Ho, Ho, Ho! Scarrrry Christmas!

Hi Folks — My friend, who is a magazine editor, is already compiling her December gift guide (of course), and one of the many products that just crossed her desk is this: A backpack with a built-in car alarm! Just pull the string and the thing starts shrieking. “Because,” my friend noted, “nothings says ‘Happy Holidays’ quite like a school bag with a built-in car alarm.”

Yes, that is why we are friends.

Good day/night from Australia — Lenore (who is not giving out the URL for the backpack peddlers because they don’t deserve publicity).

The 7:30 Report

Okay, I won’t say, “G’day, Mates!” again, because apparently that is about as cool as going to Kentucky and hooting, “Yeehaw,  y’all!” or, for that matter, arriving in New York and saying, “Greetings to my peeps!” (Unless, of course, one is greeting a cadre of small, marshmallow bunnies.) So hello from Australia where the food is great, the people are fun and the time is all screwed up. And below is my interview with Kerry O’Brien on The 7:30 Report.

Now I shall go throw another shrimp on the barbie…not. (Come on, I’m not that pathetic. And also: I’m in a hotel. No barbie.) — L.

G’Day, Mates!

Hi Readers! I’m down here in Australia to give a talk at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas at the Sydney Opera House this Sunday. Folks seem very interested in the idea of letting their kids enjoy a life outside the house. Yay! And more soon! — Lenore

Outrage of the Week: Boy Suspended for Lighter He Found on Way to School

Hi Readers — Like the headline says: A Jersey boy, 11,  found a lighter on his way to school. Brought it in, another kid noticed it, by 8:40 a.m. he was suspended for the day. Why? Because the lighter, “has the potential to compromise student safety in this building,” according to the superintendent quoted in this APP.com story. “It’s our responsibility to keep kids safe. I feel very secure about our decision. We have zero tolerance for this type of thing.”

Later she added, “It depends on your whole interpretation of what a weapon is. It’s not a weapon as a knife is a weapon. But a weapon is anything that has the potential to cause harm.”

So — time to get out the hack saws and chloroform. After all, students’ arms and legs have the potential to cause harm, too. Lots of it!  I’d feel super secure knowing none of the kids could kick someone down the stairs, or slam a locker, or even HOLD a lighter, much less use it. Let’s hear it for the logic of Zero Tolerance!  — Lenore

Scootering Kids Replace Car Drop-Offs in London!

Hey Readers — Here’s one of those game-changers: A new, light, 3-wheeled scooter called the Mini Micro is suddenly so popular in England that kids are abandoning their cars (well, their parents’ cars) and getting to school on kid-power instead.  As reports The Economist:

The devices and their proliferating cheaper imitations have drawbacks. At school-run times, some London pavements resemble racing tracks, as tiny speedsters weave and zoom…. But the benign impact on traffic and carbon emissions may offset such annoyances.

At Oxford Gardens, a diverse primary school in the inner-London borough of Kensington and Chelsea, the number of scooting pupils has risen from fewer than one in 100 in 2005 to almost one in seven—while the proportion of children arriving by car has fallen from 20% to 16%. Half a dozen schools in the borough report scooter-commuting rates of over 30%.

Pretty cool for a previously obscure mode of transport. And I think the idea of a third wheel is so blindingly brilliant — not to mention stabilizing — that I wish I’d thought of it! Scoot on! — Lenore

The Saturdays (And Other Free-Range Books From the Past)

Hi Readers — A note from a reader who’s a reader, Linda Wightman, who blogs at Lift Up Your Hearts:

Dear Free-Range Kids: I seem to be seeing everything through Free-Range eyes these days. I don’t know how old you are, but did you or your kids ever read Elizabeth Enright’s The Saturdays, The Four-Story Mistake, and other Melendy tales? I was recently re-reading them, on the grounds that any book good enough for children is good enough for an adult seeking distraction from the pain caused by imprudently descending from high altitude with a head cold.

To quote from my own review of the books (can’t I do anything without writing about it?):

What struck me most … was how very much [these books] are a Free-Range Kids manifesto. The kids are far less worldly-wise than today’s average children, but far more competent. They are entertained and even awed by things that would cause most modern American kids to yawn with boredom and make rude remarks. But they wander New York City on their own at 10 years old (with permission) and even six (without); they love Beethoven, and Shakespeare; they wander over hill and dale (in the country), sometimes gone all day and returning home after dark; they sew, and cook, and build things; they put on plays and arrange benefit concerts for the war effort (the books were written in the 1940’s); they get into scrapes and get out of them by a combination of their own ingenuity and knowing when to ask for help from the adults around them. They know the “don’t talk to strangers” rule, and more importantly they know its many exceptions.

Yes, I know this is fiction! But it’s a lot more true to what I knew when I was growing up than most of today’s “realistic” children’s fiction. The people over at Free-Range Kids are an eclectic lot, and I doubt they’d all enjoy Enright’s books, but to me the Melendys are a shining example of the “normal childhood” that many Free-Rangers are working hard to promote. Books like these can encourage both children and their parents in that endeavor, simultaneously promoting family love and loyalty, parental authority, and children’s competence and independence.

And now I’m reading another book on statistics with a (false) life of their own, and you know exactly what I though of….

Keep up the campaign! — Linda Wightman

Lenore here again: I remember  reading and re-reading The Saturdays and the rest of the series. And as for my age: I’m old enough to not remember much of anything about those books except that I LOVED them. (For the record, I was NOT reading them in the 40s!) — L.

(Bad) Advice from “All You” Magazine

Hi Readers — This note is RIGHT ON!

Dear Free-Range Kids:  Just thought I’d let you know of this snippet from the most recent All You Magazine. It incensed me to the point of writing an email to the author scolding her for her “professional advice” (this column is written by “Relationship Expert” Nancy Carol Rybski, PhD). Here is the article:

Q. A 6-year-old boy in our neighborhood stops by often to play with my 7-year-old son. His mom and dad never check on him or pick him up – he just walks home when I say it’s time to go. I end up babysitting him for hours! How can I talk to his parents about this?

A. Next time, walk the boy home and chat with his parents. Explain that you’re glad the kids are buddies but you’re busy and can’t have their son over all the time. Don’t be accusatory, but say you’re concerned for his safety when he goes home alone. If they’re still hands-off, tell them he can’t come over, because you just can’t be responsible for his safety.”

Here are my thoughts: First of all, why does this mom even have to talk to the parents? If this boy is coming over too often or staying too long, she should talk to the child directly, perhaps negotiate what times he can come over and for how long.

Second, why is so unsafe for this boy to walk down the street to his neighbor’s house to play with a friend? Rybski is just encouraging people to worry about all the horrible things that might (but mot likely will NOT) happen if a kid goes outside without an adult.

Finally, why does this mom feel like she has to babysit this boy? She should send both boys outside and give herself a break! Instead of obsessing unnecessarily about their safety, why not bask in a little sanity while the kids enjoy a walk around the block together?

Anyway, I wrote this “Expert” a letter using the email provided in the magazine: relationships@allyou.com. Perhaps a few other Free Range readers might want to do the same? — Lauren Ard

I think they just may. Thanks! — L.