She Looked Up and Her 2-year-old Wasn’t There

Hi Folks! This is a good one to take to heart…and to the playground. — Lenore

Dear Free-Range Kids: I’ve known for a while that Free-Range is a great way to raise confident, independent, capable kids, but I never knew how much this approach would help me as a parent until last night.

I was at a local park with my boys.¬† They are ages 2 and 4.¬† My older son has just recently mastered monkey bars and after his probably 10th or 12th time cruising along them, his hands slipped and he fell down pretty hard.¬† He’s generally a tough guy when it comes to injuries, but he’d gotten the wind knocked out of him as well as a fat lip and was quite upset.¬† I was consoling him for a few seconds when my 2-year-old apparently wandered off.

This park is quite large.¬† It has two separate playground areas, some soccer and baseball fields and a woodsy area with trails to walk through.¬† I had no idea which direction he’d gone and was pretty panicked.¬† He was only missing for about 5 minutes, but it felt like days.¬† Immediately several complete strangers essentially organized a search party and they put one of them in charge of staying with my screaming, injured son so that I could go help look for my younger son without the older in tow.

I found my little one down on the lower playground around the corner out of sight from me.  He was happily talking to a man with a dog.

After I got home last night and was somewhat settled down from what had been an absolutely terrifying ordeal to me, I had this moment of clarity where I was so thankful that I’ve found your blog and have become a proud, self-proclaimed Free-Range mom.¬† During those scary 5 minutes, at NO time did it even occur to me that my missing son had been abducted.¬† I instinctively went with the most logical scenario: ¬†He’s 2.¬† He probably saw something interesting on the other side of the park and had wandered over there (there was a Little League game going on, lots of kids down there and as I mentioned, people with dogs…he LOVES dogs).¬† It was the most likely scenario and it allowed me to find my son much quicker by following my instinct instead of the standard worst-first thinking.¬† It also allowed me to feel perfectly comfortable leaving my older son with strangers while I searched for the other.

Thank God for common sense and the kindness of (perfectly safe) strangers!  And thanks for continuing to spread the word about the benefits of raising Free-Range kids.

Fondly,

Karen Miller

A toddler, a dog and a frantic mom (not pictured).

“Only Bad Parents Make Their Kids WALK to School”

Hi Folks! I read this over at RixaRixa and asked if the blogger was game to let me reprint the whole thing. Yes! So here it is, in all its infuriating bureaucrat-brained fullness!

We’ve been walking Zari to and from kindergarten. It seemed the most logical of our three options (walk, ride the bus, or drive) since we only live 1 km away. If Zari rode the bus, she’d have to leave the house almost an hour earlier, and she’d get home 1 to 1 1/2 hours later. That adds up to over 2 hours on the bus per day. Driving was out of the question; why drive when our legs are perfectly capable of getting us there?
So far we’ve enjoyed our twice daily walks. Eric and I switch off walking duty depending on who is teaching that day. We get time with Zari and we get extra exercise. Sounds like the perfect scenario, right?

Yes, except that we have to cross a Death Trap road on the way. It’s a state highway that runs through town, and there are no stop signs or stoplights in probably a mile either direction. There’s a flashing light that goes on during school hours. This means that cars are supposed to slow down to 25 mph, but no one does. Every time we cross the street, it’s like we’re inside a giant game of Frogger (this totally dates me!).

I first contacted the¬†school transportation department¬†to inquire about crossing guards. After all, the road where we’re crossing is the main entrance into the elementary school¬†and¬†to the county fairgrounds. The reply? They used to supply a crossing guard at that intersection, but not any more. They told me to talk to the police department.

So I met with the¬†chief of police¬†and explained my concerns–that the school no longer provided a crossing guard and that I was having real troubles getting us safely across the street, especially during the morning rush. He sympathized with my situation and said he’d send some patrol cars out in the morning, but otherwise he coudln’t do much else. He suggested talking to someone in the state transportation department, since traffic signs on that road are regulated by the state, not by the city.

This morning I spoke to a woman at the¬†state transportation department. I explained our difficulties crossing the road and asked if they would consider doing a traffic survey to put in either stop signs or a stop light. I told her I’d already met with the school transportation coordinator and the police chief, and they both told me they couldn’t do much else to help me. Her response:

“You really should have your daughter ride the bus.”

I explained that this option made no sense in our situation. We live close to the school, and riding the bus would take an extra 2+ hours out of my daughter’s day. Her reply:

“Well, you’re the one who’s choosing to put your daughter in danger. You’re choosing your convenience over her safety. She has a safe option, and that’s to ride the bus.”¬†

Excuse me?! When did walking your child to school mean that you’re a bad, selfish parent? I abandoned any niceties and dropped my polite tone. I said that it was not just a choice between convenience and safety. After all, we’re facing major obesity and pollution crises in this country. I feel very strongly that it’s an¬†irresponsible¬†choice to put my child on a bus for 2 hours a day, or to drive her to school (as many parents at this school do), when we’re perfectly capable of walking. The solution isn’t just to put my daughter on a bus; it’s to help us find a way to safely cross the street.

Her reply:

“In my town, I have several friends who live across the street from an elementary school, and they all have their children ride the bus because it’s safer than crossing the street.”

The then told me that she likely couldn’t do anything to help me, and to talk to the school and the police again.

Can anyone else see what’s wrong with this picture? Is there anything else I can do? (I do have something really subversive up my sleeve…more on that later!)

Lenore here: I like the sound of ‘something subversive.’ Please keep us looped in! – L

Shameless Purell

From the Purell e-mail blast I just got:

Your little ones are headed back to school and so are millions of germs!  

I’m leaving aside all the nasty things I want to say about how we are MADE of germs and must get ACCUSTOMED to germs and when did start treating everyday life like lung surgery? But instead I will leave you with my son’s remark:

Oh, the germs took the summer off? – L.

 

You Read it Here First: The Deaf Pre-Schooler Story

Hi Readers! Just had to crow. The story about Hunter, the deaf pre-schooler who was told to change his name because it violated the school’s anti-gun policy, was sent to us by a gal in Hunter’s neck of the woods — Nebraska — on Monday night, which is when I posted and tweeted ¬†it. By Tuesday afternoon, the story had gone ’round the world. Google it — you can’t miss it. On Yahoo’s home page alone it got 17,000+ comments. And despite the fact neither this site nor the one where I’m guest-posting this month, The Agitator, are getting credit (see this), ¬† Free-Range Kids was,¬†as far as I can tell,¬†the first to bring it to national attention.

What thrills me about that is knowing that the press is peeking in on us, and ready to take up the anti-stupidity standard. It’s also thrilling to see how obvious it is to most humans that Zero Tolerance too often means Zero Brains. Hunter’s story may go on to achieve “The Lady Who Sued McDonald’s For Hot Coffee” status (but don’t start debating it here!), used as a sort of shorthand for, “Come on — under the pretense of caring, this is just INSANE.”

We could use a story like that, because it is time to re-think so many schools rules and time to remember our kids just aren’t that vulnerable. For me it is also time to thank YOU, readers, for always sending in the best examples of what’s wrong with the way we treat kids, and what’s right.

Keep it up! – L.

“Hunter,” a Deaf 3-Year-Old, Told Signing His Name Violates School’s Gun Policy

Hi Folks! ¬†This is perhaps the most absurd story ever reported here — and that’s saying a lot! A reader named Rachel writes:

A Deaf child named Hunter is not allowed to use his name sign because the sign for “Hunter” (a dictionary word) uses the thumb and first two fingers in a gun shape and suggests a shooting motion. Here’s the story.

These school officials have lost their ability to reason if they believe stripping a child of his name is necessary for safety under a weapons policy. Educators who are unable to use logic and critical thinking have no business educating.

I just sent a letter to the school board expressing my outrage. Everyone else can too at  http://www.gips.org/contact_us

Thanks, Rachel 

School Outrage of the Week: No Cartwheels Unless “Trained Gymnastics Teacher” Supervising

Hi Readers! If you send your kids to the Drummoyne publics grammar school in Sydney, kindly instruct them to stay upright their whole day, as cartwheels, head- and handstands are no longer allowed unless ¬†“under the supervision of a trained gymnastics teacher and with correct equipment,”‘¬† according to the Local West Courrier.

The ruling comes from the principal who is worried abut (all together now) INJURIES and LIABILITY, the twin Dementors driving schools crazy with fear and dread. The fact that the school just re-surfaced its playground with soft stuff to make falls even safer plays no role. Or perhaps it plays it usual PERVERSE role: The safer things get, the more safety we demand.

Rebecca Chown, the mother of Estelle, 10, an unrepentent cartwheel enthusiast, started a pro-fun petition that already has s250 signatures. According to The Telegraph:

Ms Chown first heard about the ban when her daughter Estelle, 10, came home on August 17 and said children had been told they couldn’t do anything that had them “upside-down”.

Estelle said: “It’s really frustrating because they ban everything and there is not much else for us to do.”

While Ms Chown said she understood the risks, children were playing, not training to be gymnasts.

Instead, we’re training kids to sit and blob out, all in the name of safety. Oh, and don’t be joyous either, kids. For your own sake. — L

AND HERE’S A DRAMATIC 38-SECOND RE-ENACTMENT OF THE BAN, STARRING THE GIRLS OF ROSMARINS BUNGALOW COLONY

Clown Teaching Kids to be “Berry Berry Safe”…Except from Berry Berry Creepy Clowns

Hi Folks — Let me state upfront that I agree with this, uh, guy: Teach your kids never to go off with ¬† stranger.

But is there anyone stranger than this blue-haired, baby-tawking clown who keeps showing up out of nowhere?  The lesson he seems intent on teaching kids: Never go anywhere without a possibly imaginary, predator-obsessed prig in a blue wig.

2 College Presidents Beg Parents to Hover…in a New Way

Hi Folks — Just reading an early copy of¬†an oped¬†to be published in tomorrow’s Washington Post by the president of Northwestern University,Morty Schapiro, and the president of Lewis & Clark College,Barry Glassner, who is author of the book (turned phrase)¬†The Culture of Fear.

Instead of merely telling parents to quit helicoptering when they drop their kids off at college — a tactic that they admit does not work — the dynamic duo do something I call “yuppie jujitsu.” They flip the parents’ own need for hovering into a way for them to let go. In this case, they tell parents that rather than swooping in to help their kids get something “better” — ¬†be it a room, roommate or ¬†grade — they should swoop in to remind their kids, “You can handle this! A little discomfort is good! You’re stretching!” As the presidents write:

…parents can help by gently pushing their children to embrace complexity and diversity and to stretch the limits of their comfort zones. Some of the most important learning we provide is uncomfortable learning ‚ÄĒ where students take classes in subjects they find intimidating, and live, study and play with classmates from backgrounds very different from their own.

This is so brilliant because it gives parents who, God bless ’em, only want to help, something constructive to do. It makes backing off into an ACTIVE way to HELP their kids. That is pure genius! I’m going to use it myself! The authors conclude with the kind of encouraging praise the parents have perfected themselves:

Having raised smart and accomplished kids, most parents are able, with a little guidance, to recognize the difference between being a constructive partner in their child’s educational journey and being a counterproductive, infantilizing, control freak.

The goal here at Free-Range Kids is to help them realize this¬†before¬†their kids are 18. But it’s great to know that, should we fail, the message awaits at college.

Hey Parents! Drop your kids off and then…

The Flashcard Backlash!

Hi Readers — Lovely article¬†by Tara Parker-Pope¬†in today’s New York Times about how we have been led astray by the flashcard mentality that says the more we DRILL our littlest students the SMARTER they become.

On the surface of it, the drilling idea makes sense: Why not efficiently shove info into our kids? Here’s the info, kids: Shove it!

But all the research (not to mention a million years of human development BEFORE flashcards) is suggesting that the way kids really learn is through PLAY. Even a game like Simon Says — or a variation that’s “Do the Opposite of What Simon Says” —¬†can give a lot more developmental boost than another afternoon of ¬†learning “F is for Foot.”

While the game may sound simple, it actually requires a high level of cognitive function for a preschooler, including focus and attention, working memory to remember rules, mental flexibility (to do the opposite) and self-control.

‚ÄúWe tend to equate learning with the content of learning, with what information children have, rather than the how of learning,‚ÄĚ says Ellen Galinsky, a child-development researcher and author of ‚ÄúMind in the Making: The Seven Essential Life Skills Every Child Needs.‚ÄĚ ‚ÄúBut focusing on the how of learning, on executive functions, gives you the skills to learn new information, which is why they tend to be so predictive of long-term success.‚ÄĚ

You probably know that I dislike having to endorse a Free-Range approach because it is actually a “long-term success” incubator. But, hey, if you’re talking to parents who really believe LESS playtime means their kids will be MORE triumphant, it’s not bad to have a little ammo. – L.

Flashcards are fine…but not at the expense of play!

A Conversation with an Older Man

Hi Folks — To be filed under, “What we’ve lost.” Or maybe, “What Free-Range Kids is working ¬†to bring back.” – L.¬†

Dear Free-Range Kids: I had an interesting experience in the Target parking lot today. While
I was unloading my cart, an older man passed and complimented me on my
four kids. I thanked him, and we struck up a conversation.

When my three-year-old shyly turned away from the man, he said,

“That’s right, I forgot you’re not supposed to talk to strangers these
days.” And he turned to leave.

I said, “No sir, I teach my children that it’s okay to talk to
strangers. They need to learn how to speak with adults. I just teach
them never to go anywhere with a stranger.”

The man said, “Yeah, when I was in my 40s and 50s, I always pictured
myself sitting on a park bench one day, giving dollar bills to little
children. But some wackos messed that up for the rest of us. Can’t do
that anymore.”

I told him the world was worse off for it, and I try to teach my
children that most people are good and it’s okay to interact with
people of all ages.

The man started to leave again, but then abruptly turned around,
pulled out his wallet, and gave each of my kids a $1 bill. I wanted to
decline, mainly because I like my kids to earn their money, but I
could see how delighted they were, and how pleased the man was that he
could do that for him. I realized this man probably genuinely enjoys
interacting with children, and we live in a world where he may not
have an opportunity to do so.

I wonder what our children could learn from old men sitting on park benches.

Lauren Richins