A Whittle Help Needed

Hi Readers! Over at another blog I was just reading about a 4-year-old and his kitchen knife skills. They were good for his age, as evidenced by the video, but it’s not like he’s Julia Child. So I’m wondering: What age can we start teaching kids to use knives? And does anyone have any info about the “olden” days? Like — what age did kids used to start whittling? Going a little further back, at what age did kids start using stone tools? And if anyone knows what is going on in other countries, please tell: Do kids in other cultures use knives or spears or machetes very young?

I have a feeling kiddie knife-use is going the way of tree climbing and fort-making. So zooming back to our present day culture right here in the nervous first world, if you’ve got a simple tip for getting kids started (or getting PARENTS ready to get their kids started) do tell!  Thanks! — L.

Outrage of the Week: Goggles Banned as Straps Could “Snap”

Readers — This story makes The Onion look like The Economist. But, in fact, it is straight from The Telegraph, in jolly old (off-its-rocker) England:

Children have been banned from wearing goggles during school swimming lessons for fears they could hurt themselves.

Pen-pushers have slapped the ban on the swimming aids amid “fears” a pair could “snap” onto a child’s face too hard, injuring them.

I stop here because I am at a loss for anything else to say, except…

No, I actually have nothing to say. I suppose rubber bands are next. — Lenore

All those people in dire peril!

Stealing from Kids

Hi Readers! This gem of an essay was found on page 4 of a newsletter from the Brookwood Elementary in Leawood, KS. Kudos to the anonymous author! – L.

Are You Stealing from Your Children? by Anonymous

I watched the other day as a parent came into the building with her (very capable) child. As the child stood idly by, mom carefully put everything in his locker neatly, reminding him that he had his lunch on top there, easily retrievable, and hanging up his coat for him as well.

The child, looking bored, leaned up against the lockers as his mom loosened his boots, took them off, put them in the locker, and tied on the school shoes. Mom then took the gloves and coat off, reminding the child that the gloves were now carefully placed in the pockets, and stored them in he locker. XOXOXO, and he’s off to… you might think Kindergarten but no — several grades up! Even Kindergarten would be a stretch at this point in the year.

When children have no need to do things for themselves, what do you think will happen over time? When children know their parents will do everything for them, what message did the parent send? And when their peers see this happening, do they see the child as independent and a “can do,” capable person? They may see incapable, they may see lazy, or they may think that the parent is being fooled.

What I see is a parent stealing an opportunity from a child – an opportunity for an independent, shared relationship going forward. If you are doing something for your child that s/he could do for himself (and it’s not “just this one time”), give that some thought…who really needs to have that done, the child or you?

There Vill Be NO Teacher-Student Conversation!

Hi Readers! Here’s a new development on the what-can-we-worry-about-next front. It’s from Kelso, Washington, a town of about 12,000:

A proposal by the Kelso School Board aims to create a more professional relationship between teachers and their students.

The proposal makes it a fireable offense to show students pornography, harass or touch students inappropriately, or to smoke or drink alcohol with students. Along with those common sense rules, teachers will not be able to talk about their family or personal lives in the classroom. [ITALS MINE]

That’s right — lumped right in their with porn and pawing is the offense of teachers being open with their students. I think of how gleeful my high school son was talking about his history teacher’s passion for her hometown Pittsburgh Steelers,  and how my younger son loved hearing stories about his teacher’s kids. In Kelso those conversations would be verboten: They reveal personal details!

Mustn’t have teachers and kids connecting like human beings! It could be (somehow, in some strange dark fantasy world of fear) dangerous! — L.

Oh Please! “Terrifying”? The Latest “Alarming!” News?

Readers: This “service” piece on NBC Over-Reaction News — sorry, NBC Action News —  tells us that because there is a GPS locator embedded in the pix we take on our cell phones, “the bad guys” can NOW SEE where our children live, where they “recreate” (such a police verb — it means play), and where they “go to school.” It can even “locate their bedrooms!”

Which means that if you are a predator who could not possibly OTHERWISE ever figure out where there is a park, or a school, or a house with a trike in the front yard, at LAST you can find yourself a child, using sophisticated technology.

SUDDENLY our children are unsafe — and it is all technology’s fault. And how GRATEFUL we must be to the TV reporters who dwell and dwell and dwell on the fact that now we parents must be even MORE vigilant, because so many predators are busy using GPS embeds to “cherry pick” (TV’s word) and track down the ONLY kid worth taking: YOURS. Because her smile is so irresistibly sweet!

Shake, shake, shake. Those are your marching orders for today: SHAKE IN YOUR SHOES. They are watching your every move! If you love your children, be MORE CAREFUL! (And if you DON’T love your children, go ahead and take their pictures, you dreadful parent. You will suffer the consequences!!!!!) — L.

Will This Toy Get My Kid into Harvard?

Hi Readers! Here’s my piece from today’s Wall Street Journal:


Remember when a ball was just a ball? Now it is a tactile stimulating sensory aid that helps develop gross motor skills.

Really. Strolling through the international Toy Fair at the Javits Center in New York City last week was like walking through the brightly painted halls of a children’s hospital—at once cheery and sad. Cheery were the shiny bikes and busy ant farms. Sad was the way the marketers made it sound like they were peddling early intervention in a box.

Take “Baby’s First Construction Marble Raceway Set” from Rollipop—a very cute plastic set of chutes and curves that any marble would be delighted to loop through. It looked ready to delight any kid, too, and better still keep him occupied while Mommy checks her BlackBerry. But according to the box copy, this was no mere diversion. It was an educational show-stopper that “encourages hand-eye coordination,” even while “visually stimulating” the brain and developing “fine motor skills.”

Read the rest here!

WWAFD? (What Would Atticus Finch Do?)

Hi Readers! Normally I just tweet the lovely essays that come my way, linked from other sites. This one I have to recommend right HERE, to make sure everyone knows about it. It’s titled, “The Best Parenting Book You Will Ever Read,” which happens to be “To Kill a Mockingbird.” The piece (from Australia!) addresses several situations in a Then vs. Now way, such as:

• There’s a reclusive man living in your street. Widely believed to have stabbed his elderly father in the leg with scissors. Probably kills and eats cats.

What we do now: Sadly the police can’t do much unless someone found bloody scissors or saw a cat in a sandwich, so the next step would be to get the media to investigate. Then we’d get a petition together to have the man moved. Possibly via a Facebook page. Only then would children be allowed out unaccompanied.

What Atticus did: He told Scout and Jem to respect the man’s privacy. Also, they were not to refer to him by his nickname, ‘Boo’ but as ‘Mr Arthur.’ When the kids tried to lure him from his home and were chased by Arthur’s father with a gun, Atticus sided with the old man.

• Six year old daughter complains twelve year old brother bosses her around. She asks ‘do I have to do what he says?’

What we do now: Investigate what is causing the conflict. Is daughter not being given enough attention? Is son being bullied and is therefore exhibiting bullying behavior? Are the children unsettled because their father is a single parent? Are they spending too much time together? Should separate schools be considered?

What Atticus did: He took Scout on his lap and said, ‘Let’s leave it at this: you mind Jem whenever he can make you. Fair enough?’ That gave both kids a something think about.

The rest of the essay is just as good. I loved it. — L.

You Must be an ADULT To Walk a Dog! UPDATED!!!

Arrrrroooooo! Readers — This proposed law makes me want to lift a hind leg somewhere in Manassas, Va:

City leaders want to make it a requirement that only responsible adults be the ones walking their dogs.

“At the other end of the leash, there must be an individual who is competent to control the animal,” Manassas Councilmember John Way told NBC Washington’s Craig Melvin.

Way admits this has not been a widespread problem, however one woman recently reported having to jump on the top of a car to escape two stray pit bulls.  Way also ran into a similar problem while walking his small dog down a public street.

That’s the spirit! Cripple an entire culture because of two incidents. Prohibit children from having any responsibility, any role to play in the adult world other than being cute (and victims, of course). One question, Manassas: Will children be allowed to pour their own milk before age 18? Or are the dangers just too great? — L.


I just spoke to John Way, the city council member who is sponsoring this law, and he says that it does NOT specify an age that the dog walker has to be. Only that the walker be competent! So the reporter got it wrong in the story I picked up, and I’m sorry I repeated it here before speaking directly to the councilman. All is a little saner than previously thought! Woof! — L.

Kids and pets: What a dangerous combination!

BIG NEWS! Free-Range Kids Meets Reality TV

Hi Readers! And now for something completely different: Television! I am about to start filming a reality TV show dedicated to the wild idea that our kids are at LEAST as smart and safe as we were — so why don’t we stop treating them like hand-blown swizzle sticks?

Yes. For real! This is a TV show that is going to try to turn the tide.

The show will feature yours truly going to the homes of parents who are OPEN to the idea of loosening the reins a little (or at least one of the spouses is), but still worry about a lot of What If”s: “What if the kids get hurt?” “What if they get lost?” And, of course, “What if somebody snatches them?”

And who can blame folks for worrying this way? Considering that most media spend the day screaming that our children are in terrible danger from everything you can think of (Germs! Dirt! Branches! Predators! Playing in tree houses! Going on sleepovers! Video Barbie! Valentine’s Day! Halloween!), parents are naturally at their wits’ end. As a result, sometimes even reluctantly, they forbid their kids  the kind of freedom that used to DEFINE childhood. The freedom to ride a bike to the beach, or meet friends at the park, or simply walk to school.

With any luck, the families and I will talk about what’s lost when kids are cocooned and what is gained when we teach them to start making their way in the world — safely! This is not about daredevil parenting. It’s about sort of old-fashioned parenting in modern times. And as somber as this post is starting to sound (somehow I’m hearing a cello solo as I write), the show should be FUNNY too.

So what I’m looking for is families who haven’t taken the Free-Range plunge yet, but are almost ready to try it, with me (and the cello) on their side. The only catch? They have to live in or around New York City or Toronto. I know that means missing a lot of great families, but those are my marching orders.

If you think your family might be interested, or if you know of another family that fits the bill, please drop a note to Sylvia Lee, the casting queen, at Slee@cineflix.com. And also, please feel MORE than free to post this plea on your Facebook page or any social media you’re on. We really want to find some great families and have  a great time and spread the idea that our kids can be safe and sound, even if we are not watching them Every. Single. Second.

That’s it. Thanks for your help! (Don’t I sound calm?)  — L.

Why Not Hire Armored Personnel Carriers?

Dear Readers: This is from a comment on the Afghanistan post — the post where we learned that while American schools worry that Valentine’s Day could emotionally scar the children, and 15-year-olds waiting outside for a ride could be in danger, 12-year-olds in other parts of the world are the heads of households:

Dear Free-Range Kids: On a personal (Free-Range) note, at the school where I teach I was informed that we now have to get written/signed parental permission for our classes (Elementary schoolers age 5-11) to walk across a one-lane road WITH FOUR TEACHERS to a park/playground that is literally directly across from our parking lot.

This is new. We used to just take them all the time AND let them run back to the school in pairs or small groups when they needed to use the bathroom, or get more toys or whatever. Not anymore, apparently. Thankfully, all of the parents signed the slip (most agreed it was ridiculous) so at least we can continue spending our afternoons outside (mostly) Free-Range playing.

And so it goes. – L