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).

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

You Think Your 9 & 6 Year Olds are Too Young to Ride Their Bikes to Their Friends?

Hi Readers! Laura Alves is a mom of 4 who has made a change in her  world — and beyond. As can we all! – L

Dear Free Range Kids: I’d like to share my little story (actually three) of Free-Range happiness in our small central Wisconsin town.

I have four kids, ages 9, 6, 4, 2. I generally allow and encourage (and sometimes require) my older two to ride their bikes. My philosophy is that if it is safe and reasonable for them to propel themselves somewhere, than they should. I have little kids at home who don’t want to spend their summer days in a minivan while I chauffeur the older two around. A neighbor, whose daughter is 10, asked me if I let my kids ride their bikes alone to the park, which is one and a half miles away with one busy County Highway to cross. I told him that yes, they’re allowed to ride there together. They know the safety rules of biking and of crossing busy roads. The neighbor said he’d been hesitant to let his daughter do this, but if she went with my kids, he’d feel better about it. So, they all went together and had a blast! He lets his daughter regularly bike to the park now.

My oldest daughter’s friend lives about a half mile away, across the same busy County Highway. The friend called one day and asked if my daughter could come over. I sent Charlie on her bike, and when she arrived, the other mother called me to see if I knew my girl had ridden alone there. I told her of course I knew! We talked about it and she agreed that even though it made her nervous, IT MADE SENSE to allow the girls to ride alone at this age. They are now BOTH coming to and from each others’ houses solo!

We are very good friends with a family whose oldest two kids are best friends with our oldest two kids. We were all talking one night about letting them do more stuff alone. Our friends said that they had been on the fence about letting their kids bike/walk to our house, the park, the school, etc. We shared our feelings about how it’s good and healthy for them to do things on their own. They agreed and now ALL the kids are riding their bikes around in a big pack, exploring, and having a blast. They’ve managed to stay safe, stay out of trouble, and have a ton of fun all summer long!!

I’m realizing that there are a lot of parents out there that WANT to give their kids more freedom. They just need a little push from someone letting them know it’s okay. The “safety” movement has created sort of a mob mentality with parents, but a lot of people don’t necessarily want to subscribe to it. They just think making a lot of rules and restrictions is what good parents do. I’m grateful that Free-Range-Kids has inspired me to break free of this delusion, and that I in turn have inspired these other parents to give their kids some much needed freedom. Perhaps these parents will inspire more. Perhaps by next summer our playgrounds and streets will be filled with kids having a safe, and happy-go-lucky summer with their friends. Could this be possible? Here’s to hoping!! – Laura Alves

No, there is actually no mention of wombats in this post. But kids on bikes, yes.

Help Needed: Do Kids Mow Neighbors’ Lawns Anymore?

Hey Readers — Here’s a query from reader that I’m curious about, too. Weigh in! — L.
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Dear Free-Range Kids: My name is Stacey Gordon and I have noticed that I never see children doing the things that we did when we were kids.  They seem to be supervised at all times and never have any “just kid” time.  Nothing seems to be expected of them. It is as though they are treated as infants right up until the time that they are expected to wake up one day and magically become adults… without any practice.
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I caught a thread in our local neighborhood Yahoo group.  Someone was asking if there were any kids that did yard work for summer as they would love to hire one.  People fired back answers. One person suggested that kids were spoiled by their parents. Recently, in this same neighborhood, someone called the police when they saw some unsupervised kids IN THEIR OWN YARDS.  My response to the thread was along the line of, “If the police are called if children are playing in their own front yard unsupervised, imagine what kind of trouble the parents would be in if they let the kids mow the lawn!” So my curiosity came from this neighborhood conversation.
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As children, we would hustle for money any chance we got.  In the city of Yonkers, on those rare snow days, we’d get out and shovel and help clean off and dig out cars for the folks who had to get to work.  They were always grateful and would throw us a few bucks. In summer we would go to the local grocery store (one of many we could walk to) and stand outside and help customers carry their bags to the car for tips.    We would later pool our money and go to the local pizza joint and chip in  for an entire pizza and a pitcher of soda.  If there was money left over we went to the candy store for treats and baseball cards.  Making our own money made us feel independent and grown up.
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It seems that in many locations that children are no longer able to be unsupervised while playing in their own yards. Do kids still do these things? There are no kids (a few infants maybe) in my current neighborhood so I have no way to judge. Does anyone still see children mowing yards for money anymore? By “children” I’m thinking anywhere from age 9 and up.  I recall in years past, in the suburban neighborhoods, my cousin and other kids would go door to door soliciting yard work.  Would a kid even be allowed to touch a lawn mower now, much less seek gainful employment in the neighborhood?  Is it fear on the parents’ part? Is it laziness on the kids’ side?  Are kids just spending too much time being scheduled, or playing on computers? What’s the story? – -Stacey, who writes the blog SouthGeek.

Sure, kids can use TOY lawnmowers. But what about the real thing?

Reject the Fear That Coach Automatically = Pervert: THANK A COACH! New Viral Video Campaign

Hi Folks! I just LOVE this campaign that just got underway in England. It was started by a gal named Heather Piper who describes herself as a “Professor in the Faculty of Education at Manchester Metropolitan University, UK, whose research interests tend to be contrarian and challenge the status quo, and much so called ‘wisdom.'” Go Heather! – L. 

THANK A COACH by Heather Piper

When the 2012 Olympics were awarded to London, the UK Government (like other governments before them) made much of the hope that the legacy would be to get children and young people more active and involved in sports – part of a happier and healthier nation. Instead, as recent research has shown,there are many coaches who feel anxious and overwhelmed by the way that trust in coaching relationships has been destroyed by the fear-based and mechanical way that child protection and ‘safeguarding’ has been imposed on them. The result has been that they feel spied-on, and end up doubting their colleagues’ motives, and even their own – viewing themselves and others as potential paedophiles!

There is something very wrong when, on attending their first football training session, eager 9-year-olds have to listen to a talk about the team’s child protection measures (implicit message: coaches are likely to be perverts). Whatever this does to children, an adult coach may be terrified when a young player races over to them as part of her goal-scoring celebration (Is she going to hug me? What will everyone think? Will I get suspended like the guy last year?). The problem is not one for the UK alone, the US, Australia and New Zealand, to name a few, share similarly risk-averse societies.

The pattern everywhere is much like that seen earlier in teaching and childcare and, again, the real losers are the children who lose the chance to benefit from strong and trusting inter-generational contact. The deficit extends beyond the issue of coaching kids to become better swimmer or soccer players: a good coach can provide  emotional support for children learning how to get along and grow up, which is particularly important for kids who may have less support at home.

To try, in a small way, to counter the pervasive negative messages about sports coaching and to honour the selfless work of the many thousands of coaches who offer their technical expertise (and often much more than that), a new campaign focuses attention on the positive coaching many of us will have experienced. In a risk-obsessed, fear-based, and mistrustful era we need some good news stories, and the ‘Inspired to Greatness’ campaign aims to collect and provide them. Take a look and join-in. Thank a coach for what they did for you. We can’t take coaches for granted. We CAN give them the thanks they deserve. Share your videos! – H.P.

Cheers, coach!

You’ll Like This Kid

Hi Folks — I sure liked him! Liked what he’s all about! – L.

Dear Free-Range Kids:  I wanted to share a great interaction we had this past Saturday with a Free-Range Kid.  My son and daughter-in-law were moving from their apartment, and while we were over there packing and taking boxes and furniture down the U-haul truck, a 9-year-old boy and his little sister stopped by and asked if they could help.  The little sister took a couple of small things down to the truck, but quickly lost interest.  Her brother spent 4 hours with us, packing boxes (he emptied an entire closet by himself), carrying lots of stuff down two flights of stairs, helping me tip over the loveseat to get the crumbs out of the bottom, helping us disassemble the lamps, the dinette table, etc.  At first I wouldn’t let him use the packing tape because of the sharp blade needed to cut it, but thinking of you, I showed him how to use it properly, so he was able to put the boxes together without any adult assistance.

He is the son of the building superintendent, so I think his family might not have the resources to send him to camps and summer activities, and because they are immigrants, they might not know that kids are supposed to be locked up “safe” all day.

He didn’t ask to be paid — he was just helping us because he wanted something to do — but I gave him $5, and after a few minutes he turned up with a slice of pizza and an eggroll from the take-out places down the street — very proud of himself for having the wherewithal to get his own supper.  When we left for the day, he kept thanking us for the fun afternoon he had had, working his butt off with the grown-ups!                                                                                                                                                                                         All the best, Bella Englebach

News Flash: Kids LIKE helping out.

These Moms Created a Neighborhood Camp (And So Can You!)

Hi Readers! Here’s a letter about a homemade camp started by two moms that just may inspire you —  the same way THEY got inspired last year, thanks to ideas being spread by Mike Lanza of Playborhood. (Here’s a cool post by him of how he turned his front yard into a neighborhood hangout.) If you start a camp, let us know! L. 
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Dear Free-Range Kids: I wanted to let you know that you, Mike Lanza, and the Camp Iris Way creators inspired me and a fellow mom, Karen Hoffman, to start out own neighborhood camp.  The first annual “Montara Street Camp” happened last week and was a huge success!  Not only did the campers, counselors, families and neighbors love it, but Karen and I had so much fun running it.  Of all the volunteer efforts I’ve been part of as a stay-at-home mom, this one was the most rewarding and fun.
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We modeled our camp after Camp Iris Way, and actually were in contact with Iris Way founder Diana Nemet [see below] when we were having difficulties getting our permit.  Since this was a new concept for the police and city, there were various concerns and hurdles.  However, the permit was ultimately granted and we had so much fun holding the camp in the street.  As a result of our camp, the neighborhood definitely feels closer.  Campers and counselors formed a special bond and new friendships were made.  One of my favorite parts of camp was it pushed parents to let kids walk and ride bikes by themselves, many for the first time.  I just loved watching everyone walk to camp.
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Here are links to the two local articles: HMB Review and  HMB Patch.  We made the front page of our local newspaper and have received lots of positive responses from people in town.  We are looking forward to running it again next year and hope it becomes an ongoing part of our little coastal community.  Again, thanks for being such a great inspiration!  My husband got so sick of hearing me quote your book after I read it last year.  I couldn’t help it!  – Sarah Bunkin

The Montara Sreet campers
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And here’s a note from Diana Nemet, who started a neighborhood camp last year:
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Thrilled to learn of the success of  Montara Street Camp–it’s absolutely wonderful! Reading about it brought back memories of the first year we ran Camp Iris Way. It’s definitely an incredible community-building accomplishment and I’m sure that the kids will enjoy each others company a lot more this summer than they had in the past!
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We had 73 kids attend Camp Iris Way this summer. Neighbors are still astonished that we have this many kids living just on Iris and Primrose Ways. I suspect you’ll see the numbers jump for next year’s Montara Street Camp. Our neighbors actually schedule their vacations around CIW now so that they don’t miss it! 🙂
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I suspect it might be valuable to include another link to the workplan and templates that we provided in last summer’s post. Congratulations Sarah and Karen! I’m delighted to learn of the fun you had, and agree that it’s one of the most rewarding contributions to my community that I’ve ever made.  Best,  Diana Nemet