining, they’re going to walk to the birthday girl’s house instead.

  24. SKL August 11, 2013 at 2:09 pm #

    Really Bad Mom, I don’t know the law where you are. Here, I can serve my own kids alcohol if I’m right there. I can’t serve other kids unless their parents are right there – basically to save my butt, I’d give the alcohol to the parent for them to give to the kid. I would not risk having the cops on my butt, even though I think drinking a little alcohol is not a bad thing for a teen, especially if they are supervised and not driving.

    I really wish people were a little less uptight about alcohol and kids. It is poison if overused, yes, but even a little kid can have a sip and be OK. Making it not only illegal but allegedly immoral just stops kids from learning how to be responsible about it.

    And I say that as someone who doesn’t drink – just my personal choice. I do let my kids (age 6) taste wine under occasional and legal circumstances. It isn’t a big deal. I hope when they are at the “risk-taking” age, this will not seem like an attractive risk to them.

  25. Emily August 11, 2013 at 3:56 pm #

    @SKL–I agree. Most little kids, if given a taste of wine or beer, will find it “yucky,” and not want any more, just like they would with coffee.

  26. Puzzled August 11, 2013 at 4:05 pm #

    Here in CT, there’s a ridiculously Orwellian campaign going on about people hosting parties for teens with alcohol. The campaign slogan is “your house, your rules” but, of course, it’s all about you not being allowed to set the rules in your house, and having to bend to government dictates. Anyway, I guess the law prefers that teenagers drink in unsafe places and drive home.

  27. Fuchsia August 11, 2013 at 6:39 pm #

    Our 4 1/2 year old has been running wild in the backyard all summer. We can sort of see her and we are here if she needs. She has been having a blast being independent. She often plays with the 2 year old from upstairs and his mom is often out (who we just met recently and did not background check ๐Ÿ™‚ ) and she is having so much fun getting to know their family.

  28. S August 11, 2013 at 8:49 pm #

    Teenagers should not drink. No one should drink. It is bad for you. BTW this is rather off topic…supposed to be free range KIDS!

  29. SKL August 11, 2013 at 9:04 pm #

    I think teens are included in FRK.

    Anyhoo. My kids are back from their sleepover. They went to a rural county fair and discovered that bungee jumping flipping thing (Miss A is finally big enough for it – the minimum is 40 lbs). Went on all the big rides alone because Aunt S wasn’t up to it. [They did agree that they are too old for the pony ride, since they have been trotting around a farm on big horses this summer.] Today they went to play with my sister’s dozen or so German Shepherds. Looking forward to a bath after all that licking. ๐Ÿ˜›

  30. Jenny Islander August 12, 2013 at 12:36 am #

    My kids are back from the birthday party, which was at the neighbor’s house due to rain. They walked there and back without an adult and, despite our living on a mountain at the edge of a wildlife preserve, they were not snatched by a bear–or any other type of predator. And nobody at the neighbor’s house was a monster, and none of the play equipment at the neighbor’s house tried to kill them.

  31. Olive August 12, 2013 at 8:52 am #

    @really bad mom,
    I think this definitely falls into frk. You discussed risks like drink spiking, taught how to manage that risk by bringing own drinks and let them go to make their own choices. My parents did similar, including allowing my friends and I to drink in our house sometimes. My friends’ parents also allowed this. They all figured we were pretty responsible kids and they would rather us drink in a safe place or at least know where we were than have us sneak out or lie.

  32. Brenna August 12, 2013 at 10:18 am #

    We went camping this weekend, which was marvelously free range. The 6-8 year old set (was with my siblings – 11 grandkids altogether) ran around pretty much wherever they wanted. The best part of camping is that generally, the other campers are pretty free range as well. Lots of kids intermingling, playing together on playsets, etc. We had someone (whom we’ve never met) drop off their kids to make s’mores with ours after dark. They’d been making our kids snowcones all day. Good stuff!

  33. Really Bad Mum August 12, 2013 at 10:38 am #

    @ S, Actually she is my kid, I don’t think an age limit was put on here, and since Lenore works with teens as well and has posted about teens and even young adults I’m pretty sure my inquiry was well within the topic.
    The comment wasn’t only about drinking, but about the whole event,

  34. Susan August 12, 2013 at 12:16 pm #

    My 11 year old plays outside, unsupervised, with the other kids in our neighborhood from morning till night. She pops in from time to time to grab a drink or a snack, or to switch out her bike for her scooter etc… Last night she came in at 10pm after an impromptu game of baseball at the park… the game ended because it was too dark to see the ball.

  35. Gpo August 12, 2013 at 12:30 pm #

    Took 2 12 yo girls and 1 8 yo girl camping for one night. Two were mine. The kids were out of my sight from time to time. No big deal. Just stay together

  36. wombat94 August 12, 2013 at 1:02 pm #

    I missed this post on Friday, but based on the timestamp of the first reply, I believe my daughters (ages 11 and 8) were out on their “mission” I sent them on at the exact moment Lenore posted the blog article.

    We often spend weekends at the southern New Jersey shore. Many weekends, my daughters ask to go to the local ice cream shop for dessert.

    I decided on Friday to turn their ice-cream seeking into a free range moment for them and us. (I did clear this with my wife before approaching the kids.)

    After lunch on Friday, I told the kids they had a mission. I handed them each a $5 bill and said they were to go and walk to the ice cream parlor, order whatever they wanted that would fit in their (newfound) budget. Enjoy eating it there and then walk back. The ice cream parlor is almost exactly 1 mile from where we were staying and involved walking in the shoulder of a pretty busy main drag in this shore town… though Friday afternoon was chosen because it is typically a slower traffic time and there is more room in the shoulder.

    I gave them a few basic safety tips (stay to the “outside” of the white line separating the shoulder from the traffic lane, if they needed to get around a car parked in the shoulder, be sure there was sufficient break in the traffic lane so they could quickly get around the car parked in the shoulder, etc.)

    The girls went off and about an hour later were back home with full tummies, $0.45 each in change, and – somewhat surprisingly – NO stories of people wondering why an 11 and 8 year old were out visiting the ice cream shop on their own.

    Oh… AND, I think, just a bit more self confidence.

  37. Havva August 12, 2013 at 1:09 pm #

    My supper tiny 2-1/2 year old (who still wears 18 month clothing); made her own challenge. I didn’t catch this post before today. Anyhow, she saw a bigger girl go into a stall and use the bathroom by herself. She got a notion to use that particular stall all by herself. I really thought she wouldn’t make it up onto the toilet, or would fall in if she did. But apparently her insistence was due to the astute observation that this particular toilet was lower than the others.

    She got the job done and came out with both of her legs through the same leg of her shorts. I pointed out this problem (didn’t laugh too much), and she went back in and fixed it by herself. Once done washing hands (obviously with a lift from mom) she insisted on me leaving and letting her exit the restroom on her own. She came out more horizontal than vertical, since the door was so heavy. But she got it done and was quite happy.

    My munchkin also took on the part of the playground designed to keep the little ones off. She did it with nothing but a bit of encouragement from a 4 year. We had met the older girl the day before due to her and her mom having an awful looking bike crash on our street. Good to see the girl out playing the next day.

  38. Carolyn August 12, 2013 at 9:57 pm #

    I’m not sure that allowing underage kids to go to parties with alcohol is teaching independence and responsibility. I appreciate that you took the time to think it through and try to minimize the risks, but personally still think it is too risky. I don’t mean to seem like I am judging you, but am sharing since you asked for others opinions.

  39. Really Bad Mum August 15, 2013 at 1:17 pm #

    @ Carolyn, I agree but it’s the lesser of two evils, so many kids sneak out and some have tried to convince my daughter to lie, she told them no I will ask my mum and if I get all the info and am truthful she will let me go, they couldn’t believe it as they where sneaking out. I wish it wasn’t an issue and I am constantly questioning my judgement but at least I know where she is and if something goes wrong she feels safe to ring me for help without the fear of being in trouble for sneaking out, I have also found that by allowing her to go she doesn’t find the parties that interesting anymore an rarely wants to go.. But I appreciate your feed back as I really do feel the same but I would rather that then her sneaking out, drinking god knows what and being too scared to call I things went bad..