And So, Things Change

Hi Readers! Have a great weekend! — L.

Dear Free-Range Kids: I just wanted to share with you a small but happy Free-Range story that probably wouldn’t have come about if your site hadn’t given me the courage to articulate the reasons why my children should be allowed to do strange things like walk to school alone.

Every morning I stand out on the footpath to wave goodbye to my 7-year-0ld and 5-year-old as they head off to school on their own. They now no longer want me to wait until I can no longer see them, and I don’t get the lovely waves and blown kisses that they used to give me as they disappeared over the hill – they are too big and independent for that now!

Sometimes the girls would be leaving as our neighbor across the road was getting her girls into the car. I never asked whether her 6-year-old wanted to walk with the girls, as I am always worried that people will think I’m a little strange. But one morning the mom asked if her daughter could walk with my girls.

It has now become a daily event! I let my 7-year-old cross over to pick up her friend, then they cross back together, and the three girls walk up the street. I can’t think of a more satisfying, heart-warming sight.

Recently, the girls started asking me if they could see if their other friend from further up the street (whose house they have to pass) would like to walk with them. Now, this little girl’s mother is definitely not a subscriber to the Free-Range philosophy, if her constant exhortations to her 7- and 5-year-olds to “stop running, walking only” on the way home from school are anything to go by. So I wasn’t sure how she would react, but I said yes. So my 7-year-old asked. And she was thrilled when her friend — same age — was allowed to walk. So was I. Four little girls laughing and skipping to school together, no adult to stifle their “just being.”

I have been planting the seeds in the minds of the two mothers that I hope will continue this next year, even though the oldest girls will no longer be with them, and I think I might have succeeded. I am looking forward to seeing a gaggle of 5 happy children heading off to school next year!

Thanks again! — Janet Matthews

28 Responses

  1. Too sweet! Congrats!

  2. WOOT!!???!??!?? Letting children walk to school alone!!!!???? OMG just think of the horrors, the pedo monsters could get them!!!!!!

    Sorry, but with the current day hysteria, I just had to. I hope they enjoy many happy and carefree trips to and from school.

  3. Lovely story.

  4. That’s fantastic. Because now, you have kids who are independent, and a street full of people who are looking out for them. Because, isn’t that how it should be? They say it takes a village . . . in this case, a neighborhood.
    Good job mom!

  5. Just wondering … is this story from Australia? That the writer says “footpath” instead of “sidewalk” was my clue. I know you were here / down under recently. I’m an American who moved her a couple years ago and my impression is that Aussie parents are a bit less helicopter-ey than Yanks. If it is from the USA – then yay! Makes me not quite so freaked out about moving back. 🙂

  6. Great story! I fondly remember the walks home from school with my friends and classmates. It was a good time to vent about family, school, boys, etc.

    My sons and friends walked to school in kindergarten. It solidified the friendship.

  7. Stories like this are really dull. I don’t mean that in a bad way at all. It’s so sweet. And it should be so normal! Like, I let my kids do something free range and… NOTHING HAPPENED. Lovely.

    Here’s a few I have. The other day, I allowed my kids to visit the toy section at Target while I shopped in another part of the store and… NOTHING HAPPENED. Oh, and a few weeks ago they and their friends were in the woods and wanted to go for a little hike down a path they know well by themselves. I hesitated, but let them go and… NOTHING HAPPENED. Oh, I’ve got one more. I was at the playground and didn’t know where one of my 6 year old sons was when it was time to go because I hadn’t been watching him. Turned out he was just playing at the other end of the park and… NOTHING HAPPENED.

    Gotta love that nothing.

  8. ❤ ❤ ❤

  9. Thank you so much for sharing this. So sweet…almost brought tears to my eyes.

  10. Janet,

    You and your kids ROCK. Hard.

  11. It’s nice to hear a free range story that doesn’t end with a lecture by the police. Thanks!

  12. A wonderful story, and all it takes is an open mind.

  13. Janet, thanks for your wonderful post. I think stories like these are essential to allow other parents to reclaim normalcy. You’ve encouraged parents in your local area- (I didn’t notice the footpath usage, because I’m an Aussie too- I hope it’s here), and even more parents online.

  14. Inspiring!

  15. Wonderful! Just last week, my 8 year old daughter was doing a deposit at our bank which is in our grocery store. She told me to go shop and she would wait in line for the teller and do her thing. So I did….

  16. And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street!

  17. As one of the few kindergarten parents who isn’t STILL walking her child into the building (where the kids have to walk about 40 feet before they’re at their classroom door), I bless you. This is getting ridiculous.

  18. This reminds me of something I saw not too long ago at the mall. I saw a two year old who was not only walking (no stroller in sight), but he was walking a couple of feet ahead of his parents AND he was carrying his own diaper bag ( in the form of a backpack)! I love when I see stuff like this because it reminds me that not every parent has lost their mind.

  19. Yay! So cool!

  20. Yay!!!!!

  21. yesterday I went and bought two bike locks so my 8 and 10 yo can ride their bikes to school. Mother said maybe next year, but I prevailed. The ride is about 6km and it will take them about 25 minutes. They will only have to cross one road as the rest of the trip is on a walking/bike track along the coast.

    It’s still a big improvement on mum letting them walk to the bus stop on the other side of the road by themselves which she still isn’t that comfortable with.

    I hate fear motivated parenting.

  22. @Shelly

    That used to be my daughter… backpack and all, lol.

    Now (she’s 16) she walks faster than I do and I have to tell her to slow down all the time… and she is confident to be on her own – and knows her way around – most of the major cities in Canada… and a few of them in the US too!

  23. We just moved from the Big City to a smaller community where the Big City is now at least 3 hrs away just to get to the border of it. My kids can’t walk because we live literally right next to the school bus stop. At least they can take the bus together, right?

  24. (For the record, I am in Sydney, Australia, but I would like to hope that, had I still been living in NJ, I would have tried to encourage the same thing!)

    I agree that it is wrong that something so simple and normal should feel so notable that I was compelled to write to Lenore about it.

    I have 3 younger children as well (a nearly-4yo and twin 22mo boys). They often ride their scooters to school when we go to pick the girls up (yes, I have to do this – the school will not release children who are not met by an adult ; it’s not something I feel like arguing about, as I quite enjoy the daily walk!). I let them ride ahead of me, driveways notwithstanding. The 3yo gets to school long before I do, as one of the boys is a dawdler.

    The other parents are amazed (not sure if it’s in a good way!) that my little ones are so independent. I’m amazed that they think my children are unusual. Shouldn’t that be the way children are – happy, independent and adventurous?

  25. Janet, I am a strong believer in leading by example when it comes to free-range parenting, and your story is a perfect example of what happens when you do just that. It’s great to hear that your little ones are turning a mundane activity (walking to school) into something that will hopefully be a fond memory they look back on as adults. 🙂

  26. My 9 year old walks with a friend to and from school everyday. They have to walk about 1km and in that time they talk about everything and anything without any adult commenting on what is being said. They are never late to school and I know by the smiles that they really enjoy their independence. Thankfully my son’s friend has Free-Range type parents as well!

  27. I Love this!!!

  28. How a helicopter parent almost torpedoed a similar effort: A few summers ago my daughters (5th and 3rd grade) would walk from school to the neighborhood pool for swim practice – 1-2 blocks with one crosswalk to navigate – maybe 1/3 – 1/2 mile. Then other friends started walking with them as their parents realized this was a safe bit of freedom. I got a call from another parent saying she “heard about what was going on,” and did I want to organize something where they all met under the flagpole at school closing and mustered there (my words, not hers) to walk to the pool? My daughter was not happy – she just wanted to walk to the pool – at the pace she wanted – with WHOM she wanted (OK, little sister in tow, but that’s it). She didn’t want her freedom ORGANIZED. I wrote a nice note to the other mom explaining that and thankfully it did not break out into mom wars – I think she understood. It was frustrating though – geez – a simple walk to the pool – can’t we even give them that???

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