What Happens When a Boy Gets Lost on His Very First Bike Ride

The Free-Range hhbrysfiaa
Kids Project
is catching on. The idea is simple: A school, a grade, or even just one teacher tells the students to go home and ask their parents if they can do ONE THING that they feel they’re ready to do that, for one reason or another, they haven’t done yet.

Most recently, the fifth grade teachers at Edison Park Elementary in Chicago took the plunge. About 70 kids participated. Here’s how one boy filled out the survey his teacher handed out:

What do you want to be able to do by yourself or with friends that you are unable to do now? Ride my bike to school.

What are your reasons? Discuss and explain each one:

1) My parents say that I’m gonna get kidnapped. I don’t know why, but I’m gonna explain to them about the crime rate. [Lenore here: I gave a talk to the parents at Edison Park last month, but before that I did an assembly with the 5th-8th grade kids. Apparently it made an impression.]

2) My parents always bring up bad stuff that happened in the past a lot of times.

3) My parents also say that I might get hurt by a car or hurt myself in an accident.

Reflection: Please write about your experience and thoughts/feelings about what you were able to do:

When I finally got to ride my bike to my softball game, my sister came with me. The game didn’t start yet so we went to Dairy Queen and I got an ice cream cone dipped in chocolate. My sister got a Strawberry Blizzard. When we were going back, me and my sister were so happy that we got to ride our bikes alone while eating ice cream that we got lost. We went a little bit too far and saw Olympia Park and then Oriole Street. So we knew the way back. Pheww! We also won the softball game. That time that my mom said “Yes” I felt so alive.

Consider that what we have here is exactly what parents worry about: A boy who pedals off for the first time on his own immediately buys junk food AND gets lost.

And that was okay — better than okay! He and his sister found their way back and now they know that the big wide world is theirs, even if they screw up a little.

So the boy got himself out of a jam. He got to eat ice cream while riding his bike. And he got his mom to trust him at last. It’s like pecking out of the shell and seeing the sky.

Alive? He’s flying.

A kid, a cone, a conquest.

A kid, a cone, a conquest.

, , , , , ,

26 Responses to What Happens When a Boy Gets Lost on His Very First Bike Ride

  1. Opal May 15, 2015 at 9:07 pm #

    Awesome! Sad that it takes two speaking engagements and an engaged teacher with an assignment to make it happen, but fantastic! Congratulations, Lenore, and all the kiddos at Edison Park, their instructors, and their parents!

  2. Emily Morris May 15, 2015 at 10:38 pm #

    I’m planning to do this next year. Yes, with my 2nd grade class.

  3. Jaime Connor May 16, 2015 at 12:52 am #

    My 11 year old daughter asked if she could ride her bike to school. I was reluctant at first because although most of the way is through a nice neighborhood, the last little bit is along a busy street. I finally said yes and her dad ride with her the first day to make sure she was safe and knew the way. She did so great. Now her teachers want to talk to me because they think it’s not safe and while I appreciate that they think they are looking out for my kid, they have no say in the decision that her father and I made to let her have a little freedom to grow.

  4. Jaime Connor May 16, 2015 at 12:54 am #

    My 11 year old daughter asked if she could ride her bike to school. I was reluctant at first because although most of the way is through a nice neighborhood, the last little bit is along a busy street. I finally said yes and her dad rode with her the first day to make sure she was safe and knew the way. She did so great. Now her teachers want to talk to me because they think it’s not safe and while I appreciate that they think they are looking out for my kid, they have no say in the decision that her father and I made to let her have a little freedom to grow.

  5. Peter Grace May 16, 2015 at 1:41 am #

    Indeed. I used to ride my bike everywhere AA a kid and took the subway by myself at 7 years old.

  6. Donald May 16, 2015 at 2:13 am #


    The brain stores images better than lectures. When you talk about crime statistics and how it’s safer today, you’re competing with CSI and pictures of tied up children with duct tape on their mouth.

    You can use visual memory in the same way. I loved the interview with the helicopter parents on your show after they saw the child taste freedom. I would like to see lots more of them. I know that you have already done that but I propose that these clips last .5 seconds. In some cases quantity is better than quality. I think short clips can be better because adults can have a short attention span. (kids aren’t the only ones) When longer interviews are shown, people can daydream about kidnapping while they watch.

    If you show 60 interviews in 30 seconds then this will burn into visual memory and will be similar as duct tape over a screaming child’s mouth.

    It’s not the same thing. In some ways it is less effective but in some case more effective. That’s because as we have more ‘Dairy Queen’ triumphs, more and more parents will experience this feeling of pride, joy, and ecstasy of seeing their child so happy. Therefore the emotional memory (on a personal level) will team up with the visual memory.

  7. Rick May 16, 2015 at 7:34 am #

    That’s great. It’s nice actually reading the experience from the kid’s perspective. Maybe you should have a Free Range Kids essay contest.

  8. lollipoplover May 16, 2015 at 9:24 am #

    “That time that my mom said “Yes” I felt so alive.”

    This is the best part. Childhood experiences shape the types of adults we become. Limiting kids to approved, *safe* activities that parents approve of and restricting freedom creates very boring adults. Children need incremental freedoms and responsibilities like short commutes to activities and school to learn.

    I biked up to meet my daughter this week after school on a beautiful spring day and witnessed the children who were “alive” coming out of school on their own. My daughter bikes with her group, chattering and smiling, and I could barely keep up with the bike line as with all of their experience, they efficiently complete the few miles home in minutes. Compared to the maddening car line of parents waiting to pick up their delivered packages, it’s easy to see why this child felt “alive” given the responsibility of biking.

    On a side note, it this child is playing softball and won the game, it’s probably safe to assume that he is actually a she.

  9. David May 16, 2015 at 12:14 pm #

    @Jaime: Watch out, those teachers might report you to CPS

  10. Vicky May 16, 2015 at 12:21 pm #

    Monumental and beautiful, yet basic humanity 101. It’s so sad that so many children are denied the right to experience the joys and vast benefits of independent thought and physical adventure.

  11. Crystal May 16, 2015 at 12:28 pm #

    Good for him!

  12. JP Merzetti May 16, 2015 at 1:12 pm #

    @ Jaime Connor,

    Is your daughter the only one in her class who bikes to school? Do the teachers object to the biking, or the independent mobility (or both?)
    I’m guessing she’s in grade six. By then, not only is cognitive development far enough along to want a little bit of idependence, but in my town that is often the senior year of elementary school.
    Which mean’s it’s “graduation” year.

    (I recall this age as the first of the two “tween” years…..ferocious as they were) and all kinds of attitude shows up – especially ideas for trying new things. I had the male version: Sunday afternoon matinees at the Odeon (whose movies were a little beyond the Disney kid stuff.)
    And my bike range grew to encompass the city limits of my entire town.

    Often objections come because kids on bikes aren’t seen to mix well with traffic. There never used to be much traffic around schools – but there is now, especially around arrival and departure times.
    But if in your eyes, your daughter is old enough and responsible enough to be able to handle the route to and from on her own – then that should be enough.
    I know……in my time, this used to be common. Often enough it isn’t, now.

    Unfortunately, even if your daughter’s teachers have her best interests at heart, and you are perfectly capable of impressing upon them that you are a responsible parent – if they have to follow a certain policy – their hands are tied.
    But these are the kinds of issues that should be raised with school boards, and at PTA meetings, and throughout communities.

    Greater levels of independence gained at certain ages is what gets lost. To the point where persons in positions of authority cannot see the positive in it – they are too overwhelmed by perceived risk.
    Your daughter’s journey to and from school on her own – is teaching her that she is perfectly capable of navigating that route – by doing so safely. And so it builds confidence and competence.
    If many parents were making these kinds of decisions……exercising parental judgement and authority properly – then your case would not stand out as something so singular.
    It would be looked upon as the norm, instead of the exception.

    I recall when I was 10 – the movie “TheLongest Day” showed up at the local Capitol Theatre (a fine old emporium) and a great gang of us kids showed up to view it – without adult accompaniment. It happened to be an historical account of D Day – chock full of Hollywood stars. It was a war movie. PG ratings were not on the page.
    This is just one example of how far down we’ve tumbled.
    Yes….the theatre was on Main Street – and yes, the route was perfectly walkable…..(still is.)
    And I recall that on that particular Saturday afternoon there was hardly an adult in the place…..except for the projectionist. Even the ushers and ticket seller were teenagers. The place was packed (it was huge.)
    And this was the “norm.”
    The world then was “for” kids…….not against them.

    But that was a time when kids hardly had to ask for independence. They just acquired it in a natural sort of way as time went by…..by proving they could handle it – to their parents.
    Other persons in authority accepted this.
    This “times have changed” attitude is questionable.
    I’m around kids all the time. They have not fundamentally changed much, at all.

    Yet we go on re-creating the world as we see fit – without bothering to adapt them to it – in a positive way.
    A kid on their own is not necessarily a kid at risk. It’s a kid learning how to do something on their own.

  13. Resident Iconoclast May 16, 2015 at 5:42 pm #

    I know just how that 5th-grade kid feels. If I hadn’t been able to ride off on my bike in the 4th grade and buy junk food, I’d probably still be figuring out how to live my life. Or just go places for the hell of it.

    It’s easy for me to put myself in that kid’s shoes. He’s probably never done a single thing on his own before. By this time, it seems to him that going off on his own would be the ultimate adventure, and I’m sure it was.

    I wonder if those kids ever watched the movie that was based on Stephen King’s short story, “Stand by Me.” I bet they’d think those kids must be from another planet. However, people of a certain age recognize a certain reality in that story. You could chalk all this up to what’s called “a generation gap.”

  14. Barbara May 16, 2015 at 6:27 pm #

    Shhhh…..don’t tell anyone, but my husband and I are going out this evening and our 12 y/o son is spending the night at a friend’s house. Our nearly 11 y/o daughter asked us if she could stay by herself. She reassured us she knows what to do and how to do it and knows her bedtime. She know if she can’t handle something, she can call us. We agreed. As she put it, “I just want to feel like an adult for one night”. We agreed, she’s on top of the world. It’s 3:00 in the afternoon and she’s already ‘preparing’. We know that not only will she be fine, this is a defining moment for her. Frankly, I am more excited than she is.

  15. Marcello1099 May 17, 2015 at 12:28 am #

    Not only did I get lost on my bike when I was in second grade, but I really got lost on the subway in Manhattan when I was 10 or 11 years old. My friend and I wound up on 125th Street in Harlem. No problem, a kindly local lady got us back on the right train downtown to our destination, Canal Street. And this back in the early 1960s, when it was way more dangerous than today. My parents never gave it a second thought. We had a pocketful of subway tokens and the world was our oyster — at age 10-11!!! Wouldn’t trade my childhood for a million bucks!

  16. J.T. Wenting May 17, 2015 at 12:45 am #

    Would have loved to do that at that age, but my parents wouldn’t let me have a bike, let alone ride one, until I was 12…
    Didn’t help that we lived in the woods several miles from the nearest village, and had a juvenile prison and a mental institution in those woods, causing them fears that escapees would ‘do something to us’ (we never saw anyone in all the years we lived there, except one homeless guy who sometimes appeared and always was friendly, just saying hi and disappearing again).

  17. sexhysteria May 17, 2015 at 4:14 am #

    Great job, Lenore! The mass hysteria over child sex abuse today means many kids can’t even go anywhere with other adults.

    Twenty years ago parents gave me permission to take their kids (my pupils) to the beach, and even a few years ago in Eastern Europe parents I had just met allowed their children to go to the beach with me. But nowadays I’m afraid to take kids anywhere without at least one parent physically present.

    I sometimes meet pupils or former students out alone around town and I will stop and talk to them, but I refuse to go anywhere with them lest I be suspected of attempted enticement or abduction. Yesterday two girls asked me to take them to a pet shop to look at the puppies, and I said: Sure, as soon as your mother is available to come with us. Obviously, if their mother were available they wouldn’t need me!

    How ironic that early feminists complained men are insufficiently involved in child care, but now feminists help spread the hysteria over sex, which prevents men from contributing to child care. It seems that the lowest element of society (those who join lynch mobs) are the ones so hysterically “concerned” about sex, and they are the ones the sensationalist “news” media are catering to.

  18. hineata May 17, 2015 at 6:24 am #

    Hmm, sexhysteria, I rather doubt that feminists play any part of your particular issues around being alone with kids. Men in general, maybe, but not you in particular.

    Had you let your general views on sex and teen girls be known to, say, my grandfather, a blacksmith and a veteran who had been around the bush a few times and knew perverts, you wouldn’t have been waiting for a lynch mob. And he certainly wasn’t the only one. Men used to (and in the main still do) take a dim view of sickos using the females around them. And creeps have always been creeps, regardless of the ‘times’.

  19. Andrea Drummond May 17, 2015 at 11:02 am #

    I got lost once on my bike. Not on my first ride, but my first foray into the neighborhood next to me. I didn’t know where I was and you know what? I kept riding around until I found the way out. It was an adventure. Another time I got a flat bike tire when I was not close to home and you know what? I figured it out and dealt with it and eventually made my way back. I had a sense of accomplishment, strength and pride. We are taking those things away from our kids when we coddle them too much.

    I regret deeply that when my husband and I bought the house we lived in years before our now-3 yo was born, we did not consider things like “Where will a future kid ride a bike?” We don’t live in a neighborhood but on a busy street with no sidewalks and barely any shoulders and people drive like maniacs up and down. I trust my kid but not these idiots. I wish we could move.

  20. Susan Templeton May 17, 2015 at 3:53 pm #

    On bike-riding and other dangers.
    (Oops, I posted this in the wrong place, here it is again.)
    I’d like to offer a contrast to the tentative bike outings offered children today. In 1953, my best friend lived about three miles away and across the highway. I biked to her house regularly. I went alone. I was seven years old. Seven was considered the age at which a child could carefully enough manage the risks of walking or bicycling across the highway.
    We didn’t go along the highway at any time without permission, but otherwise we ranged freely over about 40 acres of a partially wooded, partially suburban hill. Indoor play was infrequent. On weekends and long summer days our parents rarely knew exactly where we were. We ranged freely from house to woods. A game of kick-the-can might takes us through the yards of a half-dozen families. At times, we deliberately got lost in the woods, “lost” being a fiction with which we frightened ourselves, since we knew exactly how to find our way out, even from the deep woods beyond the houses.
    We had limits. We were not to climb the water tower, though a few daring children did. We were never to go to the beach alone, and no kid ever did. We were to be home for dinner, and always were.
    Our freedom was not specific to a rural setting. In 1957, my family moved to Portland, Oregon. In that city children on my block often walked a mile and a half to the nearest swimming pool, without adult supervision. We went to the park without adults, we walked by ourselves to school, we took the bus alone to go to the dentist, and we regularly went on our own to the nearest little shopping district. Children unsupervised on residential urban streets were an ordinary and frequent sight. No one would have had a concern, much less called the police.
    I know children these days who at age ten have never been out of earshot of a parent, teacher, or other supervisory adult and who rarely play outdoors. I feel sad for them, because they are not only missing the happy freedom I enjoyed as a child, but also missing the opportunity to develop the skills and competencies which that freedom promoted. Without those skills, how will they negotiate the wide world when, in a few short years, they begin to move away from their parents’ constant supervision?

  21. lollipoplover May 17, 2015 at 6:59 pm #

    “Now her teachers want to talk to me because they think it’s not safe and while I appreciate that they think they are looking out for my kid, they have no say in the decision that her father and I made to let her have a little freedom to grow.”

    How your child gets to and from school is none of their business. Teachers are educators, not transportation police. I don’t go around lecturing teachers who I’ve seen after work hours at bars near school on the dangers of drinking and driving. It’s not my business what they do on their personal time.
    Just like how your family chooses to commute is none of theirs.

    For what it’s worth, my kids have been biking for years and we’ve had a few questions from the school about my younger daughter (who has biked to school since she was 5- she’s now almost 9) and her *safety* biking *alone* (even though she bikes with a group of 12 kids). I tell them thank you for your concern but do not ever stop her, she does it better than kids twice her age. She won’t even stop for them to question her ability because she is confident in her abilities.

    Seriously, parents can opt out of vaccinations for their beliefs, yet parents who believe in raising capable children can’t opt in and have them commute on their own?

  22. Wendy W May 17, 2015 at 8:50 pm #

    Last week I was at a tea, with ladies ranging from a young mom of 3 pre-schoolers, to an 80yo great-grandma, and free-ranging kids was one of the topic that came up. There were the usual worry-wart comments, but one mom told a story from when her kids were little. She is about 10yrs older than I, so I would guess this occurred in the 70’s. They lived 7 miles from “grandma’s house”, and her 7yo got impatient to leave to visit grandma. The mom said it would be at least an hour before they left, and if he wanted to go so badly, he could ride his bike. The route was straight up a country road, with a crossing at a 2-lane highway. The 7yo headed off, grandma was called to let her know, and the the boy arrived safe and sound. (Cue obligatory “can’t do that now-days” comments)

    My own son got bit of free-ranging this weekend. We were invited along on a group camp-out with friends. My 15yo and his best friend were the only teens on the trip, in a large group of families with young children. They found themselves a private site for their tent, away from the group, and spent 2 days running through the woods like a couple of Sasquatches. Every so often they would show up in search of food. They had their own tools, a camping saw and a machete, for gathering their own firewood, several pocket knives each, and were armed with bug spray (and removed a total of 39 ticks that apparently weren’t deterred by the smell of DEET.) One mom gave them some leftover raw hamburger, which they used to cook their own burgers over their own campfire. Several of the other adults asked if they belonged to me, but not a single one was in any way critical over their adventure. One little girl commented this morning that she didn’t think my son had changed his clothes the whole time. I responded that he had probably slept in them, too. I think my boy will sleep well tonight in his own bed, having enjoyed the life that my husband had all summer, every summer when he was growing up.

  23. Havva May 18, 2015 at 12:59 pm #

    When I was first wondering how to let go as a mom, I asked a grandma. Rather than saying something about first letting her kid out of doors, or first walk around the block, she told me about the day her then 5 year old (now a father himself) had gotten lost riding his bike in the neighborhood.

    Anyhow the 5 year old came home and breathlessly told mom he had gotten lost. She said she felt a little panicked but took a deep breath and reminded herself he was standing right there unharmed. So she asked him what he saw and what he did.

    He described what happened, how he stayed in the gravel shoulder when the sidewalk disappeared. Recognizing from the description the busy road he had ended up from she had to remind herself a few times that he was standing there unharmed. And she encouraged him to keep talking. He said how he was (correctly) sure of the general location of his neighborhood relative to where he was. How he attempted to go forward and look for an intersection, but when one failed to appear and the road seemed to be veering away from the neighborhood he decided it would be best to turn and retrace his path.

    She said this was when she decided that, despite her fright over the experience, he had demonstrated good problem solving skills, and good choices about his personal safety, and thus was ready to be allowed to go to adjacent neighborhoods.

    That was pretty breath taking to me. The idea of a 5 year old having full freedom in his neighborhood was itself stunning, I didn’t have that range at that age. And I’m not sure I could have handled such freedom at 5. But her story has been a guide. She really did parent to his demonstrated abilities, and not to her fears, or to what she thought was possible. And she continued parenting to his abilities even when he far exceeded what she thought possible.

  24. Lindsay Writer May 20, 2015 at 12:33 am #

    Dairy Queen is Not junk food it’s healthy ice cream with vitamins and nutrients.

    The most dangerous thing the boy did that day was play softball. Seriously.

  25. Andre L. May 24, 2015 at 7:19 am #

    @sexhysteria, you are also a regular on this forum, and probably one of the very few persons that have always given me a bad vibe.

    I know Free Range has nothing to do with it, but the ideas you promote in your blog are quite disgusting and, frankly, by linking them with your posts here you do a disservice to the free range community. Namely, your advocacy that teens are stunned in their development because they don’t have enough sexual relations at earlier ages and because society shuns adult-teen sexual “experimentation”, as you define in your blog.

    You are obviously entitled to your opinion, but I do find it disturbing in so many levels that you seem to take off all the burden of adults to behave properly even when biologically developing and emotionally immature teens make themselves potentially sexually available to adults.

  26. Melissa May 25, 2015 at 4:12 pm #

    My son is 5.5 and he is allowed this summer to ride around the block, visiting his little friend in her yard if she is out, and ride himself back. I spoke to friend’s dad, and we both agreed that if they are out and not bothered, dad would tell my kid when his 30 minutes are up and send him home. Dad is not *quite* cool with it, he won’t let little friend ride her bike to OUR house, but he gets what I’m doing (friend is a grade younger). I just hope that if my kid is being a pest, dad realizes it’s ok to say “No, go home”. Then last night when my kid was flying home on his training wheels all sweaty and laughing and independant, a classmate of his rolled by on his bike (with training wheels), with mom HOLDING THE HANDLE on their “bike ride”. I feel so badly for that kid, and I’m sure his mom is horrified at my negligent parenting.