Who Says Mayberry Is Dead?

Hi Readers! Clearly, that TV town of uber-neighborliness lives on — if you let it. This mom did. Read on!

Dear Lenore: I just finished your book.  Before I found your it and your website, I thought my husband and I were the last sane parents standing.

We bought our house while still in our 20’s. We picked a nearby small town with friendly neighborhoods and an extremely low crime rate. Less than a mile from our house is the bay and farther north is a system of rivers bayous, and creeks.  We wanted to raise our future children to be Opie Taylor and Scout Finch.

It was 7 years before we had our daughter.  In that time, my husband and I volunteered for everything and walked around downtown often – EVERYONE knew who we were.  When my daughter was about 2 mos, I strolled her around town all the time.  The shopkeepers knew her, the librarians knew her, the mail carriers and police knew her.  When she was 8, she was allowed to ride her bike all over town by herself.  I would have prefered she go with friends but the other parents were too busy questioning my sanity.

My daughter liked to go to the bookstore/coffee shop and read magazines while drinking hot chocolate, go to the art gallery and talk to the artists, go to the park, walk around the toy store to daydream and even go to city hall and chat with the Mayor.  If she wanted to spend the day painting, she piled her supplies in a wagon and set up downtown  selling whatever she painted while she painted other pieces.  Occasionally the police chief would call us because tourists reported an unsupervised child and he apologized for having to follow up.  Since everyone knew who she was, I would get reports on her behavior.  By the time she got home, I would know that she made a left turn on her bike with out signaling.

What other parents didn’t understand is that my child is much safer than theirs.  If anything is off kilter or odd concerning my daughter, at least a dozen people will notice.  The sequestered child is unknown by the community.  How will the nice lady at the drugstore know when those people with her are not her parents?  How will they know if she is in trouble?

My daughter is 12 now and more parents are opening the doors so their older children can roam.  Now she has friends with whom to lunch. What I’m taking forever to say is here’s to Free-Range Kids.  We are not alone.

You can make a town small by getting to know it. PHOTO CREDIT: Katmere, on Flickr.

This Kid Sounds Like Me! Or, Rather, Like Us!

Hi Readers! Love this note from a middle-schooler!

Dear Free-Range Kids: I am a 13-year-old and I really think that kids need more freedom. I regularly ride my bike to the library and friends’ houses, but for going longer distances and using public transportation my parents would like me to have a friend with me. However we haven’t been able to find many friends whose parents are willing to let them have this freedom. Recently I  wanted to take public transportation a few stops but my parents were afraid that some “concerned stranger” would call the police.

Parents really need to stop sheltering their children and prepare them for the outside world. I’m not saying that parents should just push kids out the door one day and expect them to find their own way across town with no street smarts, but to to teach and encourage them to be independent. Walk with younger kids to school, farther and farther behind until they’re ready to walk on there own.

P.S. This is just my opinion.

P.S.  It’s mine, too! — L.

SUVs Go Home! School Allows Only Bikers and Walkers

Hey Readers: Here’s a nice story from our friends up north! No — not another igloo. A Canadian school that really wants kids to get there on their own. Listen to this:

… P.L. Robertson elementary in Milton, which opened this week, has been designated a “walking-only school,” where students will be strongly encouraged to use their feet – or bikes or any other active way – to get there.

It is part of a broader initiative at the Halton District School Board to stop traffic jams around schools and get students moving.

Gridlock in the parking lot and surrounding streets is an all-too common problem for schools in the Greater Toronto Area, thanks to parents who insist on driving their children, even if they don’t live all that far away.

At other schools, Joyce Jermyn has watched parents who live close by drive their kids, cramming their cars in between buses, then idling as the youngsters make their way inside, even though staff is out there helping kids get to class.

“For me, exercise has always been a part of who I am and what I do,” says Jermyn, vice-principal at P.L. Robertson. “There are too many kids who don’t want to go outside because they never play outside.”

Let’s hope other schools follow in these footsteps. Literally. — Lenore

One (Frustrating, Makes Me Want to Yank My Hair Out) Conversation At A Time

Hi Readers — Here’s a letter I got yesterday. It hit me in the gut because this woman just went through the same process I think a lot of us go through daily: Trying to deal, calmly, with the knee-jerk response of, “That’s too dangerous!” to any suggestion that kids can do anything on their own.  Read it and you’ll probably find yourselves nodding along. (Or “Grrrrrr”ing along, in my case. How very mature!)

Dear Free-Range Kids: I live in Vermont. Our region is rather rural and, in general, considered “much safer” than a lot of places. Yesterday, I was watching my children’s swimming lesson (indoor pool!), when the woman next to me struck up a conversation. She was there for her grandson’s swim lesson, and she began to wax nostalgic about her own childhood and early swimming experiences.

She used to walk with other children a mile or so to a nearby lake to go swimming. She remembers this very clearly from about age eight or so. She said to me, “Of course, you would never let kids do that today.” After a beat, and thinking of Free-Range Kids, I asked, “Why not?” She seemed puzzled by the question. So, I clarified, “Why wouldn’t you let kids walk to the lake today?”  She looked at me like I was just a little crazy, honestly. She asked, incredulously, “Let eight-year-olds walk a couple miles alone?!?”

I told her about your book and website. I don’t know if I made an impression. And yet, as I mentioned the saga about the middle school kids who were not allowed to ride bikes to school, she seemed to be contemplating the matter. Is this what it means to proselytize? — Kimberly Barnhart

Hi Kim: Yes, in the nicest sense. Go forth and spread the word! Or at least get folks asking themselves where all their fear comes from? Why do they think their otherwise wonderful children (and grandchildren) are so much more pathetic and helpless than they were? — Lenore

Inspiring Video!

Hi Readers! Even as the school board in Saratoga grudgingly allows kids to bike to middle school if they follow a bunch of rules, a bunch of kids in Orlando, Florida just decided: Let’s ride!

Here’s their story and a great video of them — especially if you like Bob Dylan soudntracks. As the accompanying article says, “The bike bus isn’t something that was initiated by grown-ups; it was conceived and executed by the kids. It’s a powerful demonstration of the positive influence that young people can have on each other. Maybe they’ll influence some adults too.”

Riding bikes to school has become the cool thing to do — not to mention fun. It’s like a caravan: kids can join as they see the group go by. Ride on! — Lenore  (who thanks Sharon Wynne of the St. Petersburg Times and Tampa Bay Online for sending it in)

Overprotecting Gone Mad: Kids Finally Allowed to Bike to School, BUT…..

Hi Readers! Remember that case  in Saratoga, New York, where a sixth (now seventh) grader wanted to ride his bike to his school — with his mom, even! — but the district forbade it?

Well guess what? The district poobahs have now “backpedaled,” as this clever Times Union article put it. But they did it in a way that makes us convinced they still have their heads down where most of us have our bike seats. Listen to the rules kids must obey (or else!) if they want to ride to school:

“…under the new rules, students and parents must sign a safety agreement and registration form. Once on school property, students are required to walk their bikes on approved access routes, store and lock them in racks provided by the district and display identification tags. The district also calls for parents or guardians to accompany student cyclists on its properties, and for both to wear helmets.

The parents have to walk their middle schoolers and their bikes once on school property? I can’t even walk within a mile of my kids’ middle school when they’re around. They’d die of embarrassment. This is treating adolescents like three-year-olds!

As Kaddo Marino, the gutsy mom who has been fighting the school district, put it:

“These regulations appear to be just another obstruction to a parents’ freedom, and if challenged, probably could not be supported,” she said. “When I was first informed that bike racks will be provided, I was pleased, but that feeling quickly diminished when I heard a list of requirements that the district is imposing on those students and families who choose a more healthy, environmentally friendly mode of transportation.”

Why would a school want its kids to never get off their duffs? What kind of “safety” is it providing, if the kids are going to grow up without using their muscles, without having adventures, without learning a sense of direction and self-reliance? How safe is a human blimp choking in a smog-filled city?

And since when does a citizen of the Free World have to fill out PAPERWORK to get on his bike and ride to school? — Lenore

Wow! Maybe Biking to School Is NOT a Crime?

Hi Readers! Remember the post from the other day, “Mom & Kid Bike to School, State Trooper Awaits”? Here it is. A Saratoga, N.Y. mom and her son rode their bikes to school only to be chastised by a trooper who informed them that this is verboten.  But now, check out this article from the Times Union: Things are looking up!

Okay, not perfectly up. The school district that had strictly FORBIDDEN kids to ride their bikes or walk to school is now considering letting kids MAYBE bike to school with a guardian.

That still seems somewhat obsessive. But Rome wasn’t deconstructed in a day. Kudos to Saratoga for being willing to re-examine a Draconian law against kids, fitness, clean air and common sense.  And bikes. — Lenore

Mom & Son Bike to School. State Trooper Awaits!

Hi Readers! In defiance of a policy that seems to forbid biking to the local grammar and middle schools in Saratoga, New York, a mom and her middle school son did just that last Wednesday.  That is, they ignored “a phone call placed to students’ homes by school officials, asking parents not to allow students to walk or ride bikes to school,” according to The Saratogan. And then?

Upon arriving at school on Wednesday, Adam and Janette Kaddo Marino were met outside by school officials and a New York State Trooper, who were on hand for the first day of school. They were informed that they were “out of compliance,” and had a lengthy discussion over where Adam’s bike could be locked.

And you thought State Troopers were the strong, silent type.

What’s cool is that the next day, mom and son were joined by several supportive adults. Friday was too rainy for a ride, but we can only hope more and bicyclists will be converging every day. (I can see the Disney movie now!)

For its part, the school district is said to be “reviewing” its bike policy.

Good. Once again, it’s not that any of us here are in favor of danger: If we were talking about kids riding their bikes up slippery slopes frequented by ice road truckers who drive while texting, that’s one thing. But The Saratogan reports that the road  in question is actually designated a bike route by the New York State Department of Transportation.

Let’s hear it for folks who defy laws that make no sense and don’t even make us safer.  (And for a middle school student who is still willing to be seen in public with his mom.) — Lenore

Support Safe Routes To School!

Hi Readers — To see  a line of cars snaking up to the door of school on a sparkling  fall day is disheartening,  especially when those cars disgorge perfectly able-bodied little kids who live just a few blocks  away.  But sometimes the problem is not parental hysteria. Sometimes, it’s that there are no crossing guards at a busy street, or no sidewalks. Safe Routes to School is a program that addresses just such issues to make it easier for kids to get THEMSELVES to school, safely. (As you might guess from its name.) Here’s a note from the deputy  director there on how we can help support its efforts: 

Join the Safe Routes to School “Dear Congress” campaign

The federal Safe Routes to School program is all about making sure that children can safely and independently walk and bicycle to school. With Safe Routes to School funding—which is $612 million over 5 years—communities are building sidewalks, bike paths, crosswalks, and other infrastructure improvements to make sure children have safe routes to school, separate from traffic.  Safe Routes to School funding also helps teach children safe behaviors when they are walking and bicycling, and encourages more families and children to get active on the way to and from school.

Congress is currently considering reauthorizing the federal Safe Routes to School program as part of the next transportation bill.  The Safe Routes to School National Partnership wants Congress to hear from children, parents, Safe Routes to School staff and volunteers, and school and city leaders about why Safe Routes to School matters to individuals and communities. 

Please take a moment to write a letter about how Safe Routes to School helps your child be “Free Range.”  Quick instructions are below. Write a letter that addresses the following points:

  • Start your letter with “Dear Congress,”
  • Thank Congress for the Safe Routes to School program
  • Why it’s important to you, as a parent, that your children are able to walk and bicycle to school
  • How it is important that your children walk and bicycle to school every year, up through high school, to build healthy habits
  • (if applicable) How Safe Routes to School has helped make it safer or easier for your child to walk and bicycle to school
  • What kinds of infrastructure improvements are needed in your community to improve safety for your children on their way to school
  • See if your children want to participate – ask them to draw a picture or write a short letter (crayon is ok!) about why they love walking and bicycling to school.
  1. Make sure you put your mailing address on the letter so that it can be matched with your Congressional district.
  2. Send your letters to Margo Pedroso with the Safe Routes to School National Partnership by September 24, 2009. You can scan and email electronic versions to margo@saferoutespartnership.org. Or you can mail letters to: Margo Pedroso, Safe Routes to School National Partnership, P.O. Box 442328, Fort Washington, MD 20749.
  3. Do not send your letters directly to your Members of Congress; the Partnership will bundle your letters together with those from other families and deliver to Congress as a package to have the strongest impact. 
  4. Pass the word to other individuals and organizations you know through e-mail chains and list-servs.

 Thank you so much for your help in making sure that Safe Routes to School continues—and is able to get more children walking and bicycling to and from school!  If you need additional information, please visit http://www.saferoutespartnership.org/national/299443 or contact Margo Pedroso with the Safe Routes to School National Partnership at margo@saferoutespartnership.org . 

That’s it! Sounds good to me — Lenore

Bike Riding Dad Shot in the Name of “Safety”

If you needed more proof that our society is a little wacky when it comes to kids and safety, get a load of this: A North Carolina off-duty fireman SHOT A DAD RIDING HIS BIKE WITH HIS THREE-YEAR-OLD IN A BIKE SEAT because the fireman thought the road was too busy for this kind of fun. He said he found the situation “unsafe.”

Guess in a way he was right about that. Here’s the story, sent in separately by a couple of Free-Range readers, Gyula Voros and Robert Freeman-Day,  who found it on BoingBoing.

You’ll be happy to hear that bike helmets — which Free-Range Kids endorses — saved the day: The bullet penetrated the dad’s helmet, but did not reach his skull.  (Not that that’s why we normally endorse helmets. But still…)  — Lenore

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