To Keep Kids “Injury-Free” School Substitutes Wii for Recess

Hi Folks! This story comes to us by way of Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, which loves when kids make up their own games rather than them simply playing something pre-programmed. At this particular school, the superintendent is quoted as saying a desire to keep kids “out of trouble” and “injury-free” prompted the decision to give kids Wii time as opposed to FREE time for recess, once or twice a week. As I watched the video, I despaired about three  things.

1 – The fact that Wii is seen as the same thing as making up a game, even though there is no imagination or organization required.

2 – The fact that it is now DE RIGUEUR that we not show any children’s faces in a video. As if somehow that is damaging to them or us or someone somehow somewhere.

3 – The fact that the hopscotch game at this school is a pre-fab mat, placed on the ground.

I’m sure I am a little too sensitive to all these issues, but come on: Let kids run around! Let them use chalk. Let them make up their own games. Let them get away from the screen. And PLEASE quit worrying that every non-scripted moment outside = an injury waiting to spring. – L.

An After-school Provider Laments the Crazy Rules

Hi Folks! Here’s yet another look at some insanely overprotective, unproductive rules governing anything having to do with kids. This rant/lament comes from Rick Rood, director of an on-site after-school child care program in the San Francisco Bay Area.  He has worked in the profession since 1990, and provides workshops and coaching for education professionals who work with school-age children.  He blogs at AfterschoolAnswers and is currently finishing his new book, “The Three Secret Pillars of Behavior Guidance,” even while he and his wife are raising kids aged 5, 16, and 17. This note came in response to a post about a YMCA that wouldn’t let a mom bring her 3-year-old in to use the bathroom because this was against the rules. – L

Dear Free-Range Kids:  I run an after-school program, and if that parent had come to our center, I would’ve had to tell them the same exact thing.  Our organization (we’re a string of 16 centers run by a rec and park organization) has a policy that outsiders are not allowed to use our restrooms. Why not?

One simple reason — liability.  The (very) sad fact is that the policy comes from our insurance company. I do my best to be a “Free-Range” director.  I don’t make these policies, and there are many rules and regulations with which I personally don’t agree. But it goes deeper than that.  Because of this “bubble-wrap” mentality, out-of-school-time staff have become more and more infected over the years with this insidious “worst-case scenario” type of thinking.

Some examples? Recently one of my teachers reported me to my boss for a Free-Range comment I had made.  One day, one of our children decided to sneak away from school and not come to the afterschool program.  This resourceful 8-year-old made it pretty much clear across our medium-sized town, heading to a friend’s house.  We followed our policies when he didn’t show up to our program: parents and police were called, and they tracked him down in pretty short order. After the dust had settled, I made a comment to one of our teachers (who I mistakenly figured held similar Free-Range ideas), saying that, while it was good that we found the boy, I was impressed with the boy’s resourcefulness and that maybe, as a culture, we shouldn’t call up visions of child molesters and abductors every time something doesn’t go as planned. The teacher went to my boss, and told her that he didn’t think I was very serious about protecting the children in our care.

Another policy: Kids can’t walk home on their own.  Again, liability.  How much could we be sued for if a kid breaks their leg or goes missing on the short walk home (we’re a neighborhood school),  even if the parent has given permission?  Frustrating to me because the odds that nothing bad will happen within a two-block walk are pretty astronomical, and then add to that the VERY tiny chance that their parent will pursue legal action (these are parents that we, as a rule, work together with as partners- and we have very good relationships with our parents).

Here’s a corker. Our local Little League uses the fields on our school grounds for practice and games.  Can we release the kids to just walk across the field (again on the SAME physical grounds) to practice?  Heck no… we require a “responsible adult” to come and sign them out and walk them the 100 yards to practice).  And, even better, by policy that “responsible adult” cannot be one of our staff members (even if the parents say it’s okay and we walk them every step of the way).

Finally, here’s a spot where I’ve rebelled (although quietly). At one of our “sister centers” (on the grounds of another local school)… they had a kindergartner who fell off the monkey bars while playing in the afterschool program and broke her arm.  Immediately, and with almost scary domino-like action, many of the other local centers (including the one in question) banned kindergarteners from the play structures (even though they’re labeled for use by kids 5-12 years of age).  No one ever made it an official policy, so my kindergarteners continue to enjoy play time on the play structure.

My main philosophy in afterschool care is that we exist to facilitate the emotional and social growth of children.  And if we’re going to succumb to the bubble-wrap philosophy of raising kids, then our mission is doomed from the start! At my center, kids will be allowed to play freely on the play structure, kids will be allowed to wrestle in the grass, and I will make free range choices in every area where they have not already been banned and by the regulating agencies, lawyers and insurance adjusters.  And unlike some of my fellow co-workers, I will not succumb to the “worst-first” type of thinking that stunts the social and emotional growth of the next generation. – Rick Rood

Want to Help Out at a Class Party? All You Need to do is Get Fingerprinted!

Hi Folks! Here’s a school memo one of you sent in from the Brave New World that thinks somehow every time any adult encounters a child — even in a classroom filled with other adults and a gaggle of kids — the kids are in grave danger:

Wiggle those digits

If you attended volunteer training last spring in order to be able to help out at school (in the classroom, on field trips, at parties, etc.), there’s one more step you need to take.

The school board recently added a fingerprinting requirement for all volunteers to accompany the existing background check. New volunteer training this year will include fingerprinting opportunities.

If you completed the training last school year, you need to get in touch with volunteer coordinator. The district is paying for the fingerprinting.

How kind. Is the district using money that is not coming from anything else, like books or field trips? – L

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 Question About Dad Driving the Babysitter

Dear Readers — This letter got me wondering, too. Eagerly awaiting your answers. – L

Dear Free-Range Kids:  I found your blog recently and have been going through all of your past posts (driving my hubby crazy with “listen to this…..!”).  I have been a Free-Range mom for years now (10 years, 5 kids), and I am glad to now realize that I am not as alone as I had previously thought.  My son is 10 going on 30 and organizes his own lemonade stand, bikes to the library by himself, runs into the grocery store for me so I can sit in the van with the kids…. now my 7-year-old daughter is starting to follow in his footsteps.  It’s amazing the confidence that comes with these freedoms.

Now the reason I write is to ask you this:  In my community it is understood that the father NEVER drives the babysitter (typically a girl) home.  I am convinced that this is a conspiracy concocted by men who do not want to be the designated driver.  But, the mothers all say that this is just for the babysitters’ safety, and for the man’s safety because “misunderstandings” and false accusations do happen.  Plus, it’s awkward for a man to be alone in a car with a teenage girl, they say.  My driver’s license is recently suspended due to a seizure and I cannot drive the babysitter home anymore.  My son can’t take the babysitter course for another year, and I know he isn’t ready for these responsibilities just yet.  Is it really unreasonable to have my husband drive the babysitter home? And is this policy a universal one? Just curious! — Courtenay

Only mom can drive the babysitter home?

You Can Be Free-Range and Choose NOT to Trust Your Kid in a Particular Situation

Hi Folks! I liked this letter because it reminds us that Free-Range Kids is not dogmatic and not silly. We don’t say you MUST trust your child in every situation or you are a lily-livered ninny. We don’t reject thinking things over, or even erring on the side of caution. All we DO reject is knee-jerk “worst-first thinking” — immediately assuming the worst in all situations. – L 

Dear Free-Range Kids: Parenting Free-Range children does not mean throwing all caution to the wind.  While reading through some people’s stories and comments I have commonly seen the inner struggle of  “should I or should I not?” in trying to determine what is best for their children.  I consider myself a Free-Range Parent even though my kids are young.  I do not let mainstream media or exaggerated emails govern the raising of my kids in a state of fear.  However, I was met with a Free-Range struggle last week at the park.

My son and daughter were happily playing soccer with another set of boys, with a total range of age from 3-5.  Out of nowhere the dad of the boys appeared and started playing with the four of them.  I watched from my bench as everyone was having a great time.  I was thankful for this dad entertaining my kids, even though he did not speak English (I’m an ex-pat American living in Europe) and my kids were a little confused regarding his instructions.  I did notice he seemed to be slapping my daughter on her skirted rear end quite a bit.  At first it was a “good job” sort of thing but still I just didn’t like it, cultural differences or not.

My son ran up to me and said he had to go to the bathroom.  The bathroom at the park was a good 5-minute walk away and not that clean.  So here I was presented with a choice:  I could leave my 4-year-old daughter with this man I have just met so she can continue playing, and trust that he will look after her.  Or deal with the “I don’t want to go” tantrum and take her with me.

My first instinct was to take her with me.  But a voice crept up, “Shouldn’t you trust this man you have never met before in your life?  Isn’t that what being Free-Range is all about?  Aren’t you giving into senseless worry, if you fear leaving her with a stranger?  What would Lenore think?”

I ultimately decided, no, leaving my 4-year-old daughter with a man I don’t know is not being Free-Range.  It is taking an unnecessary risk, especially when I live in a country that is notorious for abuse.  Lenore would want my little girl safe.  Her time to be truly “Free-Range” will come soon enough.  As for now, my role is to teach her how to be safe and ready for the world ahead of her.”

I write this in case any other parent who believes in Free-Range philosophies gets struck in this sort of conundrum — the ” I feel like I shouldn’t but maybe Free-Range says I should!” spiral. It is important to believe in your kids and yourself, but don’t throw all instincts out the window.  I have faith in people and society but I don’t consider myself blind to it all either. – A Mom Abroad

“My Brush with Predator Mania” – Guest Post

Hi Readers!  Just realized (it IS summer) I posted this story earlier. Sorry! Stay tuned for something new in a little bit! Or re-read and get mad all over again! L.

My Brush with Predator Mania by Nicholas Martin

I took my 9-year-old daughter and two of her friends to swim today at Brookville Lake, an Indiana state park. I was shooting pictures of them from the beach with a telephoto lens when I was approached by two park guides who asked if I was photographing my own kids or other people’s.
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I responded that I had the legal and constitutional right to photograph anyone. I asked if there was a complaint and a female guide responded that one beachgoer had motioned them over to question my picture taking. The guide said that she was just ensuring the safety of the children. I said that it was ridiculous to think that a man shooting with a large camera and lens on an open beach was a potential threat to kids, and pointed out that probably hundreds of people on the beach had cell phone cameras that could take pictures without being noticed. I told the guides that they should tell the complainers that anyone had a right to take pictures at the beach. The guides were unfailingly cordial and respectful and we bid each other a friendly goodbye.
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Minutes later the ladies next to our beach tent pointed out the woman nearby who had made the complaint to the guides. She was with three other women, all apparently in their thirties and with no accompanying kids. Seconds later one of the four women lifted her cell phone and began taking pictures of one of her friends standing in front of the water. Or she could have been taking pictures of the children behind her for all I know!
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I approached the woman who had complained and asked if we should notify the authorities about her friend’s picture-taking. She responded by asking me if I would want a stranger taking pictures of my child at the beach. I said it would be fine with me since it presented no threat.
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Later my kids heard some people in the water complaining about my picture-taking. One of them said, “He better put that camera away.” It is not far-fetched to imagine a mob of people driven by a sufficient frenzy to inflict “justice” on a photographer at that beach. What if I hadn’t had any kids with me and was just shooting some beach scenes, with kids, adults, and lapping waves? The American mania regarding sexual predation is not to be toyed with.
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Perhaps area photographers should show up at the beach for a Photo Freedom Day to publicize and defend the right to do photography. – Nicolas Martin
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Lenore here: I like the idea of a Photo Freedom Day. If anyone organizes one, please let us know how it goes! – L 

What kind of disgusting pervert takes a picture like this?