A Child Visitor to America Asks: “Where Are All The Kids?”

Hi Readers — This note was originally a comment on the post below this one. Its poignancy hit me particularly hard because today’s New York Times has a piece by Jane Brody — “Communities Learn Good Life Can be a Killer” —  about the effect of sprawl on health, autonomy and, of course,  childhood. I’m not sure how to suddenly re-urbanize vast swaths of suburbia, but I’m glad that city planners are looking into it. — L.

Dear Free-Range Kids: Before moving to my current home in Germany 6 years ago, I lived in a small town (about 5,000 people) in a different part of Germany. It was very Free-Range. Kids of all ages played outside in the smaller streets without adult supervision. The older kids watched out for the younger ones when a car drove by. Kids were always out playing in the neighborhood, either in the streets or at a local playground.

When my son was about 4 or 5, my family (husband, son, me) took a trip to California to visit family. In all of the neighborhoods where we stayed, nobody was on the streets. My son finally commented, “This must must be a really lonely place. Nobody is here.” He was so used to seeing the German streets in his neighborhood alive with kids playing and adults walking, cycling, or running. The empty streets in nice neighborhoods in California really threw him off.

During another CA trip, when my son was 9, he commented that he wouldn’t want to live there because you have to drive everywhere. He likes being able to walk or ride his bike over here and doesn’t really know anything different.

Kudos to Lori for making her town less of a “lonely place.” She is a beacon of hope for the Free-Range movement.  — Sue Biegeleisen

Helloooo? Anyone NOT home?

Estonia, Here We Come?

Hi Readers — As usual, I’m sitting here wondering whether it’s  “lucky” to live in such a first world country. Check out these two notes I just got:

Dear Free-Range Kids: I am a writing from Estonia, it’s a small country in Europe. I came a cross your blog through babble.com and a quick flip through your posts left me a bit astonished. I mean, you seem to be sane and a thoughtful lady, but has rest of the America gone insane? 🙂

Around here, we have no problems with children playing in the parks by themselves, going to school alone using public transport, having fun on the beaches, taking country trips, being home alone — without no adult supervision whatsoever. I would not imagine anyone calling the cops here for leaving children in the car. The emergency service people would probably laugh their asses off or consider it a prank call.

I wish you all the best and strength in voicing common sense in that strange country USA appears to be.

And then came THIS note:

Dear Free-Range Kids:   When Evan, my oldest, had his tenth birthday, we invited nine teammates from his baseball team to a party. For the first couple of hours we took them to the park so they could play some 5-on-5 ball.

They couldn’t do it. Pick their own teams? How? Who’ll call balls and strikes? Not hit to right field??

They had none of those social, creative or flexibility skills I realized I had developed as a kid, when I was “abandoned” by my mom to spend the day at the park and play with older kids. The game started around nine and went until (after) sunset, when we were afraid of losing the ball. Kids rotated in and out, the seven-year-old got pitched underhand, and the occasional fight worked out the close calls.

But these kids had never played ball unsupervised. They wanted an adult to participate. Maybe pitch. And they had never played with a kid not their own age.

By the way, congratulations on making an issue of one of the scarier trends today. I even read a sociological analysis of the destruction of the “children’s culture”– all those rhymes and games and teases and stories that are no longer passed on.

I"m sorry to say, my kids don't know how to play leap frog. Do yours?