Australian Police Chide Parents Who Let their Children Walk Outside

Hi Readers! Down in Australia I’m sort of happy to say a tempest is brewing over whether it is up to parents or police to decide when a child is “old enough” to walk around outside. According to this story  on the home page of the Sydney Morning Herald:

Officers told a Hornsby mother it was ”inappropriate” for her 10-year-old daughter to catch a bus unaccompanied, and warned a Manly father whose seven-year-old son walked alone to a local shop that while they would not alert DOCS [Dept. of Community Services], they would file a report.

Really? File a report to say a child was suspiciously…fine? Tell another parent that her  child is doing something “inappropriate” by…being competent?

Are these officers doing anyone an ounce of good? Don’t they realize that if they have nothing to do but warn parents about their perfectly poised offspring,  there probably isn’t a whole lot of crime going on for anyone to worry about?

And of course the bigger issue is, as always: Who decides what is “safe enough” when it comes to our kids? Free-Range Kids would rather not leave it up to   power-drunk, horror-hallucinating, infantilizing  busybodies with badges. – L.

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?

When Kids Have to Play Tag on the Low-Down

Hi Folks! Just got this disturbing little note from reader Jeff Johnson who, I am happy to say, is writing a book about the importance of play. — L.

Dear Free-Range Kids: Just wondering how much you’re hearing about the death of games like tag on school playgrounds.

I volunteer in a local kindergarten once a week. Last Thursday I had this exchange with some students during recess:

Me: Let’s play some freeze tag!

Kindergartner #1: We aren’t sposed to play tag.

Kindergartner #2: Yeah, you want to get us in trouble or something?

Me: What The Fu…n-killing kind of rule is that? Why can’t you play tag?

Kindergartner #3: ‘Cus it’s The Rule.

Kindergartner #4 (Whispering, as if the playground is bugged ): We still play sometimes in secret when the teachers are just talking.

I emailed the principal–she says it is just “too dangerous” with so many kids on the playground.

In a year, this school will merge with another into a shiny new building (which looks kind of like a perky prison) with over 700 elementary students. I’m afraid to think about what will classified as too dangerous then. — J.J.

Johnson then wrote another note to report:

UPDATE: Today at recess I learned that the kids are not allowed to play in and/or with snow on the playground. The kids are restricted to the cleared asphalt area of the playground. I also saw two great looking perfect-for-play sticks taken away from children and put in protective custody.

I shudder to think what would happen to a child caught playing tag in the snow while holding a stick. — J.J.

Kids having fun at recess? This must stop!!

One-Ninth The Freedom Kids Used to Have

Hi Readers — This is from an article by Tim Gill in The Guardian last week. Tim is a friend, an activist, a blogger and author of No Fear, a book examining what it means to grow up in a completely risk averse society. In the article I’m quoting from, he’s talking about how there’s an annual bird count (presumably to find out which birds are thriving, which are endangered), but maybe what we need now is an annual “child outside” count:
The ecology of children apparently being less interesting than that of birds, there is little hard data around. We do have Mayer Hillman’s classic One False Move, a study of children’s independent mobility. It suggests that, in a single generation, the “home habitat” of a typical eight-year-old — the area in which children are able to travel on their own — has shrunk to one-ninth of its former size. Do not underestimate the significance of this change: for the first time in the 4 million-year history of our species, we are effectively trapping children indoors at the very point when their bodies and minds are primed to start getting to grips with the world outside the home.

The mission of Free-Range Kids — as you can tell from its name — is liberating kids from this new, unnecessary, frustrating, debilitating caged existence. Onward!! L.

Yikes! It's the non-indoors!

 

If a 6-y.o. Can Really Walk Around the Neighborhood…

Hi Readers! I gathered together a few of the 341 responses to  the other day’s post, “As Recently as 1979 a First Grader Could…,”to remind us of what kids are capable of (when we don’t give in to the fear-mongering media). Enjoy! – L

Jackie: When I lived in Panama, 6 year olds would scale a coconut tree (no side branches) with a machete, cut down a head of coconuts, slide down using their bare feet as brakes, and whack the heck out of a coconut with their machete until it was cleaned of the outer coat and had a nice, perfectly round little hole that I could drink the milk out of.  The first time I saw that, I was horrified.  The twentieth, thirtieth time I saw it, I realized we Americans are a bunch of namby-pambies.

Sherry B:  I have heard of child abductions.  Who hasn’t with Nancy Grace and all the news channels sensationalizing them?  I also hear of car accidents and drownings, which happen way too frequently and take away the lives of so many more children.  I’m just trying to be a rational parent here.

Let me tell you a story of my Mother-In-Law (who just loves her CNN news).  We spent the last week on an incredible vacation at the lake. Our house was on the water and the kids (and their friends they invited) were in heaven with fishing, swimming, boating, and dives off the floating dock. Playing outside all day, campfires every night, both kids and adults were in heaven.

Grandmom called EVERY DAY of our vacation.  She wanted to tell us DON’T LET THE KIDS GO IN THE LAKE.  Why?!  Because 3 people died of a brain-eating amoeba that was found in lakes in Louisiana, Florida, and Virginia.  It was all over the news. So, all lakes are dangerous now.  See how spreading The Fear works?

Thankfully (for my children’s sake), we ignored her (though we did remind them to close their mouths in the water) and enjoyed old fashioned fun without the side of irrational fear.

derekmunson: this post made me realize that our shih-tzu puppy has more free range than our kids — and we live in coyote country! maybe it’s time to loosen the leash.

 

Safety Tip? “Children Under Five Don’t Ride Bikes”

Hi Readers!  Lisa, the mother of a 3-year-old, who lives in Atlanta and blogs at Organic Baby Atlanta found this “tip” at safekids.org when she was researching bike safety for toddlers:

“Because they are not ready to ride bicycles, children under the age of five ride tricycles. “

Notes Lisa:

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Wow. What a blanket statement. So there’s never been a single 4-year-old on a real bike? Not one? Funny, because I see kids under age five riding real bikes in my neighborhood all the time. And–oh, wait–isn’t my daughter under five? Yeah, that’s right: she’s three, and she’s been practicing on a pedal-less balance bike since she was 18 months old. She’s now riding it well and will soon graduate to a real bike with pedals. No training wheels. Even more shocking, she’s only had one or two falls (she’s a cautious kid). But I must just be seeing things when I think I see little kids on bikes, because, “Kids under the age of five ride tricycles.” Maybe those bikes actually have an invisible third wheel?
Or maybe there are just a lot of really short 5-year-olds in my neighborhood. — Lisa
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Notes Lenore: The more we dangerize normal childhood activities, the less normal an active childhood becomes. Let’s hear it for sedentary kids, obesity and the great indoors!  

Guest Post: Free-Range…in a Group Home

Hi Readers — Here’s a guest post from Darell Hammond, founder and CEO of KaBOOM!, a very cool, national nonprofit trying to ensure a playground within walking distance of every child. Hammond is also author of the New York Times bestselling book, KaBOOM!: How One Man Built a Movement to Save Play. So read this while you send the kids outside! — L

THE HIDDEN “PRIVILEGE” OF AN UNPRIVILEGED CHILDHOOD, by DARRELL HAMMOND

When I was 19 months old, my father went to unload a truck and never came back. My mother, who was left to care for eight children, didn’t raise us Free-Range on principle, but rather by default. She had to work multiple jobs, so we were left on our own for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Dinner was often butter and sugar sandwiches on white bread. My older siblings started skipping school, ostensibly to take care of us younger ones, but they sometimes ended up getting into trouble instead.

Eventually the bills piled up and my siblings’ frequent absences from school caught the attention of social workers. When I was four, we were all transferred to Mooseheart, a group home outside of Chicago. In many ways, life at Mooseheart was both Spartan and structured. I stored all my belongings in a single trunk; I shared a room with 23 other boys; I was summoned to classes, meals, and other activities by a whistle; and I needed written permission to move from one building to another during school hours and after dark.

But within this structure, I actually had an ample amount of freedom—more than many kids, including so-called “privileged” kids, enjoy today. For one thing, with about 1,200 acres of lush lawns, playgrounds, athletic fields, and basketball courts, Mooseheart was full of outdoor spaces for roaming and playing. And I always had other kids to play with. Rarely in my free time did I have an adult hovering over my shoulder—there simply weren’t enough adults to go around.

My childhood was unusual, yes, and certainly not desirable in every way, but it was my group home upbringing that initially opened my eyes to the importance of strong communities and of free play—even if I didn’t realize it at the time. It was Mooseheart that set me on the path to founding a community-building nonprofit dedicated to saving play—a journey I detail in my new memoir, KaBOOM!.

The Free-Range movement is often misinterpreted as a movement that gives parents license to be reckless, lax, and neglectful. Critics completely gloss over the vital role of community in the Free-Range philosophy. Say the words “child-directed free play” and they don’t envision a group of neighborhood children looking out for one another as they invent games, create new worlds, and explore their surroundings. No, instead they are haunted by images of stray kids running wild in heavily trafficked streets or careening helmetless downhill on their bikes (of course, as the pedophiles and child-snatchers lurking on every corner look on).

Beyond all the paranoia and hyperbole, the reality is that the world hasn’t become more dangerous; it’s that trust, community, and civic pride are eroding. Freedom for children without the backbone of community can be just as dangerous as too much structure—I know, because I lived it.

I would never advocate for children eating butter and sugar sandwiches for dinner, spending Christmas alone, or routinely missing school. But freedom within a strong, healthy, nourishing community—that’s what every child needs and deserves. – D.H.