“The Seemingly Inexorable Transfer of Authority from Parents to the State”

Hi Readers — As you know, I am a big fan of helmets. Have been since I first started this blog, as you can see right there, on the left of this post. I also make my kids wear helmets when they ski and snowboard.

BUT I am also a big fan of this helmet veto, just signed by Gov. Brown of California, for the very reason he cited. Voila the actual letter. And here’s what it says:

To the Members of the California State Senate:

I am returning Senate Bill 105 without my signature.

This measure would impose criminal penalites on a child under the age of 18 and his or her parents if the child skis or snowboards without a helmet.

While I appreciate the value of wearing a ski helmet, I am concerned about the continuing and seemingly inexorable transfer of authority from parents to the state. Not every human problem deserves a law.

I believe parents have the ability and the responsibility to make good choices for their children.


Edmund G. Brown

I applaud this because when the government gets to decide how we parent, it sometimes criminalizes things IT considers “unsafe” that a lot of US do consider safe, whether that’s allowing a child of a certain age to stay home alone, wait in the car, bike to school (yes, I’ll address that Tennessee case very soon),  operate a lemonade stand or play unsupervised outside.

I am all for child safety, but I am also for parent safety. And when parents can be criminalized for believing in their kids or community, we are all at risk. — Lenore

How to Start a Neighborhood Camp with Kids as Counselors!

Hi Readers! This sounds so fun and do-able. Also sounds like it can really change a neighborhood and all the childhoods in it! A huge thanks to Diana and Jennifer for alerting us to their camp and providing all the info  — right down to waivers, flyers and a time sked — of how to get it off the ground.  Free! If you decide to try starting a camp in your neighborhood, please let us know how it goes! — L.
Dear Free-Range Kids: We thought you’d like an update on our neighborhood summer camp.  As you wrote about in your blog last year, we’re two moms from Palo Alto, CA who have created an old-school, low-key summer camp for our neighborhood.  Last year 43 kids attended.  It was so successful that this summer almost EVERY family with kids attended–a total of 72 kids!  We’ve attached a link to a local article about our camp – we think you’ll like the title!
The details for the camp include:

  • Five mornings for the first week of summer
  • Older kids serve as counselors and design the activities
  • A modest camp tuition gets divided up between the counselors
  • Younger kids (age 4 – 4th grade) are ‘campers’
  • Each day a different family or two adjacent neighbors ‘host’ (i.e., provide space and some adult supervision)
  • Different activities each day — crafts, games, snacks and free play (e.g., water balloons, obstacle courses, lawn bowling, jump rope, sidewalk chalk)
  • Great memories with neighborhood friends and the comfort level to inspire impromptu playdates the rest of the summer
For some neighborhoods, a camp like ours should be easy to implement.  We have a workplan and templates that we are happy to share.  For others, a full-fledged camp would not be practical. The good news is: it can be modified to one weekend day, or one “day off” for the neighborhood.  It could motivate kids to spend time outdoors playing with friends after dinner, for example.
We have several attorneys on our street who recommended we issue a basic waiver.  Every family signs it for their kids to participate and it protects everyone in the neighborhood.  We wish we could avoid it, but see it as a practical reality that everyone seems to understand.
The rest of the summer, some kids are home, but most go to organized camps for part of the day. Neighborhood play seems to resume mid-afternoon.
Last year, the street felt like a ghost town the week after camp.  We suspect the families on our street were so used to scheduling their kids for camps and activities that it didn’t occur to them to keep them home and just play in the neighborhood.  We toyed around with making it a two week commitment this year:  one week of camp and the other of NOTHING.  What would the kids do?  Would we all adjust to a non-scheduled lifestyle?
We haven’t done this as we feel it would be a lot to ask of households with two working parents who really rely on camps for childcare.  But we’re hopeful this summer, because of the number of kids that participated in our camp, the continued increase in comfort-level between the neighbors that lasted throughout the school year, and the enthusiasm from this year’s camp, that this summer will include a lot more neighborhood play.  We’re already seeing it with the four-square courts sprayed on the street!
Thanks for all your inspiration.  We’re having a blast! –Diana Nemet and Jennifer Antonow

On the Other Hand: Sometimes (Parental) Silence is Golden

Hi Readers — Here’s a piece about something I’d never heard of, “Silent Sunday.” (Of course, maybe it would be hard to hear about something silent.) The post about it comes from Cindy Wilson, communications director at Playworks, an organization that provides play and physical activity to low-income schools in urban cities. Playworks is hosting its  Play On Conference in New York October 12 – 13, bringing together some of the country’s top experts on recess, play and physical activity. (I’m going!) Wilson is also the assistant coach of a U12 girls soccer team.  Here’s her piece:


Walk past a soccer field on any given game day and you’ll be overwhelmed with parents shouting instructions from the sidelines, screaming directions to their kids, telling the players to pass the ball, shoot, run fast! The funny thing is that if you ask the players what they hear, all they’ll tell you is that they hear a bunch of parents shouting. Ask them if it helps, they will snicker and say no. Does it sometimes embarass them? You bet.

Next weekend, September 25 and 26, it’s going to be a bit different in Oakland, California. Parents, coaches, managers and players on the sidelines for Rockridge Soccer League games will be doing something unusual. They will be quiet.

As part of its annual Silent Saturday and Silent Sunday, everyone on the sidelines is asked to remain silent during games, while players on the field are allowed and are encouraged to speak to one another. No instructions, no directions, no cheering (yes, you can clap if your team scores), no call-outs (except for substitutions) for two beautiful game days next weekend. The only sound will be that of the players doing what they signed up to do ~ playing soccer, running hard, working as a team and figuring it out on their own.

Silence is golden. — C.W.

Outrage of the Week: Teacher Lets Kids Climb Hill, Cops Come Calling

Hi Readers — Here’s the latest outrage. Lia’s nature-oriented nursery school/kindergarten might not be for everyone, but it certainly is for some kids. Or at least it was.  — Lenore

By Lia Grippo

My name is Lia Grippo.  I am an early childhood educator with 20 years of experience.  For the past 11 years, a large part of my work here in Santa Barbara has been taking young children into local wild spaces where we forage, track animals, climb trees, build forts, etc. For the last two years I have been running a small school that meets at my home 3 days a week and in the woods 2 days per week — safely.

I have two sons, age 7 and 4.  My 7-year-old has been climbing to heights since he was a baby. My husband and I mentored this skill early on first by staying close while pretending to watch something else, and later by having some simple guidelines. For climbing trees, our guidelines include teaching children to know how to tell a dead branch from a living one, and then teaching them never to climb on dead branches or any limb “thinner than your arm.”  We never help a child to climb up but are willing to help as much as necessary on the climb down.

 A few weeks ago my school met at a local beach.  The beach is sandwiched between the ocean and some steep hills and bluffs.  The hills sit in the sand, not above the water.  My 7-year-old and his 6-year-old friend – an equally competent as a climber and also the son of my dearest friend and school teaching assistant — climbed to the top of one of these hills.  As they climbed they chatted, and moved at a steady pace, which meant to me that they were not at the edge of their abilities, which would have been evidenced by their silence or by announcements of fear, tense body language, or frequent stops in search of how to proceed next.  In imitation of the older boys, the younger children began to climb the hill as well.  

I stopped them by saying, “That’s high enough,” when I saw they had reached the point where they would not be able to come down by themselves if they were to continue.  The three younger ones (ages 4, 5, & 5) stopped and began to climb down.  By this time, a group of people had gathered to watch.  My 4-year-old son slid a little down the hill on his bottom. I was right below him to catch him should he continue to slide.  But with the combination of the sliding and, I believe, a frightened group of strangers staring up at him, he became too afraid to come down the rest of the way.  So I climbed up and coached him down, staying  just beneath him. He calmed down to the point where we were laughing and joking as we made our way down.

As we neared the bottom, I noticed there was a lifeguard beneath me on the hill about 3-4 feet off the ground.  When we reached him he asked if I wanted to pass my son off to him and I did and he put him down on the ground.  Then the lifeguard told me he would take the trail around the side of the hill to get the other boys down and I agreed, not because I thought those boys couldn’t make it down on their own — I was certain they could — but because of the fear of the folks watching.  We went around to meet the kids as they came down the trail.  The lifeguard seemed annoyed and said, “Don’t do that again,” before walking off.

During all of this the police were called.  The police officer took a statement from me and left.  As the parents arrived at the end of our morning, I told each one the story and each of them said, “I’m so sorry that happened to you. Why are people so afraid these days?”

A few days later the agency that licenses my school came to my door to begin an investigation. This included calling all of the parents at the school, who were all in complete support of me and thought the incident was blown completely out of proportion.  Each parent called me afterward to lend support and to share their outrage at this agency.

At the end of this process, the agency has revoked my license saying that I endangered the children by “exposing them to the natural hazard of the hill and the ocean front,” and by allowing them to climb, made worse by the fact that I allowed them to climb in beach attire, and my son was naked. (As result of ditching his freezing wet pair of jeans.)  

The families have surrounded me with support and outrage and are willing to help pay attorney’s fees to appeal this process.

A couple of nights ago, my 7-year-old said to me, “Mama, I know why those people were afraid.  They couldn’t climb that hill themselves.”

I could use whatever support, resources, or ideas, folks might have to offer.  Especially helpful would be an attorney who had had experience with this sort of situation or someone who works in California’s Community Care Licensing Division who may be able to offer advice.

Thank you,


Learning The Wrong Lessons from Sandra Cantu’s Death

It’s front page news out here in San Francisco where I’m visiting, but it’s probably front page news out by you, too: The tragic story of 8-year-old Sandra Cantu, who was abducted and murdered last week in California. Today’s front page story is as inevitable as the media attention: “Case Forces Parents to take Tougher Look at Children’s Safety.” http://tinyurl.com/cfsyyw

It’s hard not to take a tough look after a killing like this. As the parents interviewed by the San Francisco Chronicle say, they are hugging their children closer and talking to them about safety. This is good news. Children should be taught to run, kick and scream if someone is trying to take them away. Teach them NOT to be polite. Also, by the way, teach them they CAN ask for help from strangers.

But of course, these are not the only lessons parents are taking from this tragedy. At least in the Chronicle piece, many parents have vowed to no longer let their children go outside alone, ever. “I used to let my kids walk to the park, which is a block away,” one mother is quoted as saying, “My 11-year-old would chaperone. But after this, there will be no more walking on their own to the park. This is a long-term change.'”

It IS a long term change, but not one that makes sense. First of all, her children were not walking alone if the 11-year-old was walking with them, right? And so already they were exceedingly safe. But even walking alone is generally safe, something really hard to remember in the face of one little girl who wasn’t.

The chances of being abducted and killed by a stranger stand at 1,500,000 to one, according to the Crimes Against Children Research Center. This is a number that does not go up or down a lot year to year. To keep your children inside or guarded at all times because of chances like that would make sense only if you also vowed never to take your children in a car, considering the odds of them dying in an accident are 40 times greater.

And yet, even though five child passengers are killed each day, you never see parents vowing, “I used to let my kids come with me in the car. But after this, there will be no more driving. This is a long-term change.”

This is not meant to be flip. Only that if keeping children safe from any possible death, no matter how remote the danger, is your goal, you literally cannot let them do anything. If they eat, they could choke. If they run, they could trip. If they go to school, they could fall down the stairs. Any of those could lead to death.

By all means, teach your children to be assertive. To fight, bite kick and scream  if they are in trouble. But beyond this, the lesson from Sandra Cantu isn’t, “Never let them go outside until they’re 17.”  It’s that there is no lesson. Only a very sad story that will replay itself in most parents’ minds longer and louder than all the other stories that don’t end this way. — Lenore