TELL US: How Did Your Adventures as a Kid Influence the Person You Are Now?

One reason we believe in giving kids back their freedom to roam is that not every lifelong interest is spurred by an extracurricular class or educational video. Many ideas, even careers, begin in the woods, the weedy lot, the streets of downtown — or sometimes in buckets, as this haatzfyatk
lovely essay
 in Science Magazine illustrates:

My Metamorphosis, by Elizabeth Marchio

I grew up in the 1980s and 1990s, in a lower-middle-class suburban neighborhood on the outskirts of Columbus. Our home didn’t have air conditioning or cable television, so there was little reason to ever be inside. At 10 years old, I was allowed to roam the neighborhood unsupervised. I bicycled everywhere, climbed trees to catch tree frogs, and searched for aquatic life in the local creeks, among other clothes-ruining endeavors. One formative experience occurred at a housing development a mile from my home, when I came across a pool of water in the massive tire tracks of a dump truck. It was 2 feet deep and muddy. I peered into the pool, holding my small, green net in one hand and a bucket in the other, searching for movement. I spotted my quarry in the warm, shallow edges: dime-sized black spots zooming to the depths as my shadow passed. Tadpoles!

I stalked through the pool, my shoes squeaking and sliding in the mud. After much splashing and several failed attempts, I caught one—but this was not the leopard frog tadpole I expected. It had a remarkable red tail. I couldn’t believe it! I had something I had never seen before!

After collecting a couple of dozen of them in my greatly excited state, I hung the bucket on my handlebars and sloshed home….Two weeks later, the bucket clamored with metamorphosed froglets, which I identified by a field book as Cope’s gray tree frogs (Hyla chrysoscelis). When they started scaling the sides of the bucket, I realized it was time to return them to the collection site. I pedaled out to their natal pool to find it had been bulldozed. I released them in my backyard instead. My path into science started here.

You can read the rest of Elizabeth’s piece here – quite a ride. And what I’d love to hear FROM YOU are the lifelong journeys that began when YOU were exploring the world, UNSUPERVISED.

What age? What did you do? How does it echo to this day?

What a great way to remind us all, and maybe even CPS. that if we want children who area curious, enriched and involved, we have to give them time and space and trust. – L.

You don't have to kiss me for me to change your future, kid.

You don’t have to kiss me for me to change your future, kid.

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31 Responses to TELL US: How Did Your Adventures as a Kid Influence the Person You Are Now?

  1. Becca February 4, 2015 at 10:46 am #

    I was born in the mid 80s and grew up in the 90s. At 6 I was allowed to ride my bike around the block and go play with my friends in the neighborhood. The only times we went inside were for bathroom, lunch, or something highly processed and over sugared or salted to share with our friends. Sometimes on the hottest days, our parents would allow us inside to watch Nickelodeon or play some Nintendo or Sega to cool down and drink something with tons of sugar and food dye before being booted back out again. Sometimes my friend’s parents offered to take us to the next town to the pool or to the lake to swim. We were expected inside when the street lights came on. These days, I have my own two kiddos, and we let them go play outside with the neighbor kids – but it isn’t the way it used to be. Now we are more afraid that some busy body will call CPS on us for “daring” to let them run around “unsupervised” when we are right inside and looking out the window to check on them once in a while. We don’t let the kids stay out for very long stretches (I think our record for letting them stay out was a 2 hour stretch) Thankfully, our community isn’t as bad as others that I have heard of. We still see kids walking around town on their own, kids unsupervised at the library and kids riding bikes alone. However, I can see that little bit of fear in every parent’s eye- that little fear that someone will report them for letting their kids be independent.

  2. Melissa February 4, 2015 at 11:38 am #

    I grew up in the 80s and early 90s as well, in Welland Ontario. I had a 1km walk each way to school – my mom walked me in kindergarten and from first grade on I went by myself. I have very fond memories of playing in vacant lots, and making dams, rivers, tracking sticks in rain-filled street gutters. I also spent my days off school roaming the city and the Welland Canal lands by foot and by bike. Exploring the lift bridges and locks and learning about the slightly scary aquaduct.

    Today I’m a civil engineer with a serious love for municipal work and “big engineering” like shipping canals. Go figure.

  3. SKL February 4, 2015 at 11:59 am #

    I didn’t grow up to professionally do any of what I did as a kid. But I did learn how to manage my life, enjoy many simple pleasures, and raise my own kids.

    I could go on and on, but I think the most valuable effect right now is that I know what my own kids are capable of, because I remember being their age.

  4. Jenna K. February 4, 2015 at 12:15 pm #

    My professional life as a teacher wasn’t influenced so much by how I grew up, other than loving school, but there are definitely skills I developed that I feel kids these days (and some adults) don’t have. For example, my parents kept a map of our city in a desk drawer, pretty much every place we lived (they just changed the map whenever we moved). My brother, who is almost two full years younger than me, and I would pull out this map and map out destinations. We’d fill our backpacks with snacks and drinks, the map, and we’d take our bikes all over our city looking for our destinations. I think the oldest we were when we did this was about 13 and 11. We started doing it when I would earn babysitting money when I was 10 and he was 8 and we would ride our bikes to different food places (ice cream shops, fast food restaurants) and buy French fries, cold drinks and ice cream with my money.

    Perhaps this influenced him as an international PR rep for companies, I don’t know. But I do know that my brother and I knew our communities like the back of our hand, and to this day, despite all the new development, we can find our way around places we used to live without having to resort to GPS or Google maps. I recently moved back to the area we spent the most of our childhood, after being away from it for 20 years, and I haven’t needed the GPS hardly at all.

    Kids these days have no idea how to read maps, but those maps my parents kept were the source for some of the most memorable and fun things my brother and I did.

  5. Donna February 4, 2015 at 12:18 pm #

    Being free range didn’t contribute professionally. But I do think it contributed to my willingness to fly cross-country by myself starting at age 8 (and ditch the flight attendant babysitters as often as I could), backpack in Europe by myself twice, drive cross-country by myself, take a random job on a small South Pacific island where I knew nobody with just my young child, drive us around the entirety of New Zealand by myself rather than taking a tour as all the others did and countless other smaller adventures done alone or with just the accompaniment of a child. And the many that I am dying to do should time and money ever allow.

  6. Jacqueline Simonds February 4, 2015 at 12:50 pm #

    I grew up in 1960s Phoenix, which now seems like some fantasy world. My mother never felt well, and so I was always being encouraged to “go outside and play” rather than make noise in the house. Didn’t matter if it was 120 degrees or 50 out, it was “go outside.”

    I would jump on my bike and go play on “the bumps,” a big pile of dirt at an abandoned construction site. Or I sat way up high at the top of a big orange tree, daydreaming. It was time to come home when my mom blew a marine horn (not kidding). No one cared where I was – which is not to say that no one cared.

    Daydreaming turned into writing (I’m an author and publishing consultant). But my “free range” days also empowered me to try new things, go to new places, set off on an entirely new course when I thought it might be more interesting than the ruts of everyday life.

    It’s true, I don’t have a close relationship with my Mom, the
    way I see my nieces and nephews have with my sisters. But I also watch these kids have near-nervous breakdowns being away at college or separated from their friends for a month.

    I’m not sure “free range” was the best way. But “always under surveillance” seems an excessive response to growing up.

  7. Jen February 4, 2015 at 12:51 pm #

    As a parent, I find it interesting to talk with my mother on this topic. While I feel I was allowed to roam wild with my buddies (My father used to say, “go outside and get the stink blown off” every time he saw me huddled in a corner, nose in a book), my mother has clarified that she and the other parents on the block actually communicated with each other (what a concept!) and they jointly watched out for all the kids and would call each other.

    We all walked as a pack to school – parents notifying each other by phone when we arrived/departed to ensure safety. So – the kids all felt fully free-range, but the parents took care and were still careful. Sure we had our moments of pure freedom that probably freaked out parents (like the time I found cat that had been killed and skinned in a ravine not too far from the house that we all played in frequently), but that upbringing combined with (let’s be honest here) the privilege of a good education and quite a bit of travel during high school independent of my parents, definitely influenced my choices as an adult. We don’t have TV – I can’t stand commercials and won’t have it my home; we bought acreage in the countryside hoping to allow our boys the freedom to explore without the world judging us – which has sort of backfired because I’m scared to death of bears and cougars which are frequent visitors to our home and are sometimes aggressive.

    So, while my background has influenced what I want for my kids, society definitely hampers some of my choices – like letting a child sleep in the car while I run in to get groceries – we can’t even leave our Dog in the car while we go to get groceries anymore. Or, as my mom did to us, if there’s a tantrum while shopping, you can no longer just go put the screaming child in the car to wait until you are through (we’re talking 4 years old and up); instead you either suffer the humiliation of trying to shop with a screaming child, or you have to go home and try to get back out at a better time (not an option when the nearest store is 30 minutes away).

    In any case – I fall on the side of trust with my boys. We focus on teaching common sense and let the learning experiences come. At 2.5 and 5.5, they are allowed to be independent of me while I do what I need to around the house and yard. They are encouraged to help, but if they’d rather poke a slug or explore some mud then it’s encouraged. Someday our home will have a bear proof fence (so expensive but on the list) and then I’ll truly feel like I can tell them to get out and get the stink blown off. 😉

  8. fenu February 4, 2015 at 1:05 pm #

    At nine years old (in the 1950s) my parents allowed me to hunt rabbits with my little 22 caliber rifle near Moose Creek, Alaska. I rememember slipping and falling into the Tanana River once, throwing the rifle back onto dry ground with one arm while the other hand grasped a bush to keep me from being swept away in the current. I didn’t tell them of the severity of my near-fatal slip, but rather explained how i had tripped and fell into a puddle. I remember that my father praised me for having left the rifle’s safety button engaged and for keeping it dry. I went on to traipse around various wilderness areas by myself through the years, having many more survivable slip and falls all over the U.S.A. I now have many scars and a really sturdy hiking stick with a carbon-nitride tip.

  9. Kenny Felder February 4, 2015 at 1:05 pm #

    This is a GREAT IDEA. I would love to see you publish a book of these. Or a separate blog, that might have a sort of HUNY-like appeal. This is for me the hardest part of explaining the free range ideal: explaining why childhood adventures are so important.

    I was fortunate to grow up in a suburban neighborhood with woods behind our house. So my siblings and I spent hours in the woods, exploring paths (and non-paths), climbing trees, getting wet in streams that were probably no deeper than our ankles but you can get really wet in a stream like that if you’re determined to.

    I once found an old stack of Playboys in the woods, muddy and faded and almost unreadable, and I treasured them for years. This may not be the best advertisement for Free Range parenting but it seems to be a common experience among men of my generation, and anyway I would much prefer one of my sons to stumble onto something like that than the things they stumble onto on the Internet.

    I also walked and biked in the other direction: up to Millbrook Road, and then when I was older, across Millbrook Road to the drug store where I bought candy and comic books. I remember walking to the first movie I ever saw with a friend but no adults. (It was “Rocky.”)

    That’s my story. No spectacular adventures, and I hope you will get some that are much more interesting. But it was a childhood, and I want my children to have similar stories to tell.

  10. Reziac February 4, 2015 at 1:20 pm #

    When I was a kid in the 1960s, I’d often go clear across town, several miles, on my bike. I could get there and back under my own power and without a map. Maybe this is why even when I was a green young adult, I could pack up and drive cross-country without the least anxiety about getting there.

  11. Resident Iconoclast February 4, 2015 at 2:16 pm #

    I’m sure, I’d not have learned nearly as much about electronics and vacuum tubes, if they’d kept me away from those 600 Volt power supplies and electronic equipment that I started collecting in the fifth grade.

    And then there was learning to ride motorcycles. Today, that’s no doubt VERBOTEN in many households where the little darlings are coddled and watched like inmates, 24 hours a day.

    And getting into all kinds of mischief, making firecrackers and so on, with my friends in the Summertime, as we became absentee delinquents and gave mom a break from having us around the house. Today, they’d arrest our asses and gratuitously call us “terrorists,” as what we did then now is a serious federal felony.

    When summer was over it was a drag. But for a different reason, unlike today when I’m sure it’s like one jail sentence being lifted, so kids can go back to the other regimented school-to-prison pipeline that they spend 9 months a year at.

    Oh, yeah, and learning to work on the house, climb on the roof, all that stuff that I did when I was 13 years old.

    Mom and Dad would have gotten out of prison, just in time to jump into the cemetery, if I had grown up in these fascist times.

    But then I’m sure, the government thinks today it will have obedient little snots, instead of the cranky, protesting bastards me and my friends were.

    The government’s hyprocrisy is patently evident,in that it locks up parents for leaving kids in cars, preferring to keep them safe so they can send them off at 18 and get them killed in America’s endless wars.

    I’m quite sure the regime will be thrilled, when people like me and my friends drop dead. It’s not just the kids that aren’t the same. The country we once knew is long gone.

  12. Library Momma February 4, 2015 at 2:33 pm #

    I grew up in the San Fernando Valley in the 1970s and 80s. At the time, it was pretty urban but not as much as it is now. In the early 70s, there was a creepy old house on our street, one of those houses that looks like a witch’s house. It wasn’t, of course, and within a year or two was torn down. We were not allowed to play in the vacant lot, but I think we did anyway. Then developers built two houses on the lot.

    I lived on a cul-de-sac, a really long one, and I think that gave our parents a sense of security, so they let us ride our bikes up and down the street and play kickball or baseball or kick the can. I was rather shy, and the kids alternately played with me and then picked on me, but I mostly had a good time, at least for the first four or five years. We rode to the nearby Thrifty’s to buy ice cream and to Taco Bell to buy cheap tacos. These businesses were on really busy streets, not suburban lanes, but somehow we managed to make it home in one piece. I don’t remember my mother hovering over me. Even when the kids were being mean to me, and I’d come inside crying, she’d tell me to get out there and fight back.

    When I was older, maybe around 9 or 10, I visited a friend who lived a few miles away. She lived in an apartment building and her parents were extremely hands-off. I hardly ever saw them around, but my friend’s older brother was around a lot. Maybe her parents figured he’d keep an eye on us, but he spent most of his time listening to music in his room.

    Once, either my mom or hers dropped us off at a movie theater. Whatever movie we thought was playing had ended or wasn’t showing anymore. We had to ask several people for a dime so we could call my mom to get us. Most of the adults we asked just ignored us or were rude. I think I ended up calling collect.

    Another time, we went to the mall and we wanted to come home earlier than planned, so we decided to take the bus. We had no idea when the bus stopped, so we waited a long time before deciding to walk home. It was a long, hot walk. Eventually, we came to a bus stop and a bus arrived soon after, so we rode bus the rest of the way home.

    As we got older and became “boy crazy,” we had some questionable adventures, but we never got hurt or in trouble (in too much trouble, anyway). I don’t think that having more freedom as a child influenced my career choices, but it did give me the confidence to live in the dorm at college when I was 18 and live independently since then. I worry about my son (who just turned 11 years old last month) and doesn’t get the opportunity for the kind of independence that me or my husband had (he grew up in the 60s ).

    My son doesn’t have as much independence in part because where we live (still the SF Valley, which is more crowded and congested now than it was in the 80s) and some of it is the message we receive from the media and the “culture of fear,” which is why I visit Lenore’s blog often, hoping some of her “Free Range” ideas will counteract society’s message that our children are never safe, no matter what.

  13. Amanda Wooldridge February 4, 2015 at 2:50 pm #

    I was born in August 1973 in Vancouver, Washington. I walked five or six blocks to school every day beginning in kindergarten, when I was barley five years old. The only time I remember my mom driving me was the day of the full solar eclipse in 1979, which she kept us home to watch.

    I passed the time riding my bike all around the neighborhood. I pretended I was riding a horse. I had a range of probably about a mile. In addition to walking to school, my mom would regularly send my sister or I to the neighborhood market for milk. Mr. Goody, the market owner, would give us a free piece of candy.

    I usually watched TV before school, but “screen time” was not an issue for me, even after we got an Atari video game system in the mid 80s. I was always thin, even though I ate whenever I got the chance and didn’t normally participate in organized sports.

    I didn’t have very many friends as a kid so I tended to play alone and I wandered around quite a bit. I might play on one of three local play grounds (my school, another elementary school about two miles away or a Catholic church with a playground). The neighborhood was mainly suburban and residential, but there were a few orchards not too far away and sometimes I would cut through them.

  14. lollipoplover February 4, 2015 at 2:51 pm #

    One of my earliest childhood memories from the 70’s was sitting in the basket of my sister’s bike after being sent to Vogel’s market in Stone Harbor, NJ to pick up sandwiches so Mom didn’t have to cook. She spent the summer down the shore with 10 kids. We rode our bikes everywhere on the island. We never used the car. My sister used to buy me an ice cream cone, telling me “Don’t tell mom” and we’d bike the whole island together and spent our days on the beaches, surrounded by tons of kids who were off for the summer. We spent our days fishing, crabbing, surfing, and wandering the beaches, looking for fun. We’d sneak down to the Nun’s Beach (they’re great surfers) and didn’t go home until we were hungry or injured. We drank from the water fountains on the beaches and spent endless hours pranking other water fountain users by stuffing the pipes with seaweed and sand so that it backed up and squirted you in the face. We went to the beach all day, bringing nothing more than a towel, and getting slicked up with Sea and Ski SPF 8 and had deep tans.

    I still try to get to the beach every chance I get. I always ride a bike everywhere. You can see so much more of the island on bike that you can’t see from the confines of a car. Our family takes our bikes everywhere too and prefer old-fashioned beach towns (Chincoteague VA, Folly Beach,SC) where kids can explore by biking, fishing, crabbing, and kayaking. We just lather them up with SPF 50 now. They still get tan.

  15. Neil M. February 4, 2015 at 3:25 pm #

    Let’s see…in 1982 I was thirteen years old, and one summer day, a friend (of the same age) and I decided we wanted to go into Center City Philadelphia with whatever money we had scraped together from our various summer jobs. (Yes, we had jobs!)

    After obtaining permission from our respective parents, we took a half-hour trolley ride from our Southwest Philadelphia neighborhood into the heart of the City of Brotherly Love, where we spent the day walking around, goggling at the skyscrapers (Philly only had a few then), checking out the people in business attire, looking around a few bookstores, and even visiting the William Penn statue at the top of City Hall. This last required a good deal of investigation, as there was minimal signage, so we had to explore the Hall and ask for directions, etc. I’ll never forget the two of us looking down at the city from that great height–in those days, no building was allowed to be taller than the William Penn statue, so we were quite literally at the highest point in Philadelphia!

    This was, obviously, long before mobile phones, and neither one of us was under orders to find a pay phone and report in. We set out on our own, wandered about alone, and came back alone. These days, all our parents would likely be in jail over that trip, but it’s one of the most cherished memories of my childhood.

  16. Bern February 4, 2015 at 3:43 pm #

    Just a typical suburban (Colorado & California) kid in the 60’s – had the run of the place:
    • walked a mile home from school starting in kindergarten, after mom failed to show up one day to give me a ride (she later told me that the teacher said “don’t worry about him – he can find his way home”)
    • played all day (and well after dark) in the creeks and drainage ditches and vacant lots
    • rode bikes all over our little towns
    • on the family camping trips, learned to love streams and rivers (first as places to fish, later as places to simply enjoy being alive)
    • at 12, we rode 20 miles from southern Marin, over the Golden Gate Bridge, thru the Presidio, Golden Gate Park and downtown SF…stashed our bikes behind the Emporium, and walked up and down Market St and Mission St, going thru all the coins in the pawn shops (we were ‘serious’ collectors)…then we went to our favorite hotdog stand, before riding home…
    • at 16, we talked our parents and the school into letting us leave school early to ride from SF to Seattle
    • at 18 we talked our parents into letting us leave school early (we already had enough credits to graduate) so we could ride our bikes around the country
    • at 19 I had a job in a factory making bike parts
    • at 27 I was volunteering to build trails so I could have places to ride my bike
    • at 30 I helped form an organization to train and lead volunteers in trail design, construction and maintenance
    • at 38 I changed careers from factory worker to park field staff, deciding it might be cool to actually get paid for working outdoors
    • at 45, after earning a park management degree and working in parks for several years, I started a consulting company to help land trusts manage their properties (sort of a ‘freelance’ park ranger)
    • at 52 I took a job managing, planning and advocating for regional trails around the SF Bay Area

    So, yeah – maybe there is something to this ‘free range’ deal (Lenore, I quote you and your all the time in the outdoor access biz – hope we can get you out here sometime to address the annual conference of the Bay Area Open Space Council –

  17. Jessica February 4, 2015 at 3:59 pm #

    I was one of five kids and grew up in the suburbs of Detroit. All five of us were close in age (all born between 1980 and 1985, no twins, etc.) and it was nice to be allowed outside to get away from the daily chaos. I rode the bus, but if I stayed late for any reason it was usually a nice walk home, one mile up to third grade and two miles after that. Oh, and it included going down busy streets and across a freeway. When the days were super hot or super cold, I would make sure to take the busy streets where there were lots of stores to duck into and browse while I warmed up/cooled down. Once I walked those two miles in two feet of snow only to get home and realize no one was home and I had no key. I trudged over to a neighbor’s house where they gave me dry socks, warm drinks, and their phone so I could leave a message for my parents when they did get home. I also had a lot of time to just tinker and explore. There were certain tools we weren’t allowed to touch, but the garage was always full of tools and scraps we could muck with however we wanted. Now, looking back, I realize I enjoy messing with things and learning how they work and I have no trouble striking up conversations with whoever I meet during the day to day. It’s definitely interesting to see these things as an effect of being given the freedom to roam.

  18. tz February 4, 2015 at 4:38 pm #

    I can remember two things. First a Chemistry Set. This was in the 1960’s when sputnik pushed STEM and they were NOT safe. They didn’t have really nasty things, but enough. It was apparently some controversy for my parents, since I was young, but smart, but they got it and I had a wonderful Christmas, reading and learning how atoms combined.

    A second one was electronics. I fixed the TVs with tubes and the high voltage. Not fully all the time, but I could get a clear picture that would last a while until the calibration drifted out again.

    Right now there is a move for more “Women in STEM”, but the problem is that with the over protection, the “Safe Science in a box” is not the thing for the naturally curious. One thing about the chemistry set is I wanted to understand things, not just do the experiments on the cards that came with it. I wanted to know what would happen if I mixed any two or more of the chemicals. If I heated them or added water or ignited them. starting around the 8 minute mark has a discussion of what happens when you try to learn things and stay inside the box. I’ve worked and in much of my career the biggest difference is I can go outside the box, find completely new approaches, change what they think are they rules. Most others can only follow the recipes, not create new ones.

    The gap between knowledge and understanding requires a leap – not just crossing a bridge. You don’t simply accept what you are told, you want to understand why.

    It comes together for free range kids here – the stories of the legal system are about nonconformists. It was nonconformists in England that came to the USA that gave us our revolution. It takes the same kind of iconoclasm, or at least willingness to break with the crowd. To not play it safe socially. To risk not being accepted. To not be part of the herd, but to be leader of the pack.

    The danger in having a “free range kid” is not so much that something bad will happen to them, but that they will question authority when in school. “I’m the Teacher, that’s why” won’t be satisfactory. They will want to explore “settled questions”. Government wants to be your nanny, but they won’t see the need for a nanny, nor would like a Governess that is provided. Freedom starts in the mind, or if you believe, in the soul or spirit. If your knowledge and beliefs are spoonfed to you, and you become dependent on that, you aren’t free, but will conform and obey without thinking.

  19. Juluho February 4, 2015 at 6:09 pm #

    Born in 84, my parents gave me the amazing opportunity to be free! I remember at 10 walking down busy county roads to where the overpass met the highway. We played in an off shoot-not-quite-a-river creek that fed into the Ohio River. It was a good 5 miles from my house. I went with my younger brother (6 or 7) and older neighborhood boys. We also spent summers in the treehouses we build without parental supervision! What did I learn? How to be a strong female! Not to be terrified of boys or men or cars. To deal with problems (almost always problems we created!) Like fights with other neighborhood boys, injuries from flipping over handle bars, swinging into trees, avoiding strong currents, and dealing with middle aged grumps that hated us playing in their woods or cutting through their yards, and once almost setting deck on fire.
    I learned how to make mistakes, deal with them on my own or with my peers. It wasn’t always safe, and it wasn’t always innocent. But through freedom and play I began to develop from a little girl into a woman. A strong woman. And it’s made all the difference since 😉

  20. Meredith Dixon February 4, 2015 at 8:04 pm #

    By the time I was four in 1966, I was allowed to play outside by myself at our apartment complex’s playground, which was (just) out of sight of our apartment. So, for that matter, were all the other kids. I was also allowed to play in the woods behind my grandmother’s house (owned by family members, in earshot but well out of sight of any family houses).

    By the time I was six in 1968, I was allowed to go Christmas shopping all by myself in a seven-story department store downtown. My mother drove me there, of course, but she simply told me to meet her “under the clock” (an obvious landmark) at such-and-such a time, which I did.

    Oddly, a few years later, probably in 1971 or 1972, the store instituted a “Fawn Shop” for little children, a roped-off and tented bit of floor space where children could go to buy presents out of sight of their parents without being unsupervised. I was rightly scornful of this new innovation. I remember I was just young enough to be allowed in, so I must have been nine or ten. It was terribly crowded and very, very boring to someone who had had the run of the whole department store for years.

  21. fred schueler February 4, 2015 at 8:30 pm #

    We were certainly free-range, and continue to be badgered by our children for being so much so –

    Perhaps the thing that was the most influential was the serial publication of the Peterson ‘Field Guides,’ through the 1960s, so I ran after each taxon as its Guide came out – Birds, herps, Mammals, trees & shrubs, ferns, seashells, wild flowers, etc. In the light of the recent foops about leaving kids in cars, my pivotal moment was alone in a car behind a grocery store in Danbury Connecticut in 1955 when I realized that male and female English Sparrows, even though I could tell them apart, were only one ‘species’ for my list; this is the kind of thing I’ve been fretting about ever since.

  22. Abigail February 4, 2015 at 11:27 pm #

    I went from farm to college town as my parents started their adventure of higher education. Three kids, full-time school & full-time jobs meant we were often left to our own devices. We rode our bikes all over town. In all these adventures our neighbors and members of our community became the extended family my parents needed. The relationship cultivated in our interest allowed us freedom and safety. I went off to college and started on a path of gerontology (most of those looking out for us were little old ladies!). I ended up a community nutritionist – I believe healthy communities are comprised of individuals who strive to support and uplift one another. I know this is true because my community enabled my entire family to reach new heights in education and service to those around us.

  23. hineata February 4, 2015 at 11:40 pm #

    They didn’t really, except that I had an eclectic childhood, playing all over the place and with all kinds of things, and I love that about teaching. Also I guess, coming from a bump on the map and with people from pretty rich to rather poor and with very different levels of education all stuck in the same place, I learnt that everyone has value. And not to be scared of drunks :-).

  24. Betsy February 5, 2015 at 3:38 am #

    I grew up in Long Island in the 80s and 90s. Everything I did was about a mile away so I walked a lot: school, sports, friends houses, work. My parents hardly ever drove me anywhere. They were confident that I could handle myself and find my way around, which I did. Plus they thought the fresh air and exercise was good for me. I spent countless hours thinking and daydreaming on those walks. I think the downtime was a good thing. I had a few incidents where I was approached by perverts (one exposed himself and more right in front of me!), but I didn’t get scared. I never told an adult. From those experiences I learned that not every pervert is a serial killer or rapist. Some people are just harmless creeps. I kind of felt sorry for those guys and I still do. With my own (school-age) children, I give them lots of freedom. They love nature and fishing. They use pocketknives and machetes in the nearby woods. They ride dirt bikes and four wheelers. But they don’t go far. I think they find it unusual that they are free to roam the family farm. They don’t know any other kids who can do that; indeed, they don’t know anyone who can cross the street without mom or dad’s say-so. I give them freedom but I also give them something I didn’t have: warmth and empathy. I know my parents were intentional about making me self-reliant, which I appreciate, but I sometimes felt like no one cared. Free-range doesn’t mean just throwing your kids out there and hoping they’ll figure it out. It doesn’t mean not caring about their problems. For me, it means allowing some problems to happen (not preventing them), then if needed, lending a listening and supportive ear and helping them to problem-solve. My kids know their parents care and they feel secure, but they don’t expect us to solve their problems for them. Tattling is practically nonexistent in our home. (That said, at school my Kindergartener has been taught to tell an adult if anyone so much as lays a hand on him! We had to talk to him about that…) I don’t work outside the home, but I am building on the carefree childhood my parents gave me and I am telling anyone who will listen about Lenore’s blog and Free Range Parenting. There is so much helicoptering and fear here in Maryland and I hope to change at least a few people’s minds about what their children are capable of once they are empowered and given some freedom.

  25. Dan Coates February 5, 2015 at 3:09 pm #

    I was born in the late 60’s on a farm in rural Saskatchewan. At the age of 7 I had a .22 rifle, a horse (Chestnut) and a motorcycle. I don’t think that CPS would have approved and thankfully I was well off of their radar.

    I was expected to keep myself busy and occupied with these simple tools, creating imaginative ways to keep myself entertained. I’d strike out early in the morning with a packed lunch and would return (just) in time for dinner, telling wild stories of all my adventures and discoveries. My parents nicknamed me the ‘packrat’ and bemoaned the fact that every day would bring more arrowheads, fossils, petrified wood and ‘junk’ into our house.

    Like a lot of farm kids, I was expected to make a contribution. We picked the rocks out of fields (they damage farm implements), we hunted gophers (they eat the contents of grain silos) and we fed livestock: cattle, horses, chickens, etc. Everything we received was tied somehow to what we contributed and it always felt good to earn what we were given.

    Nowadays, I work in Manhattan – it’s a long way from Saskatchewan. Ypulse is the 6th company that I’ve created and it has been a long, painstaking process dragging this small business that employs 15 people through a sluggish recovery. While past companies grew faster, Ypulse seems the most meaningful – what success we have achieved was truly earned.

    I’ve never doubted whether my parents loved me. They loved me so much that they set aside any emotions or concerns about danger or accidents to make sure that I had the skills that I needed to become a strong and independent person. I’m pretty sure that had I been coddled or over-protected as a child, I would have developed less of an ability to envision the world that I wanted to create and less confidence in my ability to create it. It’s not enough to encourage children how to ‘dream’ – they need the skills required to ‘do’. The ability to ‘do’ requires real-world experiences involving skinned knees, bruises, broken bones and, in one case, having duck-egg embryo injected into my stomach wall for 10 successive days after being bitten by a gopher.

    Growing up under blue skies with nothing to draw upon but a few simple tools, my boundless imagination and the space to try and fail and then try again has provided me with all that I need to be an entrepreneur. I’m grateful that I experienced this and try in small, societally acceptable ways to instill independence and confidence in my three children.

    N.B.: To date, none of my children own horses, motorcycles or guns, but they’ve taken riding lessons, have gone target shooting and ride their bicycles anywhere and everywhere they go.

  26. Tsu Dho Nimh February 6, 2015 at 1:46 pm #

    As well as letting us free-range over 70-100 square miles … including a couple of creeks and a river and some mountains with bears, and pastures with bulls, and lambs.

    My dad did not “clean” fish or pheasants or big game. If he had an interested child, he dissected it, explaining the innards and how they worked and checking the crop and stomach contents to see what had been recently eaten.

    He also augmented our awesome 1950s chemistry set with things he ordered from suppliers and showed us how to make things that went BOOM!

    Led to my life-time interest in science and medicine.

  27. Rachael February 6, 2015 at 2:16 pm #

    I grew up in the ’80s and ’90s too, in Cincinnati, OH. I was the oldest of five kids in a working class family. My mom stayed at home with us but she was far too busy with the younger kids to have time to hover over us older ones. As a third grader I walked .4 miles to school along with my brother and other kids in the neighborhood. We crossed several busy streets. We raced around the neighborhood on our bikes. Once when I needed a haircut at about the age of 11, my mom gave me money and sent me on my own to the shopping center half a mile away. During the summer my brother and I walked to the pool a mile away from the time we were about 10 and 7, respectively. (I’ll never forget the time I was made to come inside the pool office, sit down and sew my membership number to my bathing suit as I was wearing it.) The two of us also went door to door all over the neighborhood selling fundraiser candy bars for our school. When it snowed we were all over, shoveling the driveways of anybody who would pay us. It was fun to have our own adventures and make our own money.

    It would never have occurred to our parents to keep us inside or drive us everywhere themselves. We were pushed to be independent from an early age just because it was the most practical thing for the family. As far as strangers went, we were told to never go anywhere with anyone we didn’t know, and to scream and run if we had to. That was it. Sometimes I envied the kids whose parents seemed to coddle them, letting them sit in their heated cars until the bell rang for school to start. But I’m so grateful my mom never did that, and my husband and I are both dedicated to trying to make our childhoods look as much like mine, and his, as we possibly can.

  28. Diana Erbio February 6, 2015 at 7:42 pm #

    During the 60s anc 70s I could ride my bike to the library to pick up books that broadened my world, ride to the candy store and yes, buy sugar laden treats paid for with money I earned babysitting,and ride to the beach to hang out with friends without adult supervision. That freedom was important and contributed greatly to becoming the independent minded adult and parent I would one day become. I fear that children today are not allowed to experience that freedom. They need that experience to become independent adults. As a society we must not deny our children that opportunity to be free.

  29. Mandy February 7, 2015 at 12:27 am #

    My parents were not very free-range by the then-current standards, but very much so by today’s. I was allowed to roam the neighborhood starting from about 7, with gradually-increasing boundaries. I walked home from school most days (about a mile), and later biked. If mom did pick up, I made her wait at the park across the street so none of the other kids would see.
    At 7, I would go in the cow field down the road, catch frogs, snakes, and lizards. Found a nest of duck eggs, brought them home and we made an incubator to see if they’d hatch (they didn’t). Tried to ride the horse. Met the “scary” old lady when we climbed on her roof to pick grapefruit, made a friend I kept for years. As a teenager, took a family trip to Boston, and my parents gave me and my younger sister a map and a meeting point (pre cell phones).
    At 17, I backpacked around Europe with just my girlfriend. Yes, we got into some mischief but nothing serious. Married the starter husband at 22 and traveled 3 continents with him. In grad school did a semester in China with just one other white chick, and the 2 of us traveled alone during our break. Our “handlers” literally fell on the floor laughing when they finally understood we wanted to go without a tour group.
    Decided to divorce, and within 3 months had a new job on the other coast in a city where I knew 1 person, then drove cross-country alone. A year later bought a practice in a subspecialty that most of my colleagues don’t understand. Online dating found me a new husband, back when online dating was weird.
    Being encouraged to explore and problem-solve, along with my parents’ insistence that I be able to be financially independent of a man, led to my interest in science and travel. My excellent spatial skills were definitely honed by moving myself through my environment.
    As an employer, it’s getting harder and harder to find young people who can think!

  30. Mandy February 7, 2015 at 12:33 am #

    Forgot to add, that throughout my life, I was often told how adventurous I was, and I always thought the people telling me were crazy, because it didn’t feel anything but normal to me. I always yearned to be more free and not care as much as I did about responsibility and what people thought. Only nearing 40, I see how lucky I was that my parents were the right amount of protective.

  31. JP Merzetti February 7, 2015 at 11:34 am #

    Oh my.
    What a lovely question.
    I could write a book.
    I’m a creative artist, a musician, a songwriter.
    I don’t think I’d be any of those things if not for the imagination I exercised as a kid.
    I was all boy. I roamed…far and wide. My first hitchiking experience was at the age of 7. (9 miles down the highway out of town and back again.)
    More than half of all the roaming I did was solo. At my own speed, in my own way, and to my own whims. Equally comfortable as a loner, and with friends.
    I discovered the natural world….quietly. (I still talk to animals all the time.)
    My wandering career started at the age of 4.
    It still hasn’t ended.
    Perhaps….the greatest gift from all that freedom – was a boy’s curiosity that has stayed with me my whole life.
    To want to know….find out….explore….something new.

    Relation to space: your community, your neighborhood…and to know it in an intimate kind of way…as an old familiar.
    Of course, as many mention – this all breeds a self-confidence and easy relaxation in navigating around the world – meeting people – recognizing and knowing the difference between potential danger and anything else.

    Noticing things: attention to detail. Learning how to really look. Comfort with your own company….all by-products of freedom learned young.
    Perhaps that in itself is high on the list. Understanding the value of freedom…and the accountability that accompanies it.