Help Needed! 50 Things to Do Before You’re 12

Hi Readers! This is so inspirational — Britain’s National Trust has come up with a list of 50 things kids should do before they’re 12. These include take a look inside a tree, watch the sun come up, go sledding, make a mud pie…

Many of them sound great, a few sound impossible unless you’re living in the outback. But the rationale behind them all makes a ton of sense: We tend to think of childhood “enrichment” as something involving classes and museums (and car rides and money). But free time, exploring and doing things YOURSELF are enriching, too.

Which got me to thinking: Could we make our own Free-Range List of Things to Do by Age 12? Of course this is not a “must do” list because it’s…Free-Range. But still, maybe this could just be a little reminder of the things that are safe and fun and “enriching” that some parents have forgotten about, or avoided out of fear. A list might re-normalize them as part of childhood.

So if you’ve got some ideas, let’s hear! — L.

Good for the list? “Feed some local animal.”

121 Responses

  1. One of my favorite free range activities as a child was to make myself a peanut butter and pickle (bread and butter pickles, not dill!) sandwich and take it down to the bridge over a small creek. I’d hang out under the bridge and eat my sandwich, go up on the bridge and have leaf races (drop two at the same time and see which one came out from under the other side of the bridge first), walk to the lake shore where the creek started and watch the water rushing, and generally have a great time.

    I would also explore a small woods behind my house and pick wild raspberries and mulberries, though I probably ate more than I ever took home!

  2. Climb a tree!

  3. Try to dig to China.

  4. Own a pocketknife.
    Prepare a meal with minimal supervision (even if it is mac n cheese).
    Eat something you’ve picked/caught/cleaned yourself.
    Go on a wilderness hike.
    Sleep under the stars.
    Play a pickup game of baseball/hockey/basketball…whatever!
    Navigate to somewhere you’ve never been before.

  5. Oh – and get completely soaked dancing/playing in the rain!

  6. Pick apart a flower
    Look through a telescope
    Look through a microscope
    Have fun with a box of baking soda and a large bottle of vinegar
    Pickup beetles, both alive and dead
    Watch a meteor shower far away from city lights

  7. Ride a horse. Pony rides at the zoo or the county fair count.

  8. [attempt to] catch a bug
    Build a fort
    swing on a rope/tire swing
    Swim in a lake
    Walk to the store and buy a whole bunch of candy

  9. So my kids have done at least 25 things on that list. They are 2 & 4…
    @Rich Wilson: LOVE the meteor shower idea!

    My addition to free-range list: Catch fireflies, raise Butterflies, make a terrarium.

  10. Bicycling wasn’t on the list and hasn’t been mentioned. And urban kids can do it, too. Plan a 10-mile or even 25-mile route and do it in a day!

  11. Burn something with a magnifying glass.
    Touch a snake. Petting zoos count.
    Swim in open water (beach, lake, river – non-chlorinated!)

  12. We should do our own version:

    Go to the bathroom alone in a public place
    Walk to school without an adult
    Find a book in the library by yourself
    Use a butter knife
    Have your picture taken in public by a non-professional who is not your parent

    Okay, I’ll stop. But while everything on the list is something every kid should have the freedom to do given the opportunity, I worry more about the kid who doesn’t get to walk to the corner by himself before he’s 12, than the one who doesn’t have the opportunity to go abseiling (rappelling) before teenagerhood.

  13. Those are all great suggestions but I am wondering if Lenore meant something a little different. Many of these activities can (and some should) be done with adult supervision. What are some of the things kids should specifically try to do on their own before they are 12?

    Here is what I hope my daughter will be able to do before she is 12. (She is 10 now and we are not quite there yet.)

    Walk to the grocery store, with a shopping list, and bring groceries home.

    Ride bike to a friend’s house at least 1 mile away.

    Ride public transportation.

    Navigate an unfamiliar neighborhood with a map.

    Cook a meal.

  14. If you’re lucky enough to spend time at the shore, build a sand castle while the tide is out, and try to dig a moat that will save it when the waves come back in. Good bucket and shovel a must.

  15. – Learn to swim
    – Milk a cow
    – Bottle feed a lamb / calf / piglet
    – See something being born
    – Make tea/coffee for at least people and serve with biscuits or cake, properly presented
    – Identify some plants / trees / birds
    – Shop for basic groceries at the supermarket, understanding how to look for the cheapest and use a budget
    – Get so dirty and muddy than only the eyes are visible

  16. A South African one… “maak a vuur en braai boerewors”! (Make a fire and barbecue sausage)

  17. Can I share?
    I never shared here but I want to now.

    And I’ll bring it back to topic, but now I want to share my glee.

    We live in an underserved part of Los Angeles. We bought the cheapest house we could find and sent our son (now 8) to private school. The upshot has been that his friends are driven to playdates and helicoptored into a state of incompetence, while we try to teach him to be self-sufficient in a vacuum.

    This week, he started playing hide and seek with some of the kids in the neighborhood. He comes home sweaty, tired, and happy, with skinned knees he doesn’t whine about.

    He has boundaries we showed him, which include two third-world looking alleys that all the other kids play in, and we’ve opened our yard for potential hiding. I trust him to keep the boundaries and if he doesn’t, well, we’ve already taught him how to get home.

    His friends parents are horrified and I’m sure they’re gossiping terribly, which means I’m doing something right.

    So, I’d like to add some things to the list.

    –Play in your neighborhood
    –Skin your knee and keep playing
    –Play with children from a different social/economic/educational strata.

    Unrelated but relevant

    –Get lost and find your way home
    –Bike or walk to school
    –Eat things that make you uncomfortable

    Thanks

  18. Build a camp fire, safely handle and operate a firearm, bake a cake, use a compass, sew something with a sewing machine, build something out of wood.

  19. grow a plant (fruit, veg, flower, anything)
    catch worms for fishing
    find something using a map and compass
    get into an argument with another child and resolve it without adult assistance

  20. My daughter turns 9 next week. She has requested one thing that could go on the list for urban kids:
    go out to a restaurant for dinner with your two best friends… no adults, but we get to send the money!

  21. Walk to the library by yourself and spend an afternoon there.
    Go sledding on something that wasn’t built to be a sled (a trash can lid, a cafeteria tray).
    Stay up all night whispering with your best friend. (Bonus if it’s in a tent pitched in your back yard).
    Try to sell something door to door in your neighborhood.

  22. Learn first aid.
    fix a flat bike tire
    give the dog a bath in the yard with a hose ( should be a big dog)
    Earn money on your own.

  23. Catch a turtle!
    Catch a bull frog.
    Play in a sandbox.
    Find the oldest most rickety playground set and climb on it. 😀 The old ones were fun!
    Build a treehouse.

  24. Some good ideas above! From my childhood (with no parent involvement):

    Start a business or community organization (however small);
    Plan and perform a show for the neighborhood;
    Design and make a special gift out of 100% recycled junk;
    Teach yourself how to do something “hard,” like play an instrument;
    Plan a day out, including a picnic, and set out before your parents wake up;
    Design and assemble a first aid kit;
    Design and publish a community newspaper;
    Find your way (legally, safely) to a destination that is too far to walk;
    Babysit or teach a small child a skill;
    Surprise your parents by beautifying a part of the home (no permanent alterations!);
    Be 100% responsible for all your homework all year;
    Probably lots of others, but I gotta go!

  25. Play in a creek: make sandbars, dams, catch crayfish
    Dumpster-dive for construction materials and build something with your loot.
    Sword fight with wooden swords
    Build a ramp and jump bikes

  26. Spin around really fast until you fall down

  27. Go to the movie theatre and sneak into a couple different movies, go ice blocking on a golf course after hours

  28. Swing as high as you can on the swings and then jump off
    Build sandcastles
    Explore ANYWHERE without supervision (a path through the woods, through the dunes at the beach…you get the idea)
    Build/Find forts.
    Develop your own language.
    Tell yourself your own story.
    This is all I can remember from my own childhood–thanks for the inspiration!

  29. Go trick or treating without parents
    Go to the movies without parents
    Bake a cake for someone by yourself (box is fine)
    Plan and prepare dinner for the family (bonus points for doing the shopping too)
    Earn your own money (extra chores, babysit, mow lawns)
    Open a savings account that you are responsible for (separate from any your parents have set up for you)
    Wait in the car while your adult runs errands
    Responsibly care for a pet (even just a goldfish)

  30. That “try to dig to China” reminded me of the time my brother and I were digging in the back yard. Our dad saw what we were doing and asked, “Are you trying to reach the Kerguellen Islands?” A bit later he got down the world globe and showed us where the Kerguellen Islands were. They’re in the middle of the Indian Ocean, and were the nearest dry land to where we’d come out if we kept going straight down (from Southern California). I should mention that he was a US Postal Clerk, a job in which a good sense of geography comes in handy. He even knew where Tannu Tuva (the area later made famous by Dr. Feynman) was.

  31. Go to lunch at a restaurant with friends.
    Use a pocketknife – my son does this, he’s 9! Even knows how to sharpen it and is learning to whittle.
    Plan and cook dinner
    Start a fire (and put it out again)
    Cook over the fire you just built
    Swing on the swings as far as you can get them to go
    Babysit

  32. sleep outside under the stars
    be friends with a baby age 2 or younger

  33. I had a houseful of boys at the table tonight for dinner. Here are their suggestions:

    Have a birthday party off the grid… Invite your friends, set up camp in your yard, build a fire yourself, eat only food you cook on the fire (hot dogs, corn on cob, smores, popcorn), play manhunt after dark. No parents invited.

    Run your own lemonade stand. Talk to strangers and make new friends.

    Bike through a creek.

    Learn to drive a car, just in case.

    Try Bow-fishing (archery+fishing=fun)

    Catch, clean and gut a fish and cook it for dinner.

    Ding-dong-ditch your neighbor with a nice gift like homemade cookies.

  34. Run into a gas station or drug store to buy a pack of candy while your mom waits in the car.
    Pack your own lunch when you need to.
    Ride your bike to a friend’s house.
    Spend the night in your backyard without an adult.

  35. Catch some tadpoles and raise them into frogs or toads.

  36. …flashlight tag!

  37. Volunteer somewhere
    Camp in a tent (my family’s yearly camping trips as a kid are some of my fondest memories as a kid, I got closer to my family while still having some room to explore and learn about nature on my own)
    Plan and host a slumber party
    Write your own thank-you cards

    And one for the age of the Kindle:
    Visit a used book store and take in the feel and scent of old, yellowed books

  38. Me thinks Lenore should collect these into one big list and share it.

  39. skin knees…preferrably by age 2
    kick the can or capture the flag or other game, unsupervised, in the neighborhood with friends. maybe even at night (ours was, though admittedly I was the youngest kid, but I was playing at about age 7).
    make dinner/lunch with knives, ovens, food processors, etc — basically just as mom or dad would. reading the recipe on your own.
    laundry and any other household chores
    spend the night away from home…camping even better
    held a job (baby sitting, yard work, filing, etc.)
    took public transit alone

    I dunno, the more I think about it, the more I think you should have done a LOT by age 12. When I was 12 I would take the train to new york city by myself (from over an hour away) to go to dance class. I flew by myself once because there was an occasion for me to. I wouldn’t put those on a bucket list because financially a lot of people don’t do those things, but maybe they can be examples of the urban version if you aren’t somewhere where you camp much. Though I, too, did outdoor exploring.

  40. There’s a pair of fab and relevant books
    101 Places You Gotta See Before You’re 12
    101 Things You Gotta Do Before You’re 12

  41. Build a treehouse
    Make dinner for the family (not just reheating)
    Learn to make change (without a calculator)
    Volunteer
    Build a fire while camping
    Learn to swim and tread water
    Learn how to mend rips in clothing
    Speak publically
    Learn to do laundry
    Know how to read a basic map
    Perform transactions with grownups without an adult helping (buying things, asking for help at a clothing store, etc.)

  42. Eat a strawberry right from a plant you grew,
    blow the seeds off of dandelions
    try to catch fireflies on a hot summer eve

  43. Per my 17yo.
    Visit another country.
    Visit another state
    Sleep under the stars
    Climb a tree

  44. @Krolik, while I love your list, many of the other things like “climb a tree, catch a bug, etc” ARE free range for some of us. I have some local “Mommy friends” who think there is no reason why children should ever want to climb a tree and intend to drive them to school right through high school. In my neighbourhood, the CAS was called by the school when a 10 year old was permitted to walk home alone, and every day the traffic jam outside the local high school as parents drive their kids to school is mind bending. Just today, another Mommy and I helped an 8 year old to her feet when she fell off her scooter. After we sent her on her way, the other Mommy said “can you BELIEVE they let her out on her OWN? And I am so surprised she spoke to us, we’re strangers.”. Umm, I live across the street from them! We are hardly strangers…. Another Mommy recently expressed dismay that her 4 year old was ruining her manicure digging in the dirt. Such is the neighbourhood in which I live. Free Range is a bigger struggle in some neighbourhoods than others…

  45. -secretly earn and/or save up money so you can buy someone you love a gift
    -help a friend (or yourself) with a minor injury by cleaning up the wound and bandaging it
    -phone a family member the old fashioned way
    -teach a little kid how to catch a ball, play hopscotch or climb a tree
    -solve a problem on the playground by telling the big kid (who’s trying to interfere with your game) to either join in or go away

  46. – gather friends and hand-held toy instruments and have a “parade” through the neighborhood.
    – mischief night (need I say more?!)
    – have a yard sale (sell your old toys)
    – create a treasure hunt for a friend, leading them to clues around the neighborhood
    – make your parents breakfast in bed

  47. Not something to set out for, but if you haven’t gotten poison ivy (or local equivalent) once by age 12 you’re not out in nature enough.

    Build a house out of cardboard boxes, tape, and other crafty things. For dolls, action figures, pets, doesn’t matter.

    Change a diaper.

    Along the lines of the restaurant adventures mentioned by a few people: Go clothes shopping without parents!

    Do your own laundry.

    Spend a weekend home alone.

    Play with fireworks (as local law allows; sparklers count).

    Prank your parents.

  48. Do something nice for someone you don’t know
    Donate your unused toys
    Tell your parents something about yourself they don’t want to hear
    Learn to shoot a gun safely
    Walk away from an argument or a fight
    Climb a mountain (real mountain, 10,000′!)
    Do something that most adults can’t do – race a triathlon, run a 10K, climb an overhang
    Clean your room

  49. Write a letter to Grandma and post via snail mail- this also incudes learnig how to correctly address a letter front and back!
    Climb a tree.
    Camp out in a tent in the yard.
    Build your own campfire and cook something/ anything.
    Make a rainy day box (no licenced brands, electronics or battery toys permitted)
    Learn to make a hot drink (tea, hot chocolate, coffee- for mum and dad)

  50. And I forgot:

    Get your parents to get you a credit card and learn how to handle money! (Our bank has child accounts with debit cards specifically for kids. They’re awsome!)

  51. Cook a meal
    Care for younger children with no adults present
    Navigate a large city with companions your age, not adults
    Bike to somewhere you’ve never been before (like a far park) and back
    Order pizza/from a catalog/whatever over the phone
    Volunteer at a nursing home
    Sell something (GS cookies, school fundraiser, whatever) door-to-door, talking with strangers politely.

  52. Wow, my kid is 7 and has done most of the things on that list. I’m pretty sure damming a river is illegal here though.

    As far as the FR additions go, I think all the best ideas have already been posted. 🙂

    Oh, don’t know if busking has been mentioned? I sometimes see under 12s playing (bad) violin near the supermarket.

  53. Do dishes (by hand).
    Do laundry.
    Grow a garden.
    Cook a meal.
    Make sidewalk drawings.
    Go to the swimming pool without parents.
    Ride a bicycle to school, ball practice or some other commitment.
    Stay home for an hour or two without any adults and without burning it down.
    Write a story.
    Record a podcast.
    Make and publish an online video.
    Write a blog.
    Perform in a play.
    Have a pen-pal or web-pal in another country.
    Own a tool-box.
    Hammer a nail, screw in a screw, saw a board in half with a hand saw, drill a hole with an electric drill.
    Build something useful like a birdhouse or a scooter.
    Paint it with a paint brush and paint.

    Many, many free-range ideas can be found in The Daring Book for Girls and The Dangerous Book for Boys.

  54. Raise an animal and care for its daily needs. This includes farm animals like sheep, calves, goats, poultry, and non-farm like hamsters, cats, dogs, birds, fish and snails.

    This one may not be appropriate if you are vegetarian, but, help with the slaughter and/or processing of an animal (deer, elk, or farm, steer, poultry) to make it into food portions.

    Raise some vegetables to eat, even if only salad in a window container.

  55. Cook eggs on the footpath in the summer.

  56. Create an artwork all by yourself.

    Take something complicated apart; maybe put it back together.

    Sneak a big-kid’s book and read it by yourself.

    Take care of a wild animal and release it back into the wild.
    Stick up for someone smaller than you, without causing a fight or getting adults involved.

  57. I once tried to dig to China with a friend. My dad stepped off the porch that night and into the hole. He ended up in a cast… oops.

  58. Start a fire, and let the kids roast marshmallows and throw leaves and twigs into it. My kids think that’s a big treat.

    Let them take apart an old appliance to see how it works.

    Play outside alone in the yard.

  59. Go sledding at the nearest neighborhood hill on the first big snow of the year.

  60. I’m sure some of these have already been mentioned, but I didn’t read through all of the comments.

    What my son does in the Boy Scouts:
    * Learn basic first aid
    * Use a knife, hatchet, and axe
    * Whittle a stick and cook a sausage or hot dog over a campfire with it.
    * Put up and take down a tent
    * Build an emergency shelter in the woods
    * Take care of younger children without adults present, teach something to a lower-ranked Scout

    Basic Free-Range things:
    * Walk, ride a scooter, or ride a bike to either school or a friend’s house by him/herself
    * Play at a local park without adult supervision
    * Ride local public transportation (bus, train, subway, tram) without adult supervision
    * Let your child stay out until dinner time or when the streetlights come on, whichever comes first
    * Use a public bathroom by him/herself
    * Let your child go to a nearby store by him/herself
    * Pack his/her own snacks and drinks for school
    * Sleep over at another person’s house
    * Let your child have cuts and bruises from playing outdoors. Kids heal quickly.

  61. Finish “Legend of Zelda” in less than 5 hours — no cheats.
    Power-level World of Warcraft mage in less than 3 weeks — no guilds/friends — just good honest looting/casting.
    1,000 headshots in Call of Duty.
    Finish Oblivion on hardest setting as thief / 2-handed fighter — not as spell-caster, just not the same game.

  62. Check out the answers to this question on Mamapedia. While there are a few “free range” answers, the majority have the standard answers of: times have changed, too many things can happen, you don’t want to take any chances with your child’s safety, and saying that the mom who wants her daughter to school is a lax parent.
    http://www.mamapedia.com/questions/2956592554524737537

  63. Oops, I meant the mom who wants her daughter to walk to school. I wish there was an edit button.

  64. I particularly like how a number of the posters make very authoritative statements about things that they are really just pulling out of their ass. Of course the standard “predators are everywhere” but also “girls get kidnapped more than boys” and “little girls are more likely to get kidnapped than bigger girls.” Where do they get these things?

  65. I came across this one on a forum, originating in Germany, about 4 years ago (one of the posts there has a reference to Lenore’s original story about letting Izzy ride the subway). It’s a little crude, and possibly a little sexist, but it’s still worthwhile:

    gideon
    10.Jun.2008 – 12:43 hrs
    I thought it was because they couldn’t afford cars up your way. I think the first step in cultivating a “sensitive child” with over cotton-wooling parents is the school run. The next is not letting them get dressed alone because they’ll sweat/freeze/get dirty too much. Then comes treating every scrath as a potential blood poisoning death scenario.

    A boy should have at least cut himself with a knife, burnt his fingers with matches, broken into somewhere restricted, fallen off his bike while doing a wheely, gottten covered in mud from head to toe in hie new trousers and once followed through in a farting contest and all by the age of 10.

    I have no idea whats right for girls. Cook a decent three course meal 😉

  66. Oops,. botched the previous link. Should be http://www.toytowngermany.com/lofi/index.php/t98923-30.htm

  67. Have a kissing booth at recess. Explore an old barn or garage. Drive a tractor. Find crayfish under rocks in a creek. Skinny dip. Stay up all night. Sell something by the side of the road (produce from the garden, lemonade, household items). Read a banned book or magazine. Go to someone else’s church. Run away from home for the day. Use a metal detector. Use a sieve or seine. Go 24 hours without electricity, on purpose. Make your own fishing rod; bait your own hook; catch a fish. Make something out of popsicle sticks or a chain out of gum wrappers. Bodysurf. Break open rocks to see what’s inside. Ask if you can sleep in a different room/space all summer; follow through. Keep a journal or diary. Stick up for a sibling or an underdog. Campaign for something; run for office at school. Participate in a fundraiser that doesn’t involve preprinted catalogs or branded merchandise–a car wash; a sandwich sale (assembly line!); a rummage sale. Play with friends without scheduling it or calling it a playdate. Get a sunburn. Develop tough “summer feet” from walking barefoot. Find where the unwrapped presents are hidden; decide for yourself whether to look at them. Flip an egg without breaking it; separate eggs; bake something from scratch. Have an all-day, one-on-one adventure with a grandparent. Save up for something; buy it. Witness an animal caring for its young. Find a robin’s egg, a snakeskin, unusual footprints. Witness a birth; witness a death.

  68. I thought of a few more from my own childhood:

    make friends with an elderly shut in
    fix your bike by yourself
    help (in a meaningful way, not just handing tools) repair a car
    build something with wood, hammer and nails
    make up a sport, with rules and scoring
    have a secret place only you and your friends know about
    stand up for a smaller kid against the bigger kid
    stay home from school by yourself when you are sick
    know where your food comes from
    accompany a friend of another faith to their religious services
    have a meal, or better yet celebrate a cultural holiday, with someone from another culture
    walk barefoot (I’m shocked at the number of people I know who never let their kids go barefoot even IN the house)

    Donna and gap.runner, I let out an audible groan when I read those replies. Do they really think if they state things as a fact that it magically is true no matter how absurd? I can’t help but wonder what they would say about my mother letting me walk over 2 miles to school in *gasp* kindergarten! And continuing that practice until we moved too far for me to walk so I *gasp again* walked to the bus stop by myself! I know their heads would explode at the thought of me waiting at a convenience store at 5:30am for my bus in high school. The fact that my uncle, a police officer with decades of experience, vouched for the safety of all these activities and let his own kids do the same would likely cause the world to implode.

  69. Water balloon fights. Build a hut from old planks an some nails. Build a snow hut. Climb up high in a tree and eat packed lunch there. Go and explore the world (or the neighbourhood you never seen), talk and play with kids you don’t know, put up a tent and invite friends for sleepovers and tell ghost stories in the dark, bake something and have a bake sale on the street.

  70. @gap.runner – re the mamapedia story. Not a single mom suggested what to me is an obvious answer – walk with the two girls yourself until they’re old/mature enough to do so by themselves.

    No, no, no. Cocoon your kid in 4,000 lbs of steel and a blanket of fear, and then wonder why they have “no common sense”.

  71. @Yah Seiner, I posted a reply on that site that basically said what you suggested. I said that the girls should walk together with the mom following at a discreet distance. When she realizes that the girls would be safe, she could let them go by themselves. But my post seems to have “disappeared,” probably because I didn’t toe the party line of “predators everywhere.”

  72. But you did spell “toe the line” correctly. That’s something!

  73. @Lollipoplover: I hope that my son is and has friends as thoughtful and fun as yours when he gets older. That’s a great list, and I love that they came up with it – especially the part about knowing how to drive a car “just in case” 🙂

  74. I forgot to mention “use tools” in my first post.

    @Uly, I’m old (early 50s) and I know about “toe the line.” One of my pet peeves is seeing is spelled, “Tow the line.” Don’t even get me started on apostrophe misuse. 🙂 My mother has always been a real stickler for spelling and grammar and I learned a lot from her.

  75. I know I’m being a stick in the mud here, but I get nostalgic about the following that I’d love to see my kids do WELL before age 12:

    – Show respect for your mother (ahem!) and other adults.
    – Take full responsibility for your own mistakes and limitations.
    – Be able to follow a short list of instructions without being watched, reminded, or threatened.
    – Leave a place as neat as you found it.
    – Be able to properly explain to an adult what you’re trying to accomplish and why and how.
    – Be able to work things out with peers without whining to an adult (or taking your ball and going home).
    – Be able to predict possible risks before starting an adventure and develop a plan to address them.
    – Include everyone who wants to be included in an adventure.
    – Other stuff like that.

    Seems to me that if we could develop that kind of foundation, it would be a lot easier to encourage kids to go out and make adventures on their own.

  76. Based on my own childhood memories, any kid between ages 4-8 should get to play with a hose. I can’t recall what was so great about it, but I remember hours of entertainment with that thing. Most of the time, I don’t think I was even squirting another person with it. Ours had a nozzle with settings, so you could vary it from a diffused mist to a really powerful stream. Kids, when you get older, it will become another boring tool only slightly more exciting than a hammer. All you’ll be able to see is how it kinks up and irritates you and never seems to reach far enough. Adulthood will steal the joy of the hose from you. Play with it now while you can.

    Also, had to respond to: “Power-level World of Warcraft mage in less than 3 weeks — no guilds/friends — just good honest looting/casting.” Think that’s possible — for anyone? Mage is the hardest class to level. I always encourage anyone who thinks they might be drawn to the class to start with that one. I did. I thought it was just a challenging game and didn’t realize most other classes don’t die at every provocation. Then again, my mage is 4 years old now and leveling’s a lot easier these days.

  77. Wow a lot of comments here! I hope I am not repeating what someone else said…

    I would say meet someone who speaks another language and ask them to teach you a few words. I did that when I was younger with Spanish and French, and that’s how I’ve learned a lot of Arabic.

  78. Skl1, great list. My almost 10 year old is not close to having achieved all of those though… lots of work ahead!

  79. Take a first aid class

    Learn CPR

    Climate dependent … try surfing, skiing, water skiing, snowboarding, sledding, or snowshoeing.

    Find the biggest grassy hill you can. Walk up it, checking for dog poop and sharp things … clear them out of the way and roll down it.

  80. Learn to skip a bar on the monkey bars.

  81. Tsu Dho Nimh, I love rolling down hills! I taught my toddler how to do that the other day.

  82. @AW13- I believe boys will be boys if we let them. My son has always loved the outdoors and now has a group of friends that share his interests. Today the “boys” went to baseball, then to the park (alone) but decided the woods were where it was at. They used Nerf guns and played their own version of the Hunger Games which lasted for hours. They got an invite to a friend’s pool and spent the rest of this beautiful day swimming. He is sunburn, exhausted, and watching “Jaws” now (hiding under a blanket!) and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
    And as for the driving- he started when he was 9. My husband works in the automotive industry and my son is absolutely obsessed with how cars work and how to drive.

  83. From Gever Tulley and Julie Spiegler there is the book “50 Dangerous Things (you should let your children do)” that was published in 2011 (no kidding.) The book mentioned such activities as melting glass, nondestructively disassembling an appliance (“deconstruction” is different from “destruction”), and even a practical joke of sorts which involved salty cookies(!)

    Another book from some years ago was “The American Boy’s Handy Book” from Daniel Carter Beard. Among other things, the book has a forward by Noel Perrin about applying the activities and projects to modern eras.

  84. My 5yo gave me an idea today. She was trying to jump up to a chin-up bar but it was too tall (5’+; she’s little for her age). So she figured out a way to climb up and sit on top of the bar. She then said she was going to jump down from where she was sitting. I told her she might want to give that some more thought, and started to give her some ideas for lowering herself down. She laughed, put both hands on the bar to her left, swung down, and jumped from there, before I could figure out what was happening. I was impressed.

    So I would add, find your way down from a place too high to jump.

  85. Make mistakes and own them.
    Scrape both knees and pick off the scabs without any parental interference in either.
    Let a dog kiss your face.
    Eat dinner without washing your hands first.
    Fight with your siblings without parental interference (including anything that doesn’t cause serious injury.)
    Run through the sprinklers.
    Walk to a real mailbox to mail a real letter.
    Ask for ice cream truck money and go buy the ice cream alone. Eat it outside sitting on the ground and letting it drip as it melts. Chew on the popsicle stick.
    Do all the things that enable you to grow up responsible for your own actions with an intact immune system.

  86. Hold a hermit crab in your hand long enough for it to come out of its home and scuttle across your hand.

    Learn what the poisonous snakes that live where you live look like, and hold the other kind in your hand at least once.

    See a fox. Hint; they like sunflower seeds.

    Go to a movie, play, symphony, or opera by yourself.

    Find a museum exhibit that is special to you, and that you found on your own, not because of some adult-shepherded field trip.

    Go to the zoo and pick one animal to sit and watch for a long time. I started to limit that to one of the Great Apes, but just pick an animal and watch it long enough to feel you would know that specific animal in a group.

    Watch a spider build her web.

    Learn some kid-craft from another kid. How to make a paper airplane, or a fortune teller, or a popper. Something.

  87. Getting lost is a must-do. Even if it’s just for five minutes in a crowded place, it’s an experience no one should miss.

  88. I agree, Lola, and here’s my list:

    1. Get yourself into trouble
    2. Get yourself out of trouble.

  89. Create their own club, secret society, whatever and have a clubhouse in the woods (or someone’s backyard)

  90. An above poster reminded me…my boys love The Dangerous Book for Boys. Kept them busy on many a summer day (that would have otherwise been “boring”) last year. They are 10 and 12.

  91. […] Hi Readers! This is so inspirational Britains National Trust has come up with a list of 50 things kids should do before theyre 12. These include take a look inside a tree, watch the sun come up, go sledding, make a mud pie Many of them sound great, a few sound impossible unless youre … Read more: https://freerangekids.wordpress.com/ […]

  92. […] Hi Readers! This is so inspirational Britains National Trust has come up with a list of 50 things kids should do before theyre 12. These include take a look inside a tree, watch the sun come up, go sledding, make a mud pie Many of them sound great, a few sound impossible unless youre … Read more: https://freerangekids.wordpress.com/ […]

  93. […] Hi Readers! This is so inspirational Britains National Trust has come up with a list of 50 things kids should do before theyre 12. These include take a look inside a tree, watch the sun come up, go sledding, make a mud pie Many of them sound great, a few sound impossible unless youre … Read more: https://freerangekids.wordpress.com/ […]

  94. Play Harriet the Spy all around the neighborhood.
    Catch fish
    Run from Muskrats (ROUSes)
    Have cattail wars (like sword fights, but without so much risk of losing a limb…)
    Have a neighborhood (kids only) scavenger hunt.
    Make a treasure map (and then find the treasure).
    Walk or ride bikes to get ice cream.
    Run a lemonade stand. (How else are you going to pay for the ice cream?)
    Swim/splash in a ditch, creek, pond or lake.
    Climb a tree.
    Practice backflip dismount off the swing.
    Make a water slide.
    Organize a game of “Red Rover”
    Form a club.
    Camp in the back yard (and tell ghost stories.)

  95. I’m so pleased to say that, as of today, my 3 year old has participated in a neighborhood lemonade stand. He mainly added morale, but still 🙂

  96. Walk home from the ice cream place with your friends, whilst eating ice cream cones. Best done on the first day the ice cream place is open in the spring.

    (This is how we always knew summer was really on its way!)

  97. I love this! A few additions would be: build a snow fort, light candles inside; skip double-dutch; make a lean-to in the woods (even better – camp inside it); row a boat; drive the car around a bit in the driveway; learn how to address adults by name (Mrs Smith or Ms Jane, whatever they prefer); ski or skate at night; definitely climb a tree; if at all possible walk to school – lots of good thinking can happen on the way; and I love the one about walk to the store and buy a bunch of candy!

  98. I let my kids check out and do things from a book called 50 Dangerous Things to Let Your Kid Do. It included things like make a bomb (out of vinegar and baking soda wrapped specially in a paper I think), use a pocketknife to whittle a stick and do life blindfolded for an hour. What they failed to mention was that you should not let your child run around outside without supervision in a yard with a full sized 1953 Farmall tractor. This could result in a 2 inch gash in said FRK’s scalp. Hypothetically speaking, of course…

  99. (I will edit that to “you should not let your child run around outside BLINDFOLDED without supervision…)

  100. Climb a tree
    Walk to a friends house
    Bike around neighborhood
    Take the bus a short way
    Go buy milk
    Have a summer job
    Cook a simple meal
    Stay home on your own
    Fix your own bike
    Call to order pizza
    Get yourself to a (piano) lesson
    Buy a present
    Pet sit for someone
    Sleep in tent in yard
    Help out someone in need
    Bake cupcakes
    Set own alarm to get up

  101. Mmmmh…
    Invent your own recipe and try to get someone to taste it
    Explore a Different Way to Get There
    Mend your own toy (double bonus if it’s a sibling’s)
    And I love the “get in trouble and out of it”!

  102. In the fall, rake a pile of leaves and jump in them.

  103. Mine are simple. Things we enjoyed all the time growing up, which, sadly, do not seem to be part of kids’ lives anymore where we live.

    1. Camp in the backyard with your friends.
    2. Get up a game of kickball or touch football or sardines without adult involvement.
    3. Sneak in somewhere you are not supposed to be. We used to sneak into the neighborhood churches and explore all the time. I used to sneak into the periodical room of the library because I was too shy to ask the librarian to get the magazines for me.
    4. Take the bus or train somewhere with your friends.
    5. Ride your bike around town with a bunch of your friends.
    6. Get yourself to practice or friends’ houses or school or the public pool or the library..
    7. Build a ramp to jump your bike over.
    8. Sled down your front porch stairs.
    9. Try to surprise you parents by cleaning something in the house or yard, even if it’s a big failure.
    10. Build a string and cup telephone or a messenger pulley between two houses.

  104. Oooh, so many thing to be done adult-free
    – walk to school, friends house, etc.
    – build a fort in the woods and hang out all day
    – go fishing
    – ride your bike to the convenience store and buy 10 cent candies
    – camp out in the backyard
    – lay out on the roof of the garage or carport & stargaze
    – take the bus or train with your friends and go…to the movies, a museum, wherever…
    – hangout in the neighborhood with a group of friends after dark, under a streetlight, talking and laughing
    – build a fire and cook over it in the backyard
    – learn how to whittle (with an actual knife)

    🙂 Bethe @balmeras

  105. * Swim out to the middle of a lake with your friends and take your bathing suit off
    * Cook a full-course meal for your family and/or friends
    * Spend the afternoon putting together a play for your parents when they come home

  106. Run a lemonade stand or some other roadside stand
    Go to the library by yourself and check out whatever the hell you want
    Take a taxi by yourself, including making sure you have cash on hand
    Climb something you really weren’t supposed to climb
    Go out on a freezing cold winter night to watch a lunar eclipse or aurora
    Learn babysitters’ first aid
    Babysit at a stranger’s house
    Put lunch in one pocket and a book in the other and wander off alone for an entire summer day
    Build a fort with friends, no grown-ups involved
    Fix your own lunch
    Drive a car on private property with a grown-up in the car
    Know all the shortcuts, including the ones grown-ups can’t fit through

  107. After reading BlogHer’s site today, apparently sleep over at a friend’s house should be on the list.

  108. What great lists! I love to read things my guys are already doing at 7 and 10!

    They tackled the grocery store last summer. Yay! But I want to share a story that happened last week…

    We play outdoor volleyball at a local bowling alley once a week. At their ages, they can finally come with, and run in and out of the bowling alley [unsupervised] playing the video games or buying tattoos, etc. – with their own money. Last week, our oldest was adamant about having [yummy] bowling alley pizza, even though we had just had a family sit-down dinner before we left (that they actually ate!) He brought his $20 and was asking how much it would be. I tried to convince him to save his money, we just ate, we could go out for pizza the next night, etc. When we arrived, they ran off to play video games and we went to play volleyball. Typically, they come out to the court and play in the sand while we play. The entire hour, they were nowhere to be seen. Throughout the match, I kept looking through the crowd of players/watchers for them to show up. After the match, we cleaned up and sat down discussing the game. “Oh, yeah, the kids. Where are the boys? I’m going to go in and find them.” Just as I got to the door, they came running out, huge smiles on their faces. “Where have you guys been?” “We ordered pizza and ate it!!” Ordered it, paid for it, ate it…all by themselves. I wonder if they got anything to drink? I’m so proud of our guys and their independence!! (I can only imagine what the servers thought of their “independence.” haha)

  109. These are so awesome! I think I’m going to go dig out the “Dangerous Book for Boys” and start reading it with my 9 year old.

  110. Capsize a boat. Then right it again and bail it out.

  111. Build and launch a model rocket
    Build and fly a kite and/or glider
    Tear down and rebuild a small engine
    Make a baking soda and vinegar volcano
    Use dry ice to make witche’s brew (green kool-aid)
    Build a snow fort
    Learn water survival
    Play dodgeball
    Learn how to change a car tire

  112. Spend the whole day outside playing. Preferably in the woods or tall grass or somewhere you can get really good and lost.

  113. Watch the clouds & name what they look like.
    Spend some time watching a ladybug, pillbug, or snail (etc) go about its business, or watch baby animals playing.
    Spend interactive time with people of different ages or generations (older adults, grandparents, babies, teens, for example – as much as possible without the parents)
    Plan and make a meal for the family.
    Coast down a hill on your bike.
    Learn to do somersaults or handstands.
    Visit an art museum & listen to the headset tour.
    Go on a several-day’s trip with relatives or friend’s family – without your parents.

  114. I rarely ever comment on any blog post, but after tonight events…I decided I would. my kids were born and raised in the country, so being free range was easy. They wend anywhere and did anything as long as they could hear my voice when I yelled and were home before the sun went behind the trees (and those were the rules as soon as they hit 5 yrs old). A year and a half ago, their father and I split which meant we moved to “the city”. This offered a problem since I was not going to allow my children to become couch potatoes just because we moved. Clearly those who lived in my neighborhood were not used to seeing kids riding their bikes, playing with sticks and bugs…using their imaginations. Complaints were made and the police were called. Thankfully, there is no age limit for supervision in my town and I was told as long as they were mature enough to be outside, they could, as long as they knew where I was. This last year has been a challene, but the opportunities to explore new terrain, meet new people, and learn new cultures has been eye opening, and i’m proud to say that many more parents in this neighborhood have stopped hovering and are letting their kids be kids.

    Now, back to where we were.

    Things that kids should do before they’re 12…

    Race your friends down a grass hill…even if it has a giant mud puddle at the bottom.

    Know when to walk away from a situation, but dont be afraid to defend yourself if needed.

    Learn to use probelm solving skills and common sense when making decisions (best learned when hanging out with a group of older kids)

    Build an obstacle course in the woods from fallen trees.

    Know basic first aid and how to get home if youre hurt enough to need help.

    Know how to help your friends, and even those who arent your friends, if they need it.

    Fix the chain on your bike. By yourself. Without tools.

    Take something apart and then put it back together (puzzles do not count)

    Play outside, all day, with no parents around, only coming in for food, water, and bathroom breaks.

    Teach someone else how to ride a bike

    These are just a few of the things my kids (6 and 9) have done in the short 15 months since we’ve moved to the “city”.

  115. Learn to use public transportation
    Organize a neighborhood soccer,kickball,or baseball game
    Spend an afternoon alone
    Make something out of stuff you found
    Play in a giant mud puddle in your clothes
    go to a baseball game and play with the other kids there while the adults watch the game
    Build a friendship that isn’t arranged 100% by parents

  116. […] recently read a post over at Free-Range Kids about “things every kid should do before they turn 12.” The list, and the comments, […]

  117. Have a snowball fight.
    If you live in the south have a mud ball fight.
    Pull the right arm of a cicada and watch his head fall off!
    If you can still buy little plastic army soldiers set them up outside in the yard, woods or garden.
    Look for native American arrowheads or cool rocks.
    Go on a scavenger hunt.
    Build a fort.
    Put on a play or a dance recital.
    Play grocery store.
    Play school.
    Make a lemonade stand.
    Pick dandelions and give them to your mom.
    Start a leaf collection.
    Start a bug or butterfly collection.
    Find a snakeskin.
    Find empty snail shells.
    Pour salt on slugs.
    Pick bag worms and charge your mom a penny for each.
    Play hopscotch, jump rope, or shoot marbles.
    Collect change.
    Collect aluminum cans for cash.
    Make paper airplanes.
    Make paper footballs.
    Make sidewalk art with sidewalk chalk.
    Have an art show.
    Start a coin collection.
    Play red light-green light, simon says, hide and seek or tag.
    Take a walk at night and watch you shadow in the streetlights.
    Play “Sorry,” “Go fish” or Solitare.

  118. I am so glad I found this blog! I was dismayed by a parent rejecting my invitation to have her daughter over for a sleepover party for my daughter’s birthday (this is not allowed by them) and I had been searching the internet to figure out if I was a bad parent or something for thinking that the best thing about summer was having sleepovers! Have parents lost their minds? My husband and I run a summer day camp where kids get to be kids, and do what they want for as long as they want to. Many times my own kids’ friends stay overnight at camp and have tons of fun playing outside (alone!) in the creek, creating secret clubs, exploring, using their imaginations, etc). We run across many “helicopter” type parents who try to get us to encourage their kids to “try new things” or “do something besides A or B or C (either play in the creek or not play in the creek or do arts and crafts or not spend all their time doing arts and crafts, etc)…it’s ridiculous! It all comes down to control – they want to control their kids experiences…the children have no freedom to choose (and experience the consequences of their choices!). Let the kids have some freedom to choose what they want to do! It’s summer for pete’s sake (or even during the rest of the year!). Also – so many so called “camps” nowadays are at schools…sports camp, academic camp, chess camp, art camp – all at the schools our kids spend months of the year at. Although these are all perfectly acceptable choices for summer programs, I’m just thinking, why would kids want to go back to school during the summer?! So my bucket list is based on “taking back summer” for our kids!! Here it is:

    1. Read a good book of your choice (not your parents!)
    2. Sleep in late
    3. Play in a creek for as long as you want
    4. Go fishing
    5. Make friendship bracelets
    6. Catch crawdads
    7. Ride a bike to a friend’s house
    8. Climb a tree
    9. Have sleepovers
    10. Camp in a tent outside (without parents!)
    11. Stay up late
    12. Catch fireflies
    13. Dig for worms and get really dirty!
    14. Build a fort and play in it
    15. Eat dandelions
    16. Use binoculars
    17. View the night sky through a telescope or binoculars
    18. Make mud pies in your own mud kitchen
    19. Roast marshmallows over an open fire
    20. Go exploring using a compass and map

    Keep up the great work Lenore!! Thank you!!!

  119. I think this list covers too large an age group. Perhaps lists should be broken down into 50 things to do by age 5, age 10, age 15.

  120. So many great ideas on these lists! But I did notice that not many people included anything about school. So here, are my suggestions for what a kid should be able to do by age 11 in school:

    1. Write her own note to the teacher explaining why she couldn’t finish her math homework, instead of you, the parent (this was a great thing to teach my children, as sometimes they’d opt to work harder on the “horrible math problems” than actually write the note telling the teacher they were too hard).

    2. Solve her own dispute with another child by talking to the other kid, and even involving a teacher or other administrator, without having the parents go up to the school to resolve the problem. (Many schools also have peer mediation for this, too.)

    3. Go hungry for the day rather than call home (or have the school call home) to have mom or dad rush up with the forgotten lunch bag. Yeah, they’ll hungry at 4 pm, but not hospitalized for malnutrition. You can also substitute, for the lunch, “gym shoes,” “rain boots,” “big art project,” “homework,” “musical instrument,” or whatever else was forgotten that day. [Of course, there are always exceptions, but this really shouldn’t be the rule!]

    4. Understand that different teachers have different rules, different preferences, and different methods…and (horrors) they will not always be liked or loved by every teacher throughout time. Not every teacher will be fair. So, kids should learn that they need to cope with a certain amount of injustice, arbitrary rules, and even yelling! It won’t kill them. (Of course, all parents should know instinctively when to intervene if something is truly wrong.)

    5. Accept that in school, as in life, there are not always “make-up assignments,” “do-over tests,” and “extra-credit.” If they don’t do the work, they will have to learn to accept the consequences.

    6. Volunteer, organize, renovate, protest, or lead. Encourage children to get involved in something they care about in school and make life better there — without the parents initiating it or doing it for them.

    Thank you, Lenore, for all your witty and sane observations about being a parent.

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