That Gigantic New York Times Piece about Free Play

In yhhhnsfhbi
Silicon Valley, a dad named Mike Lanza wanted to create for his three sons the same kind of Free-Range childhood he’d enjoyed as a kid
back in Pittsburgh in the ’70s: Time with buddies, having adventures, riding bikes and goofing around.
Since this is the 21st century and childhood is so much more supervised and organized, he decided to turn his home into a bastion of freedom and community. So he did something I just love: in a neighborhood of where the average home is $2 million, he placed a picnic table on his front lawn. He and his family ate there often, inspiring exactly the kind of give-and-take you’d expect: People meeting, talking, getting to know each other. 
This gargantuan New York Times article by Melanie Thernstrom describes the “Playborhood” that Lanza developed — a sort of playground that attracts a lot of local kids, who play in what sounds like a rough approximation of the way they’d play if they were in the woods:
He consciously transformed his family’s house into a kid hangout, spreading the word that local children were welcome to play in the yard anytime, even when the family wasn’t home. Discontented with the expensive, highly structured summer camps typical of the area, Mike started one of his own: Camp Yale, named after his street, where the kids make their own games and get to roam the neighborhood.
“Think about your own 10 best memories of childhood, and chances are most of them involve free play outdoors,” Mike is fond of saying. “How many of them took place with a grown-up around?”
I ask that very question at my own lectures sometimes, and everyone laughs. Almost all of today’s parents remember their childhood freedom intensely, longingly, and when pressed, they usually say they wished they could give it to their own kids but don’t know how.
Lanza’s insight was to realize that if he made a place where kids could be pretty sure they’d usually find other kids, children would naturally come outside and start playing. He and I both agree with psychologist  Peter Gray that when kids are organizing their own games — making the teams, deciding the rules, inventing some new challenge — they are learning far different life skills than they learn in organized activities. Skills like communication, creativity, and compromise, often along with some basic risk-taking.  
Gray visited Lanza’s home earlier this year and even trailed the oldest Lanza boy, Marco, age 11. On his Psychology Today blog, Freedom to Learn, Gray writes:
Mike lent me a bicycle so I could follow Marco and his friend on this trip, which I did, from a distance, with the boys’ kind permission.  I saw how gracefully they performed scooter tricks in driveways and on steps as they made their way to the park; I watched as they stopped at a bicycle shop on the way, where Marco, on his own, got an inner tube that he needed for some project he was working on at home; and I also saw how careful the boys were when they crossed the busy multilane street they had to cross to get to the park.  At the park, Marco and his friend seemed to be the only kids their age or younger who were not attended by an adult. I felt a vicarious thrill as I watched them make their scooters dive and leap at the park.
Mike believes that Marco would not be the physically and socially competent boy he now is if it were not for his (Mike’s) efforts in creating the playborhood.  In a recent essay (here) he presents evidence that social skills did not come easily or naturally to Marco.  It was only through regular, daily experience at play with others that he learned to be socially competent and confident. 
Free play is not a frivolous extracurricular that can be dropped from a child’s busy schedule. It may actually be the key to resilience and ingenuity — not to mention joy. So I am extremely glad Lanza came up with a way (and a book) to give it back to this generation. Other people in other towns are encouraged to try something similar. So I am on board with him — except for the fact that he also lets kids climb on the roof of his home. A male friend I discussed this with told me, “Roofs call out to boys the way mountains do.” 
A female friend and I agreed we’d never want our kids on the roof. Period.
But let’s not lose track of the bigger picture, which is that the Playborhood inspired ten trillion words in The Times because the once heartwarming sight of kids playing on their own has become so unusual.
As a society, we have pretty much declared ALL unsupervised time unsafe. Parents get harassed and even arrested for letting their kids walk to school, or play outside, thanks to a mindset that equates freedom with danger. That means many kids don’t get ANY unstructured, unsupervised time. Without it, they are losing out on the very confidence and competence that Marco seems to enjoy.
The Free-Range idea is not to court danger. We are not negligent. We are not daredevils. We are allowed to set whatever limits make sense to us. But we are also mindful of the fact that a childhood drained of absolutely all risk, even the risk of walking to the bus stop, is a new and dangerous (!) idea. We believe we can actually make our kids too safe to succeed.
Free time was the great gift our culture used to give children. The Free-Range goal is to give kids back at least a fraction of the healthy, happy, horizon-expanding, creativity-boosting, entrepreneur-growing, resilience-building freedom that made America so successful.
And its children so happy. – L. 


Is there a way to get kids back outside, making their own fun, unsupervised, unstructured, untrophied?

Is there a way to get kids back outside, making their own fun, unsupervised, unstructured, untrophied?


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56 Responses to That Gigantic New York Times Piece about Free Play

  1. BL October 21, 2016 at 8:26 am #

    “Think about your own 10 best memories of childhood, and chances are most of them involve free play outdoors,” Mike is fond of saying. “How many of them took place with a grown-up around?”


    “He and I both agree with psychologist Peter Gray that when kids are organizing their own games — making the teams, deciding the rules, inventing some new challenge — they are learning far different life skills than they learn in organized activities”

    Yes!! Yes!!

    “Free play is not a frivolous extracurricular that can be dropped from a child’s busy schedule. It may actually be the key to resilience and ingenuity — not to mention joy.”

    Yes!!! Yes!!! Yes!!!

  2. delurking October 21, 2016 at 8:54 am #

    Did you read the last sentence of the article?

  3. Cara October 21, 2016 at 9:09 am #

    i haven’t read the article, but I did read another post about it. The article and comments called him sexist because he ‘only cared about boys’ (I guess having the gall to only have male children is sexist) and ‘creepy’ because he wanted kids to play in his yard.

  4. Workshop October 21, 2016 at 9:30 am #

    “Cognitive dissonance” – you can see lots of examples in the comments.

    I found it hilarious that, upon scrolling down Dr. Gray’s article, there was an ad for “Velo Junior” which apparently helps toddlers learn to balance. It’s kinda like a scooter-thing, and the little girl (? it’s so hard to tell with today’s emphasis on gender neutrality despite the fact that xx and xy chromosome pairs still exist) is wearing a helmet.

    Gotta love advertising scripts. . . .

    And for the record, yes, roofs call out to boys. No, I don’t let my boys play on the roof. However, I will note that until some miraculous technological revolution occurs, someone still needs to go up and hammer down the shingles. In all my years I’ve never met a roofer with the XX chromosome pair.

  5. K October 21, 2016 at 9:52 am #

    It’s funny, I read the post and thought “Of course roofs should be off-limits! That’s basic common sense, not helicoptering!”

    And then I remembered how much time I spend on the roof as an adolescent. It was the not-very-steep roof of a one-story porch, easily accessible through the window of my second story bedroom. You would easily survive most falls. (No one ever fell, but jumping off that roof was actually my plan to escape if there were ever a fire in our house such that I couldn’t get out of my bedroom through the door.) Being 12-year-old girls, not 8-year-old boys, we mostly went out there to read, gossip, or just hang out, not run around. My parents would occasionally hear from a neighbor who drove by and called them, shocked, to ask, “Did you know K is on the roof?” They knew.

  6. bob magee October 21, 2016 at 10:15 am #

    Yeah, roofs.

    I used to climb on the roof of our house in Massapequa (on Long Island) during nice weather to read while enjoying a fantastic view of The Great South Bay.

    In fact when we filmed our own version of “The Tortoise and the Hare” (little brother of 4 vs the next door running back for the local HS football team) we knew the opening shot HAD to be from the roof of the house. Only way to get the crowd scene properly filmed.

    And of course needed to go up there for wiffle balls, frisbies and other objects that flew thru the air

  7. BL October 21, 2016 at 10:17 am #

    Hmmm. I don’t ever remember climbing roofs as a boy.

    Trees, yes. Even big high trees. Not roofs.

  8. Meg October 21, 2016 at 10:29 am #

    The comments are funny, in their own judgmental way.

    The man in question was a boy growing up, relating to his own boyhood. He also has sons. He can’t very well talk about daughters he doesn’t have. And if he did say “I’m encouraging all the girls in the neighborhood to hang out at my house” they would accuse him of being a pedophile.

  9. Diana Auerhammer October 21, 2016 at 10:32 am #

    Fabulous! As for the questions about my ten best memories of childhood….none of them involved grownups and most of them involved a bicycle far from home without Mom or Dad knowing the specifics of where we were. All we knew was when to be home for the next meal and all they needed to know was that we were reliable and, as far as I can remember, always made it home on time. I am thrilled for parents making the switch from fear based parenting to freedom for them and their kids. We were fortunate enough to raise our children in the 7″0s and 80s in rural Montana, in the woods, and….free range. They frequently mention their loved memories of that and once my daughter commented, “Mom, you have know idea how far off we went sometimes.” I have to admit I had a micro moment when I hear that but it vanished quickly and I am so glad we were able to give them such a childhood. They are creative and adventurous now and not afraid to do things without predictable outcomes.

  10. lollipoplover October 21, 2016 at 10:35 am #

    “Think about your own 10 best memories of childhood, and chances are most of them involve free play outdoors,” Mike is fond of saying. “How many of them took place with a grown-up around?”


    My best memories included teaching myself to ride a banana seat bike at age 5, alone, out in front of my house. Playing in the acres of woods behind our house and digging in the creek beds for treasures to find early 20th century pharmacy bottles (we later discovered it was an old dump!), wandering through yards and eating from apple trees or other finds (anyone eat honeysuckle nectar?), sledding headfirst wearing trash bags down Suicide Hill. We had many wonderful experiences with our parents, but my favorite memories were with my friends and siblings. The best things in life really are free.

  11. TheOtherAnna October 21, 2016 at 10:40 am #

    I’m a girl. I (and my friends) climbed roofs whenever an opportunity presented itself. Stop with the sexism.

  12. Qute October 21, 2016 at 10:53 am #

    I think the guy is great. Nice way to try and bring back some of that adventurousness that used to exists with hours of free time on our hands.

    I’m so irritated at so many of the comments or response articles I’ve read since then though. He is NOT sexist. He is explaining and acknowledging that boys are different than girls. This does not mean he thinks they are unequal but rather that he respects the needs that boys have. Additionally, as others have pointed out, as he only HAS boys of course that’s what he’s worried about.

    Being the mom of three boys I find myself in this delicate balance between things that promote the strength, equality and power of females (cuz, duh! Former little girl here) and railing against the need to put boys down in order to raise girls up. I hate sitcoms that show dads as bumbling idiots, the cultural ideal that moms are always right and always do it best. Why would I want my boys to grow up to be considered either morons or savages? Boys (based on my experiences with my boys) are loud and rambunctious and headstrong and loving and caring and little human tornadoes. Girls (based on my experiences with my several nieces) are determined and quieter and powerful and thoughtful and silly and loving and caring and both of these sets of qualities are good and okay. Yes, some boys are quiet and thoughtful and some girls are loud and rambunctious and that’s okay too.

    How about we stop telling everyone how boys and girls should behave and just get the hell out of the way? Let’s teach them both how to be decent human beings, how to respect everyone, how to behave, how to cook and clean and balance a checkbook. Everything doesn’t have to be gender neutral but both genders need to be treated respectfully.

  13. John B. October 21, 2016 at 12:22 pm #


    “At the park, Marco and his friend seemed to be the only kids their age or younger who were not attended by an adult.”

    “….because the once heartwarming sight of kids playing on their own has become so unusual.”

    These statements are so very true nowadays. Once in awhile in my neighborhood, I’ll see a young 8-year-old boy or girl out riding their bike and then I’ll think, finally, a kid outside on his own, riding his bike just like we used to! But then upon closer examination, I always see the kid’s mother on her bike trailing about 30 or 40 yards behind them. We seem to have this mindset that kids that young just cannot be out riding their bikes and/or walking any distance from their house without adult supervision.

    How and why did we ever get to this point??

  14. Rebelmom October 21, 2016 at 12:25 pm #

    I’ve got two girls that love roofs. We have friends over and the ones whose parents are okay with it let their kids (actually also girls) go up, too. They’ve been taught it’s not a place to play tag and such but it is an awesome place to draw, sing or have a group breakfast. So fun!

  15. Sam October 21, 2016 at 12:58 pm #

    Great that the Times offered front-page space to this topic. But the article itself is disappointing. Few people are interested in a guy with a two million dollar property, a collection of Stanford degrees, and an ability to spend his days at home. And indeed, what he’s done is a bit artificial and attention-seeking.

    There was no coverage of three main issues that conspire against kids and have to be addressed systemically: 1) policy and attitudes of the authorities including school and local officials, 2) urban planning and traffic enforcement, and 3) flawed risk assessment by individuals and in the media, including this very article (where the author is not challenged when she states that she’d refuse a one-in-a-million risk of a rare danger but would willingly drive her child in a car).

  16. Donna October 21, 2016 at 1:13 pm #

    I was not that enthralled with Mike or his home. Maybe it is just that the author didn’t like him so it came across in the article, but I thought he sounded like an irresponsible, misogynistic asshole. Personally, I wouldn’t want my kid playing at his house. I am all for free play, but these are kids – some of them very young – and they do need some limits. This guy strikes me a lot like the “cool” parents who allow their teens to throw keg parties and I don’t want my kid hanging out at that house either.

  17. WendyW October 21, 2016 at 1:26 pm #

    Years ago, I used to follow this man’s blog. I always felt that he was providing the kind of childhood adventures that I wished I had been able to provide for my boys (my youngest is several years older than his oldest, and being a family of introverts, we just wouldn’t invite the whole neighborhood into our sanctuary.) The attitude displayed in that article is way different than what came across in his blog. Maybe, being female, I just don’t have the same mindset re: potential danger, but I do think he needs to draw a few lines a bit closer to the ground. I played on our roof as a kid, my sons have played on roofs, but jumping from a roof to a trampoline? That is pure recklessness and asking for an accident. He does come across as a bit too cavalier. I bet every insurance adjuster that read that article is checking to see if their company holds his homeowner’s policy and if they can triple his rates. Sooner or later they are going to have to pay out.

  18. lollipoplover October 21, 2016 at 1:53 pm #

    “In Mike’s worldview, boys today (his focus is on boys) are being deprived of masculine experiences by overprotective moms, who are allowed to dominate passive dads. Central to Mike’s philosophy is the importance of physical danger: of encouraging boys to take risks and play rough and tumble and get — or inflict — a scrape or two. Central to what he calls mom philosophy (which could just be described as contemporary parenting philosophy) is just the opposite: to play safe, play nice and not hurt other kids or yourself. Most moms are not inclined to leave their children’s safety up to chance. I certainly am not.”

    Mom philosophy?

    Overprotective is a characteristic in both sexes. Raising both boys and girls and seeing lots of different parenting styles, this happens from both parents irregardless of sex. While I am all for free play and our backyard has a standard play structure that’s been transformed into an American Ninja Warrior course by a group of teenage boys(salmon ladder included), we generally try to avoid real physical danger (ER copay on a non-Silicon Valley salary, unfortunately). I am all for play and our neighborhood rather organically has places and wild spaces still used for our kids to play (lots of fishing around here). Some families have their own sets of rules and values and we raise our kids to respect them, not put them down. I’d be mortified if my kid was taunting another child when they were too afraid to do something.
    While I’m happy free play is being talked about and the need to allow freedom from adult supervision, free range kids shouldn’t be jerks.

  19. Vaughan Evans October 21, 2016 at 1:59 pm #

    If we want children to play unstructured-they need a foundation of knowledge.
    -They need adult mentorship-in the rules of games.
    -Adults can explain HOW to be good participants-e.g. when it is someone’s turn to pick up the jacks-the other players observed silence

    -How to be empathetic-to children who are different from themselves-be considerate-but non-condescending
    -how o make a game friendly-for people of different ages-and at the same time avoid condescending
    -when both sexes are playing games-when SHOULD a boy play less roughly to a girl or smaller boy?
    -I taught game called “Run, Sheep, Run! to the children in my neighbourhood in 1979.
    Soon the WHOLE of the local school is playing it.
    _I am planning to make a movie-about how the game spread through the community-(it also spread to adjacent schools
    -The money from this movie(It might net $100,000,000.will be used-to provide services that help children.

    NOTE: I live in the Canadian Province of British Columbia
    (British Columbia is Canada’s Pacific province.)
    -Because yearly incomes are dwindling, the province is not procuring sufficient money-from income tax, corporation tax, sales tax, and mineral royalties.

    For this reason, school boards have had to make cutbacks-(The Vancourer School Board had a budget cut of $21, million
    (Vancouver, the largest City in my province has 630,000 people.
    Surrey, the second largest city has 478,0000 people.

    -If you want a copy of my song “The Ballad of ‘Run, Sheep, Run” please let me know
    -If you send your snail mail address I could mail you a copy..

    Surrey, the next bigget city has $478.000

  20. lollipoplover October 21, 2016 at 2:03 pm #

    I’m going to leave this video for those girls who love a good roof:

    Her fans are the best part.
    I relate more to this type of awesomeness in backyard play!

  21. Katie October 21, 2016 at 2:26 pm #

    Well the man does actually come off a bit sexist, not the parts about him talking about what boys need but him blaming everything on moms when dads are clearly part of the problem nowadays too, plus the whole “man-cave” thing always raises my hackles, as an artist mom who needs tons of alone time. Like all the women I know are crafty creators yet the men are the ones insisting they get their own caves. My husband’s not American and doesn’t seem to know about this man-cave business, I think it’s only an American male thing and it’s honestly weird.

    Other than that what he’s doing is cool – but as someone in the comments section there said, if he wants to live where this type of parenting is common, why did he move to an extremely wealthy area in SILICON VALLEY lol. Even if I’m a millionaire I ain’t never moving to a rich area in California, ha!

  22. Michael Fandal October 21, 2016 at 2:41 pm #

    I love it! I lived next to Coney Island beach and one winter when the iced ocean broke up into pieces floating. Near the shore I got on one and when it started to drift to deeper water I jumped off and up to my waist I walked out. Instead of saluting my adventure and risk taking she poked fun at how I panicked. I learned early how to cut bait when unforeseen happens. Could kids do that today? Unlikely. Plus we bicycled on the boardwalk in pairs having a cool time

  23. Kirsten October 21, 2016 at 3:42 pm #

    Was it here I first read about that primary school in New Zealand where the playground has no rules? It reminds me a lot of this and it sounds fantastic! I am not yet willing to move to New Zealand before I have children, but I thought about it for a second. It’s called Swanson Primary School in Auckland, NZ. Outdoors they have fields, sheds, trees, warehouses, giant tires and junk lying around, big stacks of boards along with nails and hammers, etc. And the kids are allowed to do *whatever they want* at recess. I watched a whole documentary on it on Youtube.

    This guy’s yard sounds great. I would have loved that. As a child my favorite memories are of one summer camp I went to that was a farm and acres and acres of woods, a pond, and fields of fruit trees. There was virtually no supervision or scheduled activities. They just dropped you off there and you wandered around deciding what you felt like doing. I loved that because I was a loner and I had a phobia of organized games like Red Rover for some reason. They simply terrified me. Maybe because I had hearing problems at an early age and could never figure out what was going on. And I always felt like I would be humiliated. But at this camp it was like paradise, like the Garden of Eden. I would wander from field to field eating peaches, pears, apples, etc. Then explore the woods by myself, ultimately coming across some kids building a treehouse whom I stopped and helped for a while. Boy was that amazing. I don’t think my parents realized just how little supervision there was. I could go the whole day without seeing an adult. The only organized activities were wrestling (at lunchtime for some reason) and one wonderful time we got to ride horses and play “Fox Hunt” where some teenage kids acted as the fox and hounds. All I knew was that I got to ride alone through the woods on my horse, like an early explorer or a 19th century outlaw.

  24. Mark of Melbourne October 21, 2016 at 3:49 pm #

    Lenore, when I read articles like this, I cry for what our children have lost – their freedom. I cry for what we, the adults of this world have done for and to them, made them fearful of their own world. I cry for the simple joys many will never experience, the freedom to be themselves, to discover, to imagine, to explore, to make their own rules, to make their own friends, to play their own way, to test their own limits, to discover their own boundaries. To bruise their knees, cut their fingers, fall over, break bones, get hurt in some misguided adventure that was just a whole lotta fun. There is a joy in childhood, the simple joy of just being a child, before we become adults with all our responsibilities, that if we do not let our children experience, then it is lost forever. Raising kids to be anxious, fearful and distrusting of the big bad world, turns them into anxious, stressed out adults who never experience real joy themselves. The only way to raise strong, free and ultimately responsible children who become free, strong and responsible adults, is to let them have the childhood they deserve, the childhood that is their birthright, the childhood you so strongly promote.

  25. theresa October 21, 2016 at 3:49 pm #

    And I’m pretty sure that if someone did need help the other kids would be able to find it.

  26. EricS October 21, 2016 at 4:10 pm #

    The only thing kids should be busy doing, is being kids. Not the “kids” their parents want them to be. But the kids they learn to be, through natural child play and interaction of the outside world. After homework and chores of course.

  27. James Pollock October 21, 2016 at 4:39 pm #

    “The only thing kids should be busy doing, is being kids. Not the “kids” their parents want them to be. But the kids they learn to be, through natural child play and interaction of the outside world. After homework and chores of course.”

    Ever read “Lord of the Flies”?

  28. Donna October 21, 2016 at 4:42 pm #

    The problem with all of this to me is that it isn’t free range; it is simply lawlessness.

    Yes, when I was a kid, I had free time to run with my friends. That was fun. But that was us getting away, not us taking over the house. At no point during my childhood were kids just allowed to do whatever they wanted to at home – anyone’s home – while the adults just sat back and ignored it. Home was where we got the instruction on how to be respectable individuals so that we could be trusted to go out into the world and behave properly. It wasn’t where we were allowed to jump off of roofs and beat each other silly.

  29. James Pollock October 21, 2016 at 6:12 pm #

    Donna, the rules of the house are the rules of the house, and if the rules of the house are “no rules”, then those are the rules (paradoxically).

    In my youth, parents could be divided into three groups… “strict”, “free”, and “absent”. The strict set had rules like “no boys upstairs”, “no boys inside if you’re unchaperoned”, “ask permission before you go anywhere, and if you go somewhere else, call to ask for permission first”, and “no”. The free set had rules, but they were more freedom-oriented… instead of “ask permission before you go anywhere”, it would be “tell me where you are” or even just “be back by (time)”. Absent parents were, well, highly variable. Some of them had lots and lots of rules, which may or may not have been observed, some had fewer rules, but quite firm. What they all had was kids who were responsible for keeping and enforcing whatever rules there were.

    That’s where climbing onto and jumping off things happened. That’s where experimentation with the liquor cabinet’s contents happened, too, and some things that are federal felonies if photographed. But yeah, these things all happened in someone’s home.

    Other stuff happened outside of homes… car tag, car surfing, in our case, some light non-destructive vandalism. But there was definitely some things that a homeowner would not have fully approved of, within some of the homes (even, sometimes, the homes of the “strict” parents. One of the possible reasons to climb on roofs is to ingress/egress…

  30. Donna October 21, 2016 at 8:33 pm #

    “That’s where climbing onto and jumping off things happened. That’s where experimentation with the liquor cabinet’s contents happened, too, and some things that are federal felonies if photographed. But yeah, these things all happened in someone’s home.”

    Which would be relevant if we were talking about absent parents and kids flaunting the rules of the house. That has happened as long as there have been children. This is the younger kid version of parents inviting all their kid’s friends over, throwing open the liquor cabinet, and telling them to help themselves while they sit back and ignore what is going on around them.

  31. James Pollock October 21, 2016 at 9:15 pm #

    ” This is the younger kid version of parents inviting all their kid’s friends over, throwing open the liquor cabinet, and telling them to help themselves while they sit back and ignore what is going on around them.”

    The rules of the house are the rules of the house. The owner of the house gets to decide what the rules of the house are. If you don’t the rules of the house, don’t go there.

    If you trust your kids to do the right thing when you’re not there, this is not a problem… they’re doing the right thing even though you’re not there, right?

  32. Donald Christensen October 21, 2016 at 9:53 pm #

    I just ordered the book. I now have a new dream. I want to to the same. Some people dream about owning a Ferrari. I’m going to start dreaming about buying a house and putting a picnic table in the front yard. I bought the book to help me visualise it.

  33. Donald Christensen October 21, 2016 at 10:14 pm #

    “The man in question was a boy growing up, relating to his own boyhood. He also has sons. He can’t very well talk about daughters he doesn’t have. And if he did say “I’m encouraging all the girls in the neighborhood to hang out at my house” they would accuse him of being a pedophile.”

    I also think some of these comments are hilarious. However they are not surprising. It’s quite common to examine anyone or anything under a microscope. Find (or make up) a flaw, and use that as propaganda to shoot it down.

    ANYONE can criticize about anything whether or not you have any brains. This guy is by no means perfect. However he’s trying to encourage children to think for themselves.

  34. Mike Lanza October 21, 2016 at 11:30 pm #

    Hi, folks! The article grossly misrepresented and distorted many of my views, especially regarding moms and girls. The fallout has been very difficult for me to deal with.

    I encourage you to look at the following two articles. Both address inaccuracies in the New York Times piece.

  35. Sue Luttner October 22, 2016 at 12:15 am #

    I think Los Angeles in the 1950s and early 60s, in the years after WWII, was kind of a free-range dream. Every other house had kids, and we used to take over the sidewalks with our skates and our skateboards, and the streets with massive games of kickball and tag (“Ollie ollie oxen, free, free, free,” wherever that came from). We spent the summers roving from house to house, sometimes up to the liquor store for candy or to the Frostee Freeze for 5¢ cones, without any of the adults knowing exactly where we were.

    I didn’t realize, though, that I was breaking sex-role stereotypes by spending so many hours on the patio roof, reading in the shade of the tree that offered access (starting with Louisa May Alcott but transitioning to Agatha Christie, Ray Chandler, and Isaac Asimov—none of it showed up on the reading lists they handed out in high school, with suggestions like “The Mill on the Floss” and “The Scarlet Letter,” but I did learn to love reading).

  36. Donald Christensen October 22, 2016 at 12:28 am #

    I love the term, ‘Free range kids’. It’s a crack on how that many kids are ‘caged’ like battery chickens. As we know that battery chickens are bored and peck each other due to their unhappy life. It’s not rocket science as to a big reason why so many children get into mischief. They are ‘caged’ like battery chickens.

    So what’s the answer? Let’s build stronger cages for children so they don’t inconvenience us with their mischief?

    I love what Mike Lanza is doing! Furthermore, he’s a hero for standing up to possible legal ramifications! I hope I become as brave.

    Inactivity is a perpetuating problem. The less a person does, the more that they want to vegetate in front of a computer game. This zaps their energy even more. This will give them a stronger desire to camp out in front of their computer screen. What Mike is doing is an attempt to but a damper on this never ending cycle. I’m sick of seeing kids pray to the God of Facebook or Duke Nukem. They don’t peck each other. The cyberbully instead.

  37. Katie G October 22, 2016 at 7:32 am #

    That last line, ouch! Totally validated the writer’s helicopter outlook and of course that of a large part of her readership, and pretty much negated the purpose of the whole article.

  38. Edward Hafner October 22, 2016 at 9:48 am #

    Question for Mr Lanza:

    The last sentence of the NYT article is very ambiguous.
    Did the author mean she would not want to play at your house OR did she mean she would not want to play on the roof?
    Two very different things.
    Perhaps a lot of this fuss is just a matter of poor writing style.
    Thank you NYT for publishing it but perhaps some better editing next time.

  39. Mike Lanza October 22, 2016 at 10:58 am #

    Edward – I was so thoroughly disgusted reading the article I couldn’t even get through it the first few times I tried. When I finally got to the end, I wasn’t really paying attention. Melanie and I used to be friends, but I don’t give a crap what she thinks of me or our house anymore. I know there’s a lot of good and truthful stuff in the article, but her overarching theme is her BS about “mom philosophy” and her totally overblown focus on the roof of our house (kids never spent more than 1% of their time here up there).

  40. BL October 22, 2016 at 12:21 pm #

    ‘I know there’s a lot of good and truthful stuff in the article, but her overarching theme is her BS about “mom philosophy”’

    Interesting that kids had much more freedom back when stay-at-home moms were more common.

  41. Papilio October 22, 2016 at 1:14 pm #

    Since the entire NYT is behind a wall for me and you guys made me curious, what WAS the last line of the article??

  42. Buffy October 22, 2016 at 4:02 pm #

    Yeah, I couldn’t get at the article either – with the election coming up I’ve already read my 10 free articles on all my devices.

  43. John October 22, 2016 at 4:46 pm #

    There are roofs and there are roofs. Some roofs might be fine for kids. In any case, I’ve always been somewhat afraid of heights, but my daughter was a born climber and has always wanted to go as high as she could. The idea that boys want to go on roofs but girls don’t is sexist and ridiculous.

  44. TV October 23, 2016 at 8:45 am #

    I’ve read the book and it appeared to me as the epitome of helicoptering, not free range.
    The guy spent a fortune on playstructures ON HIS OWN PROPERTY. The kids are never out of the parents’ sight. He even mentions that not many parents can afford that.
    To me, free range is not having your own personal amusement park, but letting kids go out there and explore their surroundings – further and further as they get older, be it the forest, their local park or their downtown city.

  45. lollipoplover October 23, 2016 at 11:02 am #


    Here’s the last line:

    “I held Kieran’s hand tightly and decided never to play there again.”
    (Kieran is the author’s son.)

    As a parent, I became most free range when I was a stay-at-home mom. My highest degree of anxiety was working full time with childcare, personally. Once I had them all day long (and later became a work-at-home parent), I realized their individual capabilities and need for play with other children without me, especially beyond the backyard. Having them around so much made me trust them more (and sometimes less) to navigate our neighborhood and find other kids to play with. We have helicopter parents too but the majority of parents around here let their kids roam the neighborhood and we are lucky to have access to parks, pools, and schools supported by a great infrastructure of sidewalks and dedicated biking paths. Children seem to find gathering points (sometimes it’s our yard) on their own based on who can play…there are so many kids in activities, but they seem to find time to get a pickup game together or just ride around.

    This summer, my son and his best friend spent most of their free time when they weren’t working fishing at local watering holes. They got kicked off of a few and warned not to trespass. On the way to his friend’s house on bike, my son bypassed the road and went a back way through woods and came across a property on 60 acres with a 1 acre pond that he was dying to fish at…he and his friend canvassed this property multiple times, hoping the homeowners wouldn’t be home and they could check it out. They finally saw the car was gone and went onto the property to fish. The fishing was awesome, but while they were there, a truck drove across the field to where they were fishing and they knew they were caught. They were prepared to apologize and face the consequences of trespassing, but instead, the man asked them what they were catching (bass and snapping turtles!). He lived on the property with his three kids and never let them fish because he was scared of the snapping turtles. My son and friend volunteered to catch all of the snapping turtles in exchange for fishing privileges. The man actually paid them to catch the turtles (with help from their dads) that they sold to a local seafood restaurant for snapper soup!

    They fished at this glorious spot all summer, every day. They became friends with the homeowner, who started a fishing competition among all of the kids (the children of this homeowner were taught to fish by our boys), and at the end of the summer, he gave them prize money for biggest catch and had a picnic for all of the families (my husband and daughters went). He even hired our boys as servers for a wedding hosted on his property later that summer. Childhood adventures are just limited to backyards, especially when we give our kids freedom to explore their environment…maybe even push the boundaries of what is allowed. This could have ended with trespassing charges, but it didn’t. Now they have new friends and the most awesome fishing spot around. You just never know.

  46. Mike Lanza October 23, 2016 at 11:46 am #

    TV –

    A great deal of my emphasis, about half, is on independent mobility for kids. My 12-year-old son rides his bike to and from school 1-1/2 miles, and he doesn’t come home after school – he just shows up for dinner. We have *no* idea where he is between school and dinner every day. He’s been doing this for over a year, starting when he was 10 going on 11. He’s been crossing busy thoroughfares, going to stores, going to his soccer practices and games, all on his own.

    My two younger kids, 7 and 8, ride to and from school (1-1/2 miles) usually with me, but do ride on their own on occasion. They also ride or walk to friends’ houses closer than school on a regular basis.

    The methods I’ve practiced from my book have gotten my boys to that point.

    Is that really helicopter parenting? C’mon…

  47. MI Dawn October 23, 2016 at 2:47 pm #

    Sorry, Lenore. The roof always called to me, too. We were constantly getting into trouble for climbing on the garage roof. But it taught me to fall, taught me to figure out heights, and lots of other fun things. I was always a climber. The house roof was harder – it required a ladder which was too heavy for me to lift.

  48. Papilio October 23, 2016 at 4:09 pm #

    Ah! Thanks, Lollipoplover. Quite a negative way to end an article like this then :-/

  49. Art October 24, 2016 at 9:36 am #

    Sorry for the threadjack

    but the comments hit was wrong with Kindergarten being the new first grade dead on.

    The idiot politicians and parents who push this crap have never been in a classroom and don’t understand the frustration that these kids are feeling

  50. Peter October 24, 2016 at 3:26 pm #

    Hmmm. I don’t ever remember climbing roofs as a boy. Trees, yes. Even big high trees. Not roofs.

    The closest I can come up with is shoveling off the porch roof–with admonishments to be very careful.

    Same here with trees, though.

    But this was rural Vermont. I could easily see more “city kids” climbing roofs and such.

  51. James Pollock October 24, 2016 at 3:51 pm #

    Back in the early 1980’s, a local mountain decided to relocate. We got about an inch-and-a-half to two-inches of powdered mountain on everything, including the roof. For what is likely the only time in my youth, I was allowed up on the roof, to clear it off (had it rained while all that stuff was on the roof, it would have been washed into the gutters, from there into the downspouts… and would have definitely settled there, blocking the pipes.)

  52. Sam October 25, 2016 at 12:32 am #

    Mike Lanza,
    Sorry for the many negative comments you have been receiving, particularly in the NYT. I can completely believe that the article presented everything from an angle that doesn’t accurately reflect the situation. (This wouldn’t be the first time for the NYT, even in my limited experience!)

  53. Stephanie October 25, 2016 at 8:35 am #

    The house I grew up in had a first floor porch roof directly off my second story bedroom. All I had to do was open my window and step out- I spent so much time up there watching the sun and the sailboats on the bay. My parents never had any idea. My current house doesn’t have that but I know my kids have there special spots in our yard. They do not have the same level of physical freedom I did. We had more kids around and sidewalks, my husband and I hope to move in a few years to an area where they can have more freedom (and I don’t have to have a car).

  54. Papilio October 25, 2016 at 12:53 pm #

    Little Brother and I didn’t climb onto the roof of the actual house (three stories), but the shed and garage was just 2,5 meters or so high. Still didn’t do that often though.
    We also climbed on top of WW II bunkers when on vacation – does that count? 🙂

  55. Michelle October 26, 2016 at 6:49 pm #

    “Think about your own 10 best memories of childhood, and chances are most of them involve free play outdoors,” Mike is fond of saying. “How many of them took place with a grown-up around?”

    About 1/3 actually. I loved my parents. I loved my mom reading to me for hours, my dad taking me on daddy daughter dates and have movie night together. I also loved talking to old people. I just found them and their stories so fascinating. And though they weren’t my parents, they also count. But there is no way I could imagine my life without those adult free moments I also treasured. In many of my best childhood memories, I’m actually all by myself. I liked to wander around the countryside and pretend it was different century, or that I was running away and going to live off the land. That type of thing. I sometimes fantasize about moving way out in the country to raise my kids, with acres of land to run and the ability to grow up with animals around them. Of course there would unfortunately be no kids other than the ones I gave birth to but that seems to be the only downside. As much as I love this playborhood, I can’t afford to live there.

  56. Anna November 2, 2016 at 5:51 pm #

    I like this guy. But he needs to get to know more girls. I was a free range girl back when all kids were (1970’s). My girl friends and I lived on my roof and in trees, railroad tracks, drainage ditches tunnels and culverts. We scaled fences, went swimming out past where you couldn’t touch in the ocean, ran across jettys, raced BMX and purposefully crashed, jumped off roofs at construction sites onto giant piles of dirt, made friends with hobos and had BB gun and pellet gun wars in old fields. And only about half of us turned out to be lesbians! Ha ha!