The Amazing Childhood Our Kids Can Have if Only We Let Go a Little

This rbkaiktyad
came over the transom this morning: A homemade video of kids growing up Free-Range in Raleigh, NC. It’s by Tina Govan, an architect and mom of two of the kids in the piece. The video not only gave me hope, at one point I had to blink back tears. (Possibly because it’s mostly about boys, and seeing them go from sort of puppies to young men, well…emotional.) L
Dear Free-Range Kids: The topic of free roaming kids has been in the news for a while, but especially lately, it seems,  and it is one close to my heart. My kids were born and raised in Raleigh, NC and they were lucky enough to find a group of friends in our neighborhood who had hands-off parents like we were.
I photographed these boys as they grew up and documented their journey in a 5 minute video. It shows them exploring, unsupervised, every day in a creek across their elementary school, and how that led them to exploring the city on their own and seeing downtown Raleigh as their playground. It shaped their attitudes towards the world. Today they are confident, unafraid, adventurous, and accepting of people unlike themselves, in large part, I believe, because of their “Free-Range” experience of growing up in downtown Raleigh.
This open-armed attitude towards the outdoors has led them all to become caring stewards of their environment, studying fields like urban planning, environmental policy and science as college students today. One of them, at age 20, is even on the Boone Planning Commission.
Looking back, even the kids themselves see how unusual their experience was. I presented this video at NC State University and a student ended up doing her PhD on them! I’ve been giving talks in Raleigh about the issue and have even gotten these kids, now 20somethings, to stand up and speak about the benefits of growing up like they did.
 The video starts out silently, but then The Who’s “Baba O’riley” kicks in. – Tina Govan, Architect
Many of us long for  "Stand By Me" days. A bunch of kids in Raleigh got them.

Many of us long for “Stand By Me” days. Here’s how a bunch of kids in Raleigh got to live them.


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26 Responses to The Amazing Childhood Our Kids Can Have if Only We Let Go a Little

  1. Molly April 21, 2015 at 1:23 pm #

    Adore, adore, adore this! Makes me cry….kind of sad though that a “normal” childhood of last generation has now become a case study for a dissertation.

  2. Opal April 21, 2015 at 2:13 pm #

    Thank you, Lenore. I grew up in the early 90s with what others called a “helicopter mom,” but all that meant was that she was near me when I got hurt and said, “what did you learn?” I’m a stream svientist today, and I’m stunned by the number of students who don’t even know a stream is in their backyard. This made me cry because these are fun, wonderful places for children (my Grandma, who is 90, harvested freshwater mussels from local creeks and sold them. Illegal now, they’re endangered) to explore. The natural environment was pivotal to what I do now, even with the 90s version of a helicopter parent. Science, as a whole, rests on explorers and innovators. If you’re watching it on the Internet, you’re not exploring. Exploration is at the root of every single human discovery and advancement. It’s the thought to understand, to do better, and to create. I can’t do that with my husband home right now while I’m trying to write my doctoral thesis, so why would I expect an 8 year old to have a wonder for the world if parent is constantly there explaining it? and interfering? Sometimes a mind just needs to be left alone to ruminate. We need creativity and wonder in science, not just an increase in, “STEM training. ” If you graduate high school truly curious about the world around you, it will take you so far.

  3. Geoff April 21, 2015 at 2:13 pm #

    I love this. There is a little brook that runs by my son’s school. The boys have forts and bridges built all along it. Not surprisingly they’ve given it a name. Guess what it’s called? Happy town.

  4. Emily Morris April 21, 2015 at 2:32 pm #

    I’m showing this to my 2nd graders. It has officially been written in my lesson plan book. It works amazingly well for our Earth Week lessons as well as, darn it, demonstrating what I want for my students!

  5. Les April 21, 2015 at 2:58 pm #

    Opal wrote: “I’m stunned by the number of students who don’t even know a stream is in their backyard.”

    Often, when people find out that I paddle canoes and kayaks, they’ll ask me, “where do you go paddling around here?” I used to just answer, “on all the rivers and lakes around here”. Then they would ask something like, “well, what rivers? What lakes?” I use to get irritated at that, thinking they were asking me for a tedious recitation of the names of local lakes and rivers. Over time, though, I came to realize that they were not asking me to list the names of area waterways. They were asking because the were actually UNAWARE that there are rivers and lakes around here!

  6. Andrew April 21, 2015 at 4:18 pm #

    In North Carolina the video is called “Raleigh’s Creek Boys”. In Maryland it’s called “People’s Exhibit A”.

  7. lollipoplover April 21, 2015 at 4:46 pm #

    I watched this, teary eyed, while my son and 4 of his friends are fishing at the pond in our neighborhood with worms they dug up. A childhood is a terrible thing to waste.

  8. Peter Orvetti April 21, 2015 at 4:55 pm #

    Sure, but did any of them go on to become an acting ensign in Starfleet?

  9. Warren April 21, 2015 at 5:57 pm #


    At the risk of showing my repressed nerd. Acting Ensign Wesley Crusher was given a field promotion by Capt. Picard to full Ensign, with all right, privelages and responsibilities.

    Even Stephen King’s IT had a good measure of what we like to see. Even though their was a risk in the community the street cop didn’t round up the kids, he just gave them advice on how to stay safe.

  10. Emily Morris April 21, 2015 at 6:07 pm #

    Happy to report the video went over well with 2nd graders. I had a mix of “that’s dangerous!” comments but mostly they were impressed.

  11. rick April 21, 2015 at 7:37 pm #

    Having grown up in the 70s this was relatively tame as free range goes. We didn’t have people photographing us. But glad to see there are still pockets of resistance to helicopter parenting out there.

  12. Tim April 21, 2015 at 8:13 pm #

    Being raised at the beach,surfing and music was allowed.A great childhood.

  13. Matt C April 21, 2015 at 10:09 pm #

    Tim, I don’t know where you’re from, but here in Southern California, select beach towns are the only places I’ve continued to witness free-range activity: places like Coronado, Solana Beach, and San Clemente. I think surfing plays a big role in that, as traditionally laid-back, adventurous people are more likely to expect the same from their own kids. You’re not going to surf very often if you rely on grown ups to take you to the beach and be with you. The military culture in some of these places probably helps, too.

  14. Mike in Sweden April 22, 2015 at 4:03 am #

    I think Wesley Crusher is a cautionary tale against helicopter parenting. Remember, that his mother was always there to hover over him on the Enterprise; and once he finally got a little taste of freedom at the Academy, his lack of judgement and risk assessment skills led him to participate in a stunt that got another cadet killed.

  15. Chris April 22, 2015 at 12:21 pm #

    I would leave the house on my bike and come back at twilight. I learned how to take care of bullies on my own, and how to cooperate and build things in a patch of woods, but that was in the 50s. My kids grew up on the beach, building forts out of beach chairs and climbing life guard towers. The boys in the film had an idyllic childhood, today a parent might be arrested for leaving a child in a locked car for three minutes.

  16. Dean Whinery April 22, 2015 at 12:56 pm #

    Wow! And not one of them was stolen by a stranger!

  17. sexhysteria April 23, 2015 at 4:36 am #

    Liked on Vimeo!

  18. Wow... April 23, 2015 at 12:22 pm #

    @Opal: Maybe more statistics in Maths class wouldn’t be a bad idea?

  19. Sandi April 24, 2015 at 11:35 pm #

    This looks like the completely normal childhood I had. I find it truly bizarre that anyone would do a PhD on a normal childhood. These are great pictures and just looking at them makes me really like these boys (now men), but I have a hard time understanding what the big deal is. I think that I am more out of touch with the destruction of our children’s lives than I realized. My kids will continue to venture further and further without me as they grow. It’s called growing up and if this is now novel, I fear our country is in for a very bad future.

  20. Wow... April 25, 2015 at 4:57 am #

    @Sandi: The media blowing everything out of proportion doesn’t help people feel safe.

  21. Sarah J April 25, 2015 at 3:46 pm #

    A lot of people who make children’s shows will base things on their own childhood experiences. I always wonder what more sheltered, modern kids think when they watch TV shows where kids under 12 are allowed to go out without adult supervision.

  22. Patti Boucher April 26, 2015 at 12:10 am #

    Great video. BUT, where are the girls??? They need the outside too!!
    I am who I am as a woman because I grew up outdoors, by the creeks, in the woods and on
    the base ball fields.

  23. SOA April 26, 2015 at 10:15 am #

    Stand by Me was one of my favorite movies growing up.

  24. Sandi April 27, 2015 at 12:13 am #

    Me too. I loved that movie.

  25. Mike Reedich April 27, 2015 at 1:24 pm #

    And not one of them is obese.

  26. Pauline May 2, 2015 at 8:40 pm #

    I coincidentally recently watched the movie Stand By me again, and I was thinking how familair it all looked to me. I grew up in 80’s Europe and we were all free-range as can be, playing outside where no parent could see us until the streetlights came on in Summer. No mobile phones either. I had to tell if I went and stayed with a friend for dinner, but that was about it. Yes, I could have been abducted a million times, theoretically. Yes, I had a scary incident with a creepy guy who tried to lure me and my friend (we were both 10) away from the public swimming pool where my mum had dropped us off with some money for a snack. But nothing happened. I wasn’t kidnapped and the creep walked off *very* quickly as soon as I asked him my mum’s name and where she worked (as my parents had instructed me to do whenever a stranger would tell me he was sent by them to pick me up). I even had the wits to alert the pool staff about the man, who by then sadly had already vanished. After which I happily resumed playing in the pool until my mum came to pick us up. I remember she was proud at the way I handled the situation (though I’m sure she must have been shocked, too, at what could have happened. She didn’t show it though).

    I’m Dutch and what is called “free range”in the US thankfully is the norm for most kids here, still (depending on where they live, obviously big city kids have a different lifestyle than kids growing up in smaller towns or villages). Parents now are much more aware of “stranger danger”, but not to the extend they keep their children indoors or in the garden at all times. It’s considered healthy here for kids to play outside, climb trees, build stuff and run around to explore the world beyond the street where they live.

    I’m happy I had a care-free, free-range childhood without any gadgets or mum hovering over me at all times. I’m glad I had parents that instructed me well on how to handle myself in certain situations (fire, injury, stranger danger) and who *then* trusted me to be sensible enough to let me out of their sight. It was bliss.