Free-Range Kids Town Thriving!

Hey Readers! You’ll like this — L.

Dear FRK: Thought you’d appreciate some good news for Free-Range Kids (who are so Free-Range here no one would even consider the term meaningful). Our local paper came this afternoon and the front page photo was two boys goofing off at the local park. They’d tipped a picnic table up on the skateboard ramp and were balancing on it. The caption: “Tyler GIllespie 13 and Brennon Sleuth 12, attempt to balance atop a picnic table after tipping it on its end at McNair Skate Park, Thursday afternoon.” Not even a hint of, “Ooh! so dangerous!” or even, “Bad kids!” — just two boys goofing off.

On the same front page was this story about a girl who got stuck in a swing.  Note — the parents weren’t publicly scolded for letting the 9-year-old go to the park alone. Everyone, including the girl involved, seems pretty clear that it was a dumb move, but there’s no alarmism. Just another kid, goofing off, getting in a little trouble and getting out of it. (And giving an adult male stranger a hug!)
Then, at the back of the front section (it’s a small paper, only 2 sections) was this nice story about another two boys who started an egg business to buy stuff they wanted.
So if folks are becoming downhearted, they should know there are places out there where kids are still allowed to do things. It’s one reason I wanted to move here — Livingston, MT. When I came to visit I saw kids riding bikes without grownups, walking to school, even goofing off in the creek without anyone getting all up in their business. Helps that it’s still a pretty rural area — oh, and the paper is usually delivered by middle-schoolers. It’s an afternoon paper, and seems to be a classic learn-how-to-work job around here.
Cheers! —  Charlotte McGuinn Freeman, who blogs at

16 Responses

  1. I live in a small town like this and this summer my (11 y/o) son will have a worm farm so he can walk down to the river by our house where people fish and sell them for bait. I love the though of him earning his own money and learning how to interact with the fisherman,most of whom are regulars and retirees. It is much easier to be Free Range in a small town.

  2. Ah, I loved it when we lived in Montana. We lived in Bozeman, and it was wonderful to see kids walking to school, in 25 degrees weather, with shorts, and ice skates over their shoulders that they were going to use during recess.

    I worked with some people from Livingston, wonderful place, very concerned about doing right by the kids. But, in a good and empowering way, knowing that kids can and will do good given a chance. Each community up that way has its own wonderful character.

    (As long as you don’t say you are from California!) (Preceding was a local joke. Please don’t take it too personally if you are from California – it is just that a fair number have moved up to MT and try to make things more, well, helicoptory. Tending to want new laws that the truely local have never thought needed regulating.)

  3. I think this also shows what people were mentioning in the comments in previous posts. Kids DO do dangerous things.. and its OK! Many comments in the previous post about naughty kids, kids doing differently when mummy is not watching etc Exactly! thats what kids do.

    Kids play differently to adults, and are more agile and willing to try things we would not. They should be stopped from very dangerous things but I think we need to let them play through their most of their ideas.

    I also have no problems with other people in the neighbourhood mentioning a ‘be careful’ or having their eye on my kids.(funny they might listen to strangers more than me!) That is how communities used to be. Everyone kept an eye out and everyone knew everyone one.. were kids perfect in the past?? NO infact I think they were worse! yet kids roaming around was normal! ( A nameless person rang the police on me about my daughter sitting on our garage – she sits up there occasionally for peace and quiet and watch the clouds and loves to climb. Instead of understanding that or asking us about it or just keeping an eye on her without dobbing… we get the police come and question her and us!)

    last year my girls were walking home with friends. A couple of silly thing happened (of course) so I told them that the better be careful as they are wearing a school uniform and anyone in the neighbourhood will know where they are from. The girls also informed me about some boys throwing big seed pods at them. Did I go charging down there yelling Abuse? Bullying? No we discussed that either they walk home faster to avoid the boys, delay at school so the boys will already be ahead, tell the boys to their face to please stop it etc. Of course the kids were able to work it out themselves and it stopped.

  4. I meant walking home regularly not just once with friends.. incidents happened a variety of times.

  5. I love these posts reminding us that it is possible to bring up kids sanely.

  6. I *LOVE* getting good news once in a while!!!

  7. Always love to hear stories of communities that are sane and where play and independence are normal.

  8. My community is similar. Kids are often out by themselves. I think maybe it’s a rural area thing. My area is very rural. More cows than people is the joke, and might be true. I think maybe people relax more in such areas cause with less people they somewhow feel safer. Some people I know agree with letting their kids run free here but say they’d never do the same if they lived in a city. More people and tall buildings=terrible danger I guess

  9. I also note that there are no qualms about posting full names and ages in these stories and photos. And despite that, I bet the number of bad guys traveling to Livingston to kidnap a kid they saw in the paper is right around zero!

  10. Yay for good news on a Monday morning!

  11. It’s sad that this is news, but it’s heartening to read anyway.

  12. Acheron2112, why is this sad? Livingston is a place that not much happens beyond the rising of the Yellowstone River. Occassionally they elect a new mayor, or hire a new librarian. In the past there was too much news when a cult moved in nearby. In areas like this, it is great news, no one killed someone else, no major stabbings outside a bar. People there like the old adage “No news is good news!”

    The next town over, Bozeman, has the silliest police blotter around. I think that because they have to investigate the silly stuff that people call in, they publish it in the hopes that people will not waste thier time calling in unnecessary stuff, like say a kid daydreaming on the garage roof.

  13. “I think this also shows what people were mentioning in the comments in previous posts. Kids DO do dangerous things.. and its OK! Many comments in the previous post about naughty kids, kids doing differently when mummy is not watching etc Exactly! thats what kids do.”

    LOL, I wouldn’t have thought of it that way, because I don’t consider that kind of thing misbehaving. I expect my kids to use good manners and to obey the law (including traffic laws). If they do that, I don’t see anyone having any right to complain about them.

  14. Love it.

    Our latest free-range moment: On Saturday I started allowing my children (almost 12, 10 1/2, 9 1/2 and 6) go around town on their own. Well on Saturday it was just the middle two. There was a parade on Main Street to kick of the Little League season.

    So I told them to go and behave. They ended up going with a friend (who is 11) and walked the two miles to downtown. Had a blast, got tons of candy and started walking home. But friend’s dad stopped and gave them a ride since the friend had to go somewhere (and, really, it’s two miles so who wouldn’t want to catch a ride home, lol).

    So later that day they asked if they could go with that same friend to a local park that is about 1 1/2 miles away. I told them they could and to take their 6 year old sister. They eagerly agreed and off they ran. They came back just before it started getting dark–utterly exhausted and full of pride and stories of adventures (the kind they probably wouldn’t have had with me around).

    On Sunday the 10 year old once again went with his friend to that same park. A little while later his “best friend” knocked on the door. The kid’s dad used to live down the street from us so whenever the kids were visiting their dad they came over to play. They moved away a year ago. I told the dad I was more than happy to watch the kids so he could do whatever it was he needed to do but had to tell them my son wasn’t home.

    I explained where they were and he just brightened up. His response was, “isn’t it great you live somewhere where you can do something like that.”

    Yes, yes it is.

    [he also drove over to said park to see if he could find my son and tell him to head home to play]

  15. Wonderful! This is the small town *I* grew up in 🙂 Currently living in another small town with lots of free range kids. Love it!

  16. We recently moved from New England to the northwest corner of Montana, and have found the same refreshing change. We’re only in our current town temporarily, but we have decided to stay in Montana for good so our kids can range freely:)

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