Outrage of the Week: Grammar School Cancels Val Day for “Good of the Students”

Hi Readers — Our darling children, who, we’re told, can’t handle recess in the cold (see this), or waiting outside the high school to be picked up (see this), or babysitting, even at age 14 (see this), and who can’t possibly handle sleepovers (see this) or bugs ( see this) or bible stories (see this), are now being told they can’t handle Valentine’s Day, either.

A Maryland grammar school sent a letter to parents explaining its philosophy, which was reported in the local Frederick News Post:

Romance between students has no place in the elementary school classroom, [Principal Stephanie] Brown said, and the obsession of boy-girl relationships on Valentine’s Day was inappropriate for the school setting.

Another issue caused by the holiday was the exchange of cards, some of which had candies or other treats attached. Brown said she and her staff didn’t want to take the chance of causing problems for students with  food allergies.

So now kids can’t handle friendship, love or disappointment — in other words, human relationships — and the kids with allergies can’t handle not eating the treat handed to them, and of course the school can’t handle a darn thing ever happening to the kids at all. And there you have it: A nice little Valentine to abject paralysis.  — Lenore

Danger! Life ahead!

Guest Post: Free-Range On Vacation (It Can Be Easier!)

Hi Readers — This essay comes to us from a reader who sounds like she had an enviable vacation (at least I’m envying it) and a revelation, to boot! Her name is Amanda Lee and her blog is passionfruit.passionfruit@cogeco.ca

Free-Range in Thailand by Amanda Lee

The crackdown starts as soon as we step back on North American soil: “Mind their fingers!” (On clearing the baggage check). “Where are her shoes?” (In my carry-on.) “They could get hurt!” (The kids are walking the wrong way on a completely empty moving sidewalk.)

We are returning to Canada from the tiny island of Koh Ngai in southern Thailand. There, the rule book was tossed into the serene sea lapping the shore. For one week my children ran with abandon: Free-Range in Thailand.

My two-year-old daughter potted around naked and barefoot. My five-year-old son hunted for crabs in the early morning rocks, while I lounged in our hut. He proudly displayed a bucketful of crustaceans to anyone who would look.

With a backdrop of mountain jungle, Koh Ngai consists of two kilometres of calm beach and resorts. As the days slipped by, I discovered a curious thing: the more freedom my children had to simply be and play, the fewer tantrums they threw.

Without micromanagement, my children’s natural exuberance came out like the tropical sun. Okay, so my son got so far stuck up a palm tree, he looked like a kitten that needed to be lifted to safety. My husband climbed up and airlifted him down. Later they managed to catch a sea urchin in a bucket. How, I’ll never know.

Not sure I want to.

Free-Range also meant free to make friends without playdates! The rules of tag are universal, so the language barrier didn’t matter. My son played Foosball with a United Nations of kids. Freja, a four-year-old from Denmark, spent days with my daughter and any other children they could round up, making sand castles, drawing, or washing the ornate elephant statues. Her parents and I compared notes.

“In Denmark you’d be considered a bad parent in you were too over protective,” they said.

Demark. Thailand. And even Australia, where I grew up: They all believed in letting kids get dirty and run around barefoot. It’s too bad it takes a holiday to give a Canadian kid a taste of childhood.

ANNOUNCING MAY 22: “TAKE OUR CHILDREN TO THE PARK…AND LEAVE THEM THERE DAY”

Hi Readers : You read it here first! Free-Range Kids is officially declaring Saturday, May 22 — the weekend before Memorial Day– the very first, “Take Our Children to the Park… And Leave Them There Day.”

What?!

Just that. If our goal is to get kids back outside (it is), and playing together (it is), and for parents to relax (it is), and to start creating community again (it sure is!!!), then “Take Our Children to the Park… And Leave Them There Day” is a great first step.

Across the country — what the heck, across the world — parents will  converge upon local playgrounds and parks with their school-age kids. They will tell them to have fun, make friends and don’t leave with anyone. Then the parents will wave goodbye and the kids will amuse themselves for whatever amount of time they’ve decided with their folks. An hour. A morning. Or maybe even just half an hour, to get used to the whole thing, which, admittedly, sounds radical. But is it?

The crime rate in America is back to where it was in the early ’70s. Crime was going up then, and it peaked around 20 years later. By the mid ’90s it was coming down and continues to do so.  So the strange fact — very hard to digest — is that if YOU were playing outside in the ’70s or ’80s, your kids today are safer than you were! I know it doesn’t feel that way. In fact, here’s an interesting poll about how the majority of people feel crime is going up when actually its going down. But anyway, the point is:

Most of us used to play outside in the park, without our parents, without cell phones, without Purell or bottled water and we survived! Thrived! We cherish the memories! And if you believe the million studies that I’m always publishing here, kids are healthier, happier and better-adjusted if they get to spend some time each day in “free play,” without adults hovering.

I know there will be shrill voices insisting, “Predators are gonna love this holiday!” but keep a level head. Crime is down. Awareness is up. There is safety in numbers, which means getting kids outside again, together. This won’t happen until we actually start DOING IT.

So spread the word and be not afraid. Free-Range Kids never says there is no risk in the world, only that the risk is small and worth taking, as it always has been. The trade-off is kids who make up games, who solve problems, who discover nature and get moving (to coin a phrase). Kids who don’t need a screen to entertain them. Playing outside, on their own, is what kids all over the world do. We have forgotten how vital and wonderful it is.

Walk around your neighborhood. Do you see empty sidewalks? Empty yards? Empty playgrounds? It’s a waste — of childhood. Let’s bring it back, starting on May 22.

Feel free to add your ideas, caveats, endorsements and suggestions below. This could be the start of something big! (Or not. Guess we’ll see.)  — Lenore

Imagine.

A Happy Holiday Story!

Hi Readers — This just in! A lovely story. Be of good cheer — it’s happening! — Lenore

Dear Free-Range Kids: This happened to me the other day. I was talking to a co-worker about how, as a child, my parents would send me to spend my summers with family in America… alone. I was an “UM” (Unaccompanied Minor) on the flights, which meant that a steward(ess) would meet me at the gate, take me to the plane, and plunk me down on my seat. When the plane landed, s/he would get me and walk me to my parents. While I was technically unattended during the 8 hours or so of the flight, it’s not like I could go very far!

Well, my co-worker was mind-boggled. “I won’t even let my daughter walk to the corner shop by herself!” I asked him why not. He gave the usual waffling of,  “Well, you never know what could happen.” He talked about a couple cases of children who have been abducted. His examples were all from over a decade ago. So I told him about how the media works, how these things are so shocking that they are drilled into our consciousness because everyone talks about them, but that in actual fact they are very rare.

“But what if it happens to MY daughter? That something is rare is poor comfort for a grieving parent.” So I told him about confidence, about how letting kids take care of themselves a bit and do ‘grown-up things’ like walking to the corner shop prepares them far better for dealing with possible nasty situations. After all, I said, you don’t want to dump a sheltered girl at college!

He seemed unconvinced. He was stuck on the “what if.” But the great news is that a couple weeks later, he came into work beaming with pride and told us all about how he was running short on time that morning and desperately needed something from the corner store. So he gave his daughter money and let her go ahead while he finished getting ready. She bought what he needed (candy canes, as it so happens) and waited for him outside. When he finished getting ready, he drove by the corner store, picked her up, and off they went.

All he talked about for the next week or so was how grown-up his daughter was, and how proud of herself she was for accomplishing her little errand. Finally, a happy ending!