Outrage of the Week: Teacher Lets Kids Climb Hill, Cops Come Calling

Hi Readers — Here’s the latest outrage. Lia’s nature-oriented nursery school/kindergarten might not be for everyone, but it certainly is for some kids. Or at least it was.  — Lenore

By Lia Grippo

My name is Lia Grippo.  I am an early childhood educator with 20 years of experience.  For the past 11 years, a large part of my work here in Santa Barbara has been taking young children into local wild spaces where we forage, track animals, climb trees, build forts, etc. For the last two years I have been running a small school that meets at my home 3 days a week and in the woods 2 days per week — safely.

I have two sons, age 7 and 4.  My 7-year-old has been climbing to heights since he was a baby. My husband and I mentored this skill early on first by staying close while pretending to watch something else, and later by having some simple guidelines. For climbing trees, our guidelines include teaching children to know how to tell a dead branch from a living one, and then teaching them never to climb on dead branches or any limb “thinner than your arm.”  We never help a child to climb up but are willing to help as much as necessary on the climb down.

 A few weeks ago my school met at a local beach.  The beach is sandwiched between the ocean and some steep hills and bluffs.  The hills sit in the sand, not above the water.  My 7-year-old and his 6-year-old friend – an equally competent as a climber and also the son of my dearest friend and school teaching assistant — climbed to the top of one of these hills.  As they climbed they chatted, and moved at a steady pace, which meant to me that they were not at the edge of their abilities, which would have been evidenced by their silence or by announcements of fear, tense body language, or frequent stops in search of how to proceed next.  In imitation of the older boys, the younger children began to climb the hill as well.  

I stopped them by saying, “That’s high enough,” when I saw they had reached the point where they would not be able to come down by themselves if they were to continue.  The three younger ones (ages 4, 5, & 5) stopped and began to climb down.  By this time, a group of people had gathered to watch.  My 4-year-old son slid a little down the hill on his bottom. I was right below him to catch him should he continue to slide.  But with the combination of the sliding and, I believe, a frightened group of strangers staring up at him, he became too afraid to come down the rest of the way.  So I climbed up and coached him down, staying  just beneath him. He calmed down to the point where we were laughing and joking as we made our way down.

As we neared the bottom, I noticed there was a lifeguard beneath me on the hill about 3-4 feet off the ground.  When we reached him he asked if I wanted to pass my son off to him and I did and he put him down on the ground.  Then the lifeguard told me he would take the trail around the side of the hill to get the other boys down and I agreed, not because I thought those boys couldn’t make it down on their own — I was certain they could — but because of the fear of the folks watching.  We went around to meet the kids as they came down the trail.  The lifeguard seemed annoyed and said, “Don’t do that again,” before walking off.

During all of this the police were called.  The police officer took a statement from me and left.  As the parents arrived at the end of our morning, I told each one the story and each of them said, “I’m so sorry that happened to you. Why are people so afraid these days?”

A few days later the agency that licenses my school came to my door to begin an investigation. This included calling all of the parents at the school, who were all in complete support of me and thought the incident was blown completely out of proportion.  Each parent called me afterward to lend support and to share their outrage at this agency.

At the end of this process, the agency has revoked my license saying that I endangered the children by “exposing them to the natural hazard of the hill and the ocean front,” and by allowing them to climb, made worse by the fact that I allowed them to climb in beach attire, and my son was naked. (As result of ditching his freezing wet pair of jeans.)  

The families have surrounded me with support and outrage and are willing to help pay attorney’s fees to appeal this process.

A couple of nights ago, my 7-year-old said to me, “Mama, I know why those people were afraid.  They couldn’t climb that hill themselves.”

I could use whatever support, resources, or ideas, folks might have to offer.  Especially helpful would be an attorney who had had experience with this sort of situation or someone who works in California’s Community Care Licensing Division who may be able to offer advice.

Thank you,


64 Responses

  1. That really is an outrage! Hopefully with the support of the parents and a good lawyer, this decision can be overturned. I think Lia’s son had the people’s reason for fear pegged. Kudos to the sane parents of Lia’s students for offering support and for sending their children in the first place!

  2. Being from So. California I strongly suspect that we may not have all the facts – were the hills an erosion danger? Were they sanddunes, in which case there could be danger? I’d really like to know about the terrain and the conditions of the day (I’d love to hear what the lifeguard who did NOT climb up the same way the kids did) before judging this a complete outrage. It does seem that perhaps pulling the license was out of bounds, but again, we know only the person who feels victimized version.

  3. I am really on the fence about this one. This seems less about free range kids and more about a sort of fringey opinion that these kids are ready for things many adults aren’t comfortable doing.

  4. As a social worker – this enrages me. It should not be the place of the government (who oversees licensing daycares at least in my state) to judge what a parent should allow their child to attempt. Now, if Lia Grippo had not been supervising her children and one had gotten injured – THAT would have been neglectful or “endangerment”. But she was supervising, actively set a limit to how far the children could climb, and supported her child in coming back down the hill. This is NOT child endangerment and should be able to be overturned if she pursues the appeal process. Of course – it would be better if she didn’t have to fight it at all!

  5. I’m pretty sure judging from what the woman in the post was saying, the hill wasn’t some eroding danger.

    I think it’s horrible that someone called the cops, more than anything else. Sure, I can see the life guard coming over to help – they’re on a beach after all. But the cops???

    Seems like a case of the overblown ridiculouses to me. The idea of no-danger what-so-ever is the new thing to strive for… leaving everyone getting fatter on the couch and getting their exercise by putting their noses in other people’s business.

  6. Whoever reported her had no business doing that, she was NOT committing any type of ‘child endangerment’ and was there to lend a hand obviously, in case the kids needed it. Outrageous.

  7. Lia, you have my support and I’m thrilled to hear that the other parents are standing with you. You should be proud of the way you’ve raised your boys and are helping to educate and empower the other children that are a part of the class. I checked out your school (http://sbseedlings.net) and wish so much that there was something like this here in Northern Ontario where I live and will be homeschooling my son. You sound like an intelligent, passionate and wise woman who knows what her kids are capable of. I hope things go well for you.

  8. Also, if anyone would like to contact Lia directly with words of support or encouragement you can do so at this email address, found on her website: sbseedlings@gmail.com .

  9. Aaand one more: Based off of schedule info at the Seedlings website and the description of the beach Lia gave us in her letter, I believe this http://www.santabarbara.com/virtual_tour/beaches/hendrys/ is the beach she and her students were at. I may be wrong. However, the virtual tour allows you to peek around and see how steep the hills are, how things are situated, etc. Just thought it was nifty and would share.

  10. Wow, I wonder what they would think of the kids in our homeschooling group who climb 20-30 feet up a tree!

  11. With every article I agree more and more with my granny. She says that people are just not used to have children around anymore, so they don´t have the experience to know their limits and capabilities, let alone being used to the idea that children are noisy, dirty, and get ill and hurt very often, no matter how well you care for them.
    I would dare those social services people to look after two or three normal kids by themselves for a month, not incurring in anything that could be considered “dangerous” or “negligent” by any surrounding adult. Oh, and keeping a happy face, so the children´s self esteem remains intact.

  12. I feel for this woman…and I hope that is able to get the help she needs to fight this.

    But as I read this and all the other stories, and even some of the comments of your readers, I am really dismayed at the amount of interference people deem acceptable in these situations.

    If there is and risk involved in the activity, people feel like they should get involved and stop whatever is happening.

    Why is that?

    And most importantly, how do we stop it?

  13. There was spectacle enough in this situation to not only actually draw a crowd, but for the lifeguard to beome involved AND for bystanders to call the police.

    Our family loves nature and all three kids are born climbers, but we’ve managed to never draw a crowd with our antics. I’m just saying.

    There seems to be in a certain extremism to the free range movement where any questionable choice is defended no matter what the actual circumstances. I don’t agree with this view at all and I’m about as free range as they come.

    Oh, and one child was doing this naked? That’s sooooo not proper climbing attire (or lack thereof.) Why are we so hell bent on supporting other people’s poor choices?

  14. This is it! All of you who have been following Lenore’s blog and expressing your personal outrage at every “outrage,” this is our chance to do something.

    Does anyone know a lawyer in the Santa Barbara area? Does anyone know anyone who might know a lawyer in the Santa Barbara area? I know a few lawyers who live near me (North Carolina)–it’s a long shot, but I will email them anyway and ask them if they know anyone in CA.

    This is our chance to help Lia, but it’s bigger than that. The Civil Rights movement worked because people were able to bring a national spotlight onto people being arrested at a drug store counter or in a bus. Real change happens when relatively small incidents become national news. The whole problem, it seems to me, is caused by the courts; let’s see if we can use the courts to help solve it.

  15. LindaLou: There seems to be in a certain extremism to the free range movement where any questionable choice is defended no matter what the actual circumstances.

    I disagree; with every story that’s been posted, the parents have not deemed what their kids were doing as ‘questionable’. They trusted their kids and their kids abilities, whether to walk to school, climb a big freakin’ hill or babysit their siblings. Those parents know their kids best, not us, not the police, not the CAS agents. It is up to the parents to make what they feel is the right call when it comes to their own kids, not anyone else. Some of us might feel that its’ questionable, or extreme, but for those kids and their mom, it wasn’t. You may feel this was a ‘poor choice’ on the mother’s part but obviously it wasn’t; noone got hurt, there was no need for the lifeguard to come over or police to get involved, and certainly no reason for Lia to lose her license. The other parents whos’ children were involved with the trip had nothing but support for Lia. Doesn’t that say something?

  16. Linda: I disagree. There was nothing questionable in this outing to Lia and the other parents who’s children were also there. Lia set limits and knew what the kids were capable of and trusted them. That’s what being free-range is about; knowing our kids, teaching them to be independent and strong, self-confident people, and trusting them. There was no need for the lifeguard to come over, or the police to be called; noone was hurt or even in real danger at any point because Lia was keeping a close eye and knew what the kids were capable of. There was certainly no reason for Lia to lose her license. You may feel the whole situation is questionable but really, why?

  17. I don’t know, Jen. I read Lenore’s book and was so jazzed abut this website, but when I actually read it, there are so many times when my heart just sinks. I don’t think a lot of these supposed “outrages” have anything to do with actually raising free range kids.

  18. The telling thing to me is that the other parents of the kids Lia was responsible for were/are supportive of her. They are local (we’re not) and presumably have some experience of the terrain and local attitudes. They know Lia (we do not) and obviously trust her judgment. I don’t know what the whole scene looked like to the person who called the police, but I do know enough people (usually, but not always childless) who are on one hand unwilling to approach a stranger face to face to express concern, but who are on the other hand opinionated and callous enough to take drastic action. But will Lia ever know who it was who ruined her professional career and smeared her good name? Most likely not. b

  19. Kate, that’s a good point.

    If you’re concerned about a child’s safety, shouldn’t your first step be to ask the parent if they need help getting the kid down? Sometimes kids do climb too high and whatnot. At any rate, if ALL the parents involved trust this woman’s judgment, and considering that the kids didn’t even get minorly injured (of course, kids fall and hurt themselves all the time), I don’t see how they needed to revoke a license.

  20. […] Outrage of the Week: Teacher Lets Kids Climb Hill, Cops Come Calling Hi Readers — Here’s the latest outrage. Lia’s nature-oriented nursery school/kindergarten might not […] […]

  21. Commenter #2 is kinda right. There could be a little more to the story.

    I grew up a free-range kid in SB. The cliffs at the beach there are diatomaceous earth – think chunks of chalk that break off in sheets. Kind of like natural drywall. I was allowed free reign all over the beach, but the cliffs were off limits. Kids can hang on the ice plant, but nothing roots very well and it slides like an avalanche. I suspect there were warnings posted (to protect the hillside more than the kids).

    However, if the parents were okay with it and no one was injured – I don’t see it as a reason to shut down the school.

  22. I’m not surprised by this at all. Isn’t this from the same state that tried to make homeschooling illegal? California does not care in the least what parents believe or what the facts show. Unfortunately, my state seems to follow everything Cali so I hope NY doesn’t come to this.

  23. Amen, Lola. I often wonder how many CPS people have direct full-time responsibility over children. I think a couple months of practice ought to be a requirement for the job. Then we’ll see if things like Mom falling asleep on the couch constitute endangerment.

  24. The issue is the ancient one of how an advanced minority copes in a society of normal (stupid) people.

    The truth is: with difficulty. Reform and enlightenment happen slowly, taking generations. Backsliding and misinteretation are ever present dangers.

    Stupidity is the normal, aka default, state of human beings. The sick are the mass, the majority. In terms of species survival value, it is not healthy.

    It is always an evolved, mutated minority who can see beyond what is, to what can be, and then decide what ought to be. In survival-value terms, they are healthy. And they are lonely.

    The terms ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ are useful in daily conversation. But in analytical discussion ‘healthy’ and ‘diseased’ are more meaningful.

    “Hey, you’ve got to hide your love away…” went the song.

    “Cast not your pearls before pigs” said the guru.

    Recognise that you are different, abnormal, superior. The rule of the fool will burn you at the stake, or its modern equivalent, unless you appear to conform.

    For your own peace of mind, do not hate the mass of morons so much as pity them. But for your own safety, be not soft. Do not reveal yourself to them. Do not hope to ingratiate yourself. They will turn and destroy you.

    Robert Anson Heinlein’s novels had much to say on survival. I forget the titles that apply. Whilst his premise is fantastic, the general principle is real and useful. His support of child beating, however, is perverse.

    Of course, there are SOME minorities who are not advanced at all, just mentally ill…

    “Know thyself” said Chilo.

    Good luck.

  25. Lenore, the incidents that people relate here are very scary and Orwellian. Parents are not permitted to think for themselves anymore, for fear of the other Brown-Shirt parents ratting them out to the state — “for their own protection” — of course.

  26. If you live along the coast in California you know how unstable the cliffs and bluffs are. It’s drilled into you. Lifeguards warn you about it, newspapers lament it, homeowners dread it. It’s a fact of living there. They are notoriously unstable.

    From FEMA: “Confirming earlier studies by others, these studies showed that erosion in California occurs episodically, not at a steady pace. Although beach retreat and flooding pose a high risk to the East Coast and Gulf states, bluff collapse is the greatest threat in California. This is particularly true in counties such as San Diego and Santa Cruz, where houses have been built on unstable sea cliffs.”

    What does this mean? Kids climbing the buffs can be crushed. And have been crushed. I’ve been witness to a person being buried under a potion of bluff collapsing in Del Mar. It’s not pretty, fun or cute.

    To be free range you have to take into account the potential dangers a kid may face and help make a decision on whether its a good idea or not. Again, in this case it was another dumb decision. Everyone knows the cliffs collapse AT ANY TIME WITH NO WARNING. To let your kids play on them is just stupid.

    AS a PP said, there is more to this story; I’d love to get the rest of it.

  27. Ali and Michele, thanks for the information and insight. Maybe the mother in this situation isn’t a native to California and still hasn’t had this all drilled into her?

  28. I just find the “and my son was naked” part humorous. I was a free-range kid and do a pretty decent job of not bowing to the fears of today’s society and let my kids live.

    Climbing naked might be a line, though, that would make me, as a bystander, question what the hell was going on. Which leads to the idea that there really probably is more to the story.

  29. I spoke with Lia via email and I was correct in my guess that this beach http://www.santabarbara.com/virtual_tour/beaches/hendrys/ is where their outing was. She informed me that spot #1 on the map is where the kids were climbing. To me this does not look like a highly dangerous place to climb, nor to sunbathe; if the cliff was in danger of collapsing at any moment would people be dozing in the sun underneath it? I doubt it.

  30. I have to agree with some of the other commenters here. I hope that the Outrage of the Week doesn’t always have to involve a parent who exercised relatively poor judgment. The four-year-old was climbing a steep hill naked?

    I take away from this the same lesson as last week’s Outrage: yes, the punishment did not fit the crime (not a crime in either case, as a matter of fact), but in both cases the parent also should have known better.

  31. What struck me about this story is that the police were called! As some people have pointed out, we only have one point of view and don’t really know all the details. But even if the situation was a bit worse than Lia’s perspective on it, why in the world wouldn’t one of the several spectators help out? It sounds like there were 5 kids and one adult. If this truly was a somewhat dangerous situation for boys (and I’m not saying it was, but just saying hypothetically), what a terrible commentary on our society (or at least the Santa Barbara area) that people will stand and watch, and then call the police instead of simply lending a helping hand!

    THAT is the outrage (along with the license being revoked too, of course!).

  32. Ali and Michelle–
    I’m not from SoCal so have a question. For the places with the very unstable bluffs, are there signs posted to that effect? I’m assuming so (otherwise, how would visitors and toursts possibly know the extreme dangers of the areas the way that locals do?). And I’m also assuming there aren’t signs at this particular part of the beach.

    Also, Lia mentions that the lifeguard took a trail around the side of the hill. So to me that means that this wasn’t so dangerous if there’s an actual trail there.

    So, while there are definitely unsafe parts of the beaches in that area of SoCal, perhaps this isn’t one of them?

  33. This is ridiculous.

    I’m assuming, because there is no indication otherwise, that: Lia is trained in outdoor exploration, safety, and first aid (if she is certified to teach it); Lia was given approval by the parents of the other children involved (if they were enrolled in the class); and Lia did not see any clear, obvious indication that the area the kids were climbing was abnormally dangerous (because there was no mention of a sign or other guidelines, and she was not told that the group was trespassing).

    I can see why the police were called (unless Lia had proof that she was a certified teacher, parents would likely question her qualifications; plus, the naked/partially naked child). I think that revoking her license was a radical and extreme decision.

  34. MommyMitzi, looking at that picture – if the hill is the first one I still have no idea to evaluate if it’s likely to collapse at any minute, but the face of it seems pretty sheer, straight up and down. I’d be a little cautious about letting a four year old climb down it myself.

  35. People can be overly meddlesome.

  36. Just wanted to point out, if you look at the cliffs closely you can see several areas where the cliffs have already collapsed and eroded. And the bigger boulders with plants on the top? they started out at the top of the hill, not on the beach. And the people sunbathing are not directly under the cliff; they’re further away.

    Signs are not posted everywhere, but generally are included at the lifeguard station.

    Can we have an outrage that doesn’t involve dumb decision? I’m with the parents what want their kids to walk to school, to ride public transportation or walk across a parking lot to a library. But letting kids climb in areas that are unsafe or dropping kids at the mall just doesn’t qualify as free range to me.

  37. How times have changed!! Why can’t we let our children be kids? I ‘ve encounter something similar, but not to that extent.

    I was at my sister’s house, and my nefew (2) was playing with my children (5 & 7) in the front yard. My sister’s front yard has grass, driveway, and a sidewalk. My sister and I were sitting on the step watching them.

    Her mother in law came out yelling that we should have helmet’s on the children in case they fall and hit their heads on the concrete. When I told her she was being rediculous she left, because she couldn’t watch the danger the children were in. When my son ran to hug her good-bye he fell, and that fueled her even more. All I said was “Some of my best stories are from childhood scars.”

    They say we are supposed to take our kids outside to have adventure’s, but only if they are wearing helmets, and pads. Instead of letting them be kids; which does include getting hurt to learn their boundaries.

  38. I’m assuming, because there is no indication otherwise, that: Lia is trained in outdoor exploration, safety, and first aid (if she is certified to teach it); Lia was given approval by the parents of the other children involved (if they were enrolled in the class); and Lia did not see any clear, obvious indication that the area the kids were climbing was abnormally dangerous (because there was no mention of a sign or other guidelines, and she was not told that the group was trespassing).

    Well said, Sheena. I figured the same thing, based on how her school is run and her 10+ years in education, both outdoor and in the classroom.

  39. berly: A very common way that nonsensical rules and beliefs evolve is that someone takes a statement or principle that makes perfect sense in a very limited context and then overgeneralizes it. For example, a kid who has poorly-controlled tonic-clonic seizures may very well need to wear a helmet when he/she is around concrete; if he falls, he’ll fall really hard and he won’t be aware of it and able to break his fall safely. But extending that to non-epileptic kids is nonsense. Lenore has already given us the example of plastic bags, which do in fact pose a serious asphyxiation hazard to infants and very young toddlers, but no such hazard to school-age kids.

    If you’re designing a standardized educational achievement test to be administered to all American kids of a certain age, you want to make sure that you don’t include test items that are going to be easier for kids with certain geographic experiences (for example, items that include knowledge of swimming in the ocean). But some educationists have taken this idea and run with it all the way into left field, claiming that it’s “unfair” for children’s books to have stories about activities that aren’t geographically accessible to the entire population.

    Can an adult be a good “role model” for children if he/she does things that children aren’t allowed to do, like driving, having sex, drinking, etc? Would your (generic your) judgment change if I added “working full time at a job” to that list? If so, why? After all, child labor has a pretty ugly history.

  40. I think there is a valuable lesson in for children (and adults) in watching someone handle a dangerous (or even just a perceived dangerous) situation. I had parents who taught me to step back, assess not only the situation, but what resources I had at my disposal to combat whatever it was I was dealing with. I never saw my parents panic at storms or danger or handle with anything other than calm cool and collected (and no we are not a family of first responders, just desk workers). As a result, I am myself the person that people naturally come to when things go wrong – because I have an idea or way out in most instances.

    By the same token – children can learn to panic or fear by watching those around them be fearful of a situation. You can learn not to try by being too scared to do so.

    That’s the lesson that I believe the lifeguard, onlookers and whomever called the police sent- to not try because it is too scary. That is the shame of this occurrence, because as no one was hurt, I think it was a wonderful lesson for the children involved. I learned the best lessons as a kid from harrowing stories of child hood. From each I learned new skills independence or sense of self that I didn’t have before. Those skills, etc. are being lost for children that aren’t gaining experiences on their own.

    Isn’t that what this is all about – not about whether or not we believe we have the whole story, or whether or not the child was naked.

  41. I have to agree with Ali on this as well. I have enjoyed this website, but some of the so called free-range is just poor decisions on the parts of parents. As for last week’s outrage, I live in Montana and there is not anything for anyone to do at the Bozeman, MT mall for three hours. You would have trouble shopping there for three hours even if you were a hardcore shopper so i can see why the mall workers would call the police.

  42. Well said, Brenda. I think you’re right in that we *have* missed the point with the ‘outrage of the week’ stories. Thank you for reminding us.

  43. This absolutely chilled me. Like Lia, I run a small nature-themed preschool out of my home. I know how draconian the state’s licensing policies can be, and have no trouble believing that the state shut her down in reaction to a perfectly healthy-but-wild moment she enjoyed with her kids.

    Lia, your school sounds so wonderful. I hope you’ll be able to open your heart and your doors again soon and continue the wonderful work of connecting children with nature.

  44. I’ve been following this blog since Lenore first started it, and I was inspired by her original story.

    I’ve kept up as other stories are posted, and I’ve gone back and forth as I read these last two stories… They always seem reasonable to me until the punchline:
    …and I had them taking my three-year-old, so long as they didn’t leave him alone and let him get out of his stroller!
    …and so what if my son was naked, why should anyone have suspected something weird was going on, just because I hadn’t prepared him for a day of freezing cold water at the beach!

    It’s not the basic instinct to not freak out when kids show independence, I get that. I get wanting them to be independent and grow up in an environment that trusts them to make mistakes and learn, that all makes sense to me too.

    It’s the defiant resistance to admitting any actual fault that gets me. I’d love to see the actual police report or the report of a bystander on these stories just so I didn’t feel like I was getting a completely one-sided tale, told to a crowd breathlessly waiting for the end so they could cluck tongues and express indignant outrage, no matter what the actual facts were.

    And then the comments, like that from “Cy Quick” above (check the website…) make me want no part of this. “THEY just don’t understand US, poor fools”, the imperious denigration of society at large… I just can’t identify with that. I fundamentally believe that the bulk of people out there are well-meaning and understanding. If there’re problems with institutions, or with rules, I don’t take it out on everyone who’s not with me, I take it out on the institutions. Show me a law that needs changing, and I’m all over it. Tell me that we’re in a special club, set us up against the outside world, and tell me how horrible they are… and I’m done, that’s not a club I want to be in.

    Thanks for the thoughtful posts, Lenore, but your followers are a little too zealous to make me want to hang around for the echo chamber. You might think about ways to encourage commenters to discuss the anecdote on its merits rather than instantly jump to express outrage and solidarity with the poster. Good luck with that, but, do it without me, as this is the point where I take FRK out of my feeds.

  45. Sheesh, people! We have to be perfect now? We are only human and as humans we make mistakes. Maybe Lia made a mistake, but no one DIED, no one was even HURT! Don’t you remember what it was like to be a kid? Don’t you remember what it felt like to climb a tree or a really big hill? Were your parents around when you did it? Most likely not, because we could go out on our own and do whatever. At least there was a responsible adult nearby. I just want those same freedoms for my kids. It’s hard in today’s world. We obviously have to be perfect. And quite frankly, I’m terrified because I know I am only human.

  46. I have to agree with people that have said that this is not a good example of free-range. Bluffs along sea-coasts are often inherently unstable – not just in So Cal, but everywhere. An ascent of such a hill is always somewhat dangerous, and though it’s really not possible to tell from photographs, as far as I and tell it looks like something I would have deemed too dangerous for even an adult to climb. People do stupid things in the outdoors all the time, and “nothing happened this time” is not a good guideline for determining how smart it was to do or whether to do it in the future.

    Now, that being said, if the parents in question have seen the bluff and didn’t have a problem with their kids climbing it, I don’t really see that havning the police involved is going to be productive. People do stupid things, but I believe more in education than law enforcement to prevent accidents.

    Still, Lenore, I think that if you’re trying to win over non-free-rangers to the cause, you need to pick your outrages more carefully. People aren’t going to be as sympathetic to the story if the decision really was questionable, regardless of how over-reactive the response was.

  47. I think that Heather J makes a great point. No one is perfect and this mother and teacher is being persecuted for decisions that while perhaps less than perfect resulted in no injury and have the full backing of all of the parents of her students. So, exactly what more are we looking for to support? We are first and foremost human, life is a series of decisions and repercussions for those decisions, good and bad.

    If we want to head down the “there but for the grace” path well then – we are just heading down the same path that got us all to this movement/blog in the first place. It is a very slippery slope.

  48. Amidst all the supportive comments for Lia, I think there is a subtle contradiction. First I am in total support of her letting the kids in the school test their limits because the parents seemed to understand that was one of the purposes of the school. However some have commented that since “no one got hurt” that it was okay. My reply is, “So what if a kid or two got a minor cut or scrape or even broke an arm?” (In the big scheme of things even a broken arm is minor.) Does an act become neglect or endangerment only if a kid gets hurt? There should be an understanding that even when kids are allowed to test their physical limits even under supervision in the outdoors there is a potential risk of injury. The question of neglect or endangerment is not whether a kid gets a minor injury but whether the risk was reasonable considering the overall benefit to the kid of the experience. I let my son push his limits in the wilderness of Colorado and he sometimes got minor injuries while having some of the best experiences of his life. He is now 27, tough, compassionate, and self-confident. I make no appologies.

  49. I know nothing about the safety (or not) of climbing on sand/cliffs near CA beaches — whether they are stable or not. I will say that the picture provided does not look to me like something I would consider stable to climb on.

    It seems to me there are two separate issues here …
    1. Was this a good idea? To answer my own question I doubt it, based not only on concerns about the children’s safety (and questions about the stability of the hill being climbed) but on the issue of teaching children to respect and not damage wild spaces. Those hills look fragile to me.
    2. Did it merit the police being called? It certainly doesn’t sound like it to me (related point: revoking license? Good grief. Again, a ridiculous thing to do.).

    I agree with Leonard and would challenge others whose response is that this was OK since no one got hurt. Surely we’ve all done phenomenally stupid things where no one got hurt (My personal example: driving from DC to UVA on ice-coated roads. Moronic. I got safely to my destination.). Conversely, one can do reasonable things after taking appropriate precautions and end up hurt. So while it might be useful to know at what rate people get hurt if 1,000 of them engage in some activity, knowing that a given event did or didn’t end in injury neither lets you know that it was safe (or sensible, or OK), or that it wasn’t.

  50. I don’t see a problem with letting the children climb the hill. I don’t know about the hills in CA. I do however have a 4yr old who is definitely a free-range independent kid. He would have climbed the hill (or tried), maybe naked or half-naked. I believe children do know what is dangerous, if we adults don’t scare them out of listening to their own inner voice. The police were called on my son because he was walking home from my older son’s (age 7) friend’s house 1 block away on the sidewalk. He was actually with his brother when a neighborhood lady in her car started following them and then called the cops. This really scared them – they ran all the way home! The police were outraged that I would allow them to walk unsupervised on the sidewalk such a distance (1 block away)!

  51. This does seem similar to last week’s story in that it involves a judgement call that many parents, even free-range parents, might not have made. To me, the key fact is the extreme nature of the response (why call the police? If the kids seemed to be too high to get down safely, ask the adult with them if she needed help. If the hill is not suitable for climbing, as evidenced by posted “no trespassing” or “keep off” signs, tell the lifeguard or other person in charge. WHY the police?).

    In addition, even though I don’t know if I would allow my daughter to climb that hill (would have to know more about the area, know if people were allowed on it or if climbing was prohibited, and see it in person rather than in a picture), and I *know* I would not allow her to take her clothes off in public (freezing cold jeans or not)… Lia didn’t allow MY kid to do these things, she allowed HER kids, and kids of parents who trusted her and agreed that it was ok. For me, part of the challenge of raising a free-range kid is that so many people think it’s not enough to make decisions for their own kid, they need to tell me how to take care of mine… I think this story illustrates that problem perfectly. Even if the bystanders were truly worried, and didn’t feel comfortable climbing up to help, once they saw the kids down safely that should have been the end of it – not their kids, their opinions were not necessary, and I cannot see how calling the police benefitted them at all, the ONLY possible outcome it could have is to hurt someone else (Lia, and the kids/families whose school is shut down unexpectedly). Why take an action which hurts others and has no impact whatsoever on yourself?

  52. Lisa asks, “Why take an action which hurts others and has no impact whatsoever on yourself?”

    I’ll tell you why. Because these buttinskys are convinced that the cops are there to take care of whatever they find outrageous. And it’s not just in relation to children, either. One time I accidentally backed up into the bumper of the guy behind me (I was at the bottom of a slope and he was on the slope and my vehicle was higher than his, so I didn’t see his headlights). I literally tapped the guy’s bumper and left a scratch that could be buffed out. I calmly accepted responsibility and gave him my insurance info, but he started going on about how I’d nearly totaled his precious car and he didn’t like my attitude so he was calling the cops. When the cops got there, he all but demanded my arrest. Thankfully, the cops informed him that they don’t need to be called if there’s less than $500 in damage.

    The guy felt entitled to a perfect existence, free of scratched bumpers. And these onlookers felt entitled to their perfect existence, free of things they didn’t understand. Call the (public) servants to come take it away, because they don’t want to see it anymore!

  53. I have a bit insider’s look at Lia and her mothering. She is a wonderful mother of two active boys who get an opportunity to explore the world around us. A world that not enough kids get to explore. I do not always agree with Lia, (I am the mother of four adult-aged children), but I have respected her choice to raise her children as she has chosen for her family. I fall on the side of being over-protective and I like that parents, like Lia, help me not be so uptight by their example. Also, no one was hurt in this incident which proves that there was no danger. So, what is the problem?

  54. […] “Teacher lets kids climb hill, cops come calling” [Santa Barbara, Calif.; Free Range Kids] […]

  55. Come and see the insanity inherent in the system. Sorry Californians, you are all guilty of doing this to yourselves. You have it within your power to strike down the nanny state and its handmaidens in the trial bar. Rise up and seize it.

  56. Maybe those who disagree with Lia should have had a mock funeral on the beach and carried coffins while dressed in black to make it clear that the kids could have been hurt or killed by climbing the cliffs.

    But some might think that insensitive. Of course, everyone has a right to their opinion.

    Sometimes its a pain in the neck when liberalism comes back to bite ya in the butt. But that is what the nanny state is all about. Less freedom and more government control. Because the government knows what is best for you and your family, right?


  57. Ha ha Brett, that’s pretty good. Although, that whole protest thing is probably just marketing for her. In order to trust her judgment on which cliffs their little tykes should be climbing, these parents have to see that she has “correct” political opinions as well.

  58. bouldering is a natural skill kids have. Climbing anything as well. It is an ancient instinct for fleeing to safety during times of danger. That’s why its so easy for kids to climb, even when really young (6mo for me). Once again, goodygoodytwoshoes are taking what kids do naturally and making it obscene. Good grief.

  59. […] first read Lia’s story on Free Range Kids a few months […]

  60. As a certified climbing instructor with 20 years experience I am appalled by the lack of understanding many of you “care providers” seem to have about climbing. The forces and heights involved here are very very dangerous. The terrain this woman was utilizing is unsafe. It does not matter if the area was erosion prone or not. It does not matter if she thought she was in control. This woman violated so many tenets of “climbing instruction” I don’t know where to start.
    If I had witnessed this incident I would have asked someone to call 911, assisted the children, and insured that this care provider did not place these children in any further danger.
    She is actually lucky she isn’t facing further charges (reckless endangerment?) but since this isn’t my area of expertise I hesitate to speculate on the legal side of things.
    She demonstrates a remarkable lack of responsibility and seems to blame everyone but the one person in charge of those children… herself.
    The majority of the comments on this site are viewing the issue from a unique perspective and I fault no one for that. Everyone has good intentions. But I’m sorry to say, this is dangerous and everyone should at least read a book or better yet seek specialized training before deciding to place children in this environment.

  61. Where can you find this stry to read it on the internent?
    this stoy called Avalanche of yours!

  62. Whoever reported her had no business doing that, she was NOT committing any type of ‘child endangerment’ and was there to lend a hand obviously, in case the kids needed it. Outrageous.

  63. I can’t believe that the teacher’s would risk thier young students life for them to attend school. Why not let the teacher climb down every day and risk their life instead and teach their students. That seems to me more like abuse to the children.

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