Two Stories You Won’t Hear on the News

Hi Readers! Here you go! — L

Dear Free-Range Kids: I live in a small town (less than 300 residents) in Southwest Pennsylvania,  and regardless of the image the local-ish news channels portray, it is VERY safe. I grew up in the house I am living in, my  parents live next door.

The other day I was working in the yard, repainting some furniture. I heard my 2-year-old come out  then turn around and bang on the door she just exited. My mom came to the door and asked Gwen if she wanted to come in. I didn’t hear anything else, and when I looked up a few minutes later and didn’t see my daughter, I assumed she had gone in with my mom. A couple minutes later, I went in to clean up. When I didn’t see my daughter, I asked where she was. Mom said she thought Gwen was outside with me. This started a search of the yard (large, nearly 3/4 acre, all fenced in), something that happens a couple times on most days. When we determined Gwen wasn’t there, we started walking up the street. Mom found her standing in front of a neighbor’s house three homes away, looking for the back-hoe she’d seen the day before. The neighbor who lived there was just walking over to Gwen to bring her down and see if she was ours. My next door neighbor, who was leaving for work, was also just coming out to see whose child it was.

Total result? A minute of semi-panic when we realized my two-year-old wasn’t in the yard. A five-minute conversation with a normally anti-social neighbor about her grown daughter at the toddler stage. And when my father came home, he moved the gate latch to the outside of the fence so Gwen can’t open it again. Nobody called the police or child protective services, no injuries occurred, and Gwen wasn’t even fazed  — though she WAS disappointed that the big machines were gone.

This is a big deal to me because Pittsburgh news (our closest “local” news) runs nearly weekly reports of parents going to court-mandated parenting classes or even losing their children because of similar occurrences where toddlers get out and wander unsupervised. In all of these occasions, when neighbors find random children, they don’t look for a parent, they seem to START by calling the police.

Then, today we went to our nearest park to play on the big swings. The park is right against the Youghigheny River, so there are a lot of water fowl. Gwen played until she realized the ducks were there! She wanted to go look. While there, she had a lovely conversation about the ducks with an older gentleman (75 or 80 years, probably), who was sitting on a bench watching the ducks, too. I actually walked back to the car (about 20 yards away) to get her drink while she sat and watched with him. She probably sat still for longer than anywhere else today. He was polite, patient, and seemed to find her constant observations about the ducks adorable.

Thankfully, the local city has not succumbed to the temptation to bar adults from enjoying the same areas as children, because both my daughter and the gentleman had a wonderful time.

Moral of the story: There are some areas of the country that haven’t completely succumbed to insanity, and I am SO happy to live in one of them, since we have been Free-Range with Gwen since she first became mobile. — A Happy Pennsylvania Mom

WTD? What happens when a toddler watches ducks with someone other than her parent?

Time for a Block Party! (Yes. Right Now.)

Hi Readers! The other day I got a note from a reader saying, “We need more GOOD news about Free-Raning.” And so, here we go! — L.

Dear Free-Range Kids: A few weeks ago you posted something that another reader did to create a sense of community.  I’ve been meaning to follow up, but things in Wisconsin have been, umm, kind of crazy lately, as you may have read.

Anyway, I live in the sort of neighborhood where there a lot of
renters, and not very many kids.  My husband and I have been bemoaning
this for years.  There’s a younger child next door to us, and a family
w/ 3 kids about a block up, and that’s it within our 2 blocks.

Well, the mom of the 3 kids decided recently that she wants her kids
to know everyone w/in a 2 block radius.  And so to facilitate that,
she decided to have a block party.  In February.  In Wisconsin.  She
arranged for a landscaping company to push some of the snow into big
hills, got the street blocked off, told people what she was doing, and
it worked out really nicely.  We had about 3 versions of chili there
(in crockpots, plugged into a surge protector on a heavy-duty
extension cord), cocoa in big thermoses, kids making snow forts, etc.
We weren’t able to stay for the whole thing, but there were people
coming & going for at least 4 hours.  For a while I went back to my
house to work on our potluck contribution, and left my daughter out
there to play.  After about 1/2 hour I heard a bang on the porch–she
had run home to get her sled–and she took great delight in running
home *by*herself.

So don’t let the weather stop you from getting to know your neighbors!
People might think you’re nuts, but they’ll usually show up to a
party… Erika

(Bad) Advice from “All You” Magazine

Hi Readers — This note is RIGHT ON!

Dear Free-Range Kids:  Just thought I’d let you know of this snippet from the most recent All You Magazine. It incensed me to the point of writing an email to the author scolding her for her “professional advice” (this column is written by “Relationship Expert” Nancy Carol Rybski, PhD). Here is the article:

Q. A 6-year-old boy in our neighborhood stops by often to play with my 7-year-old son. His mom and dad never check on him or pick him up – he just walks home when I say it’s time to go. I end up babysitting him for hours! How can I talk to his parents about this?

A. Next time, walk the boy home and chat with his parents. Explain that you’re glad the kids are buddies but you’re busy and can’t have their son over all the time. Don’t be accusatory, but say you’re concerned for his safety when he goes home alone. If they’re still hands-off, tell them he can’t come over, because you just can’t be responsible for his safety.”

Here are my thoughts: First of all, why does this mom even have to talk to the parents? If this boy is coming over too often or staying too long, she should talk to the child directly, perhaps negotiate what times he can come over and for how long.

Second, why is so unsafe for this boy to walk down the street to his neighbor’s house to play with a friend? Rybski is just encouraging people to worry about all the horrible things that might (but mot likely will NOT) happen if a kid goes outside without an adult.

Finally, why does this mom feel like she has to babysit this boy? She should send both boys outside and give herself a break! Instead of obsessing unnecessarily about their safety, why not bask in a little sanity while the kids enjoy a walk around the block together?

Anyway, I wrote this “Expert” a letter using the email provided in the magazine: Perhaps a few other Free Range readers might want to do the same? — Lauren Ard

I think they just may. Thanks! — L.

Happy About a Lost Kid

Hi Readers! This nice note just in:

Dear Free-Range Kids: I couldn’t be happier! Tonight my 7-year-old daughter got lost in our neighborhood while riding her bike. She had two out-of-town cousins with her, and they wandered about one block further than she recognized (we’re new to the neighborhood). And then she did a very smart thing–she asked for help.

She found a couple sitting on their porch and asked them to help her find her way home. She knew her address and phone number, so they called us to let us know she was on her way back. I had a nice little conversation with the husband, and then his wife walked the three kids back to our place.

The kids were exultant: they’d gotten lost, found their way again, and made new friends! When my daughter got home, I congratulated her on being so smart. To make sure she was clear about boundaries, I asked what she would have done if they’d invited her inside, offered her cookies and lemonade “just inside the house,” and so on. She said that she would’ve said no, she just wanted directions home.

Now I feel even more confident about my daughter’s street savvy and the kindness of adults in my neighborhood. A Free-Range kid is a safe kid–a kid who makes it back home again! Best — Caitlin

Goodbye Halloween, Hello “Safety”

Can we think up some great trick to play on  the town supervisors in quaint and quaking Bobtown, Pennsylvania, who are  OUTLAWING HALLOWEEN in order to “keep kids safe”?

Perhaps they missed Chapter 7 in the book Free-Range Kids, “Eat Chocolate! Give Halloween Back to the Trick-or-Treaters.” Allow me to quote myself a little bit:

Was there ever really a rash of candy killings? Joel Best, a professor of sociology and criminal justice at the University of Delaware, took it upon himself to find out. He studied crime reports from Halloween dating back as far as 1958, and guess exactly how many kids he found poisoned by a stranger’s candy?

A hundred and five? A dozen? Well, one, at least?

“The bottom line is that I cannot find any evidence that any child has ever been killed or seriously hurt by a contaminated treat picked up in the course of trick-or-treating,” says the professor. The fear is completely unfounded.

Now, one time, in 1974, a Texas dad did kill his own son with a poisoned Pixie Stix. “He had taken out an insurance policy on his son’s life shortly before Halloween, and I think he probably did this on the theory that there were so many poison candy deaths, no one would ever suspect him,” says Best. “In fact, he was very quickly tried and put to death long ago.” That’s Texas for you.

Best added that at one time another child was poisoned by accidentally ingesting his uncle’s stash of heroin and the family tried to pass it off as a stranger poisoning. But it didn’t work.

So, Bobtownians, please re-consider axe-murdering an ancient holiday in order to keep children safe from a danger that does not exist. While we applaud the notion of that communal party you want to throw, save it for a day when it does not intefere with one of childhood’s greatest joys.  Or else?

Be afraid of a force more powerful than magic. A force that likes its candy and knows how to scream.  — Lenore

Wonder of Wonders: Kids Play Outside, Other Kids Join ‘Em

This is the kind of letter Free-Range Kids loves to see! It comes from a mom in New Mexico. Voila:

You know what I noticed in my neighborhood which really makes me so happy?

We’ve been here for 6 years and in the summer, there was one (and I mean that) one kid that would be outside playing alone.

Well, my kids finally hit 7 and 8 and I finally grew some common sense, and let them hit the street.  For a good month they were the only kids outside.  They were neighborly, too – chatting it up and getting to know “the people in our neighborhood.”

Slowly but surely, I started to notice more kids outside.  A couple on scooters, then a couple on bikes… don’t you know, that there are now around 10 kids that end up playing outside during the day? 

My daughter told me today that next door was almost like a party – all the kids were playing together and when they got hot, they’d sit in the garage.  They’re swapping bikes and scooters and having the best time.

Thank goodness… I am so delighted to know that people noticed my kids outside and started letting their kids have some freedom too.  Before – you’d think this place was void of children.  It’s so refreshing.

Just thought I’d share.  It’s becoming a blissful world in my neck of the woods.  🙂


Her advice for making this happen? Simple:


I can’t honestly say I did anything but tell my kids to be nice and respectful to the neighbors (so that meant no screaming and yelling when playing and staying out of people’s yard areas).  Outside of that, they’ve always seen me chat with neighbors when we’d walk the dog, and wave to them when we drive, so it was natural for them not to fear the neighbors, but to chat to them too.

They’re always coming home with something now – people enjoy giving them bottles of water, suckers, freezer pops… wanna talk about people freaking out over treats in school!  Ha ha!

The best advice I can give to people is get out there, get neighborly, let your kids see you doing it, let people see you with your kids so that when they’re on their own they are familiar with the parents’ faces too, even if not names, and make sure your kids are capable of being respectful, courteous, and safe.

Here’s to more stories with happy endings like this one — especially as summer beckons! — Lenore

Why One Mom Lets Her Son Walk to the Bus Stop Now

Hi Folks!
Here’s a short, sweet post by Seattle reporter Denise Gonzalez-Walker, who did something radical: She met her neighbors. It changed the way she’s raising her son:

By Denise Gonzalez-Walker


I recently finished a temporary job that gave me new perspective on the Free-Range philosophy. Working as a U.S. Census canvasser, I went door-to-door in my community, verifying addresses and other mundane information, like if someone had turned their backyard into a new condo development.

  Think about it for a minute: Would you be willing to knock on every door in your ‘hood?

  My area of the city is “colorful,” with everything from tidy cottages to messy shacks with broken-down cars in the yard. It’s where my family lives. Where my son catches his bus.

 But I’ve always wondered if I should trust my neighborhood. The census job gave me chance to find out.

 A few women I met acted as if I was nuts. Who knows? The bogeyman himself might be lurking behind that next door, waiting to snatch me, torture me and kill me, they’d say. I hated those exchanges, which made me feel anxious and paranoid.

 My 11 year-old son also worried about me at first. Talk about turning the tables! When I came home from my first day of training and relayed that a census worker in another state had been killed on the job, his eyes grew big. 

“Shot?” he asked, “Stabbed?”

 No, I told him, the worker had died in a car crash while driving between locations.

 By the end of my job, our group of canvassers had visited 32,000 homes. The calamities, in total? One minor car accident and a dog bite. In other words, reality matched what the statistics say about the risks of walking door-to-door and — gasp — meeting people in your community.

 By knocking on those doors, I came to trust my neighborhood a lot more. So when my son asked me if he could start walking alone to the bus stop two blocks away, I didn’t hesitate. “Sure,” I said. “But be sure to watch out for cars!”