Can We Vote for This Guy? (Even Though He’s 9?)

Hey Readers — You want inspiration? You got it: A 9 year old Detroit boy was dismayed by the fact his local park was totally overgrown — the city could afford to mow it just twice a year. So did he stay inside playing videogames?

He set up a lemonade stand and made $3000 over the course of five days. Donated it to Parks & Rec. This video is from when he was just getting started. You’ll love it!

Third Annual “TAKE OUR CHILDREN TO THE PARK…AND LEAVE THEM THERE DAY” coming up SAT., MAY 19!

Hi Folks! As our annual “Take Our Children to the Park…And Leave Them There Day” draws nigh (does “nigh” ever get used without the verb draw?), here’s a lovely piece about why it is GREAT for kids to get out and play, on their own, without a coach, program or parents to organize (or limit!) them.

The idea of the holiday is simple: We take our kids, age 7 or 8 and up, to the local park at 10 a.m. That way, they meet up with other kids from the neighborhood. We wave goodbye and the kids are on their own to come up with something to do. Boredom works in their favor — eventually they start playing because NOT playing is so painfully dull. By the time they’re through — it could be half an hour or half a day later — chances are they’ll want to do it again. And so Sunday becomes “Our kids are going to the park on their own” day, as do  most days thereafter!

If you’ve got younger kids — great. Go to the park and witness what your kids will be able to do in only a few years. Meantime, you’re there on the bench, creating the kind of community that reassures the parents waving their older kids goodbye.

SPREAD THE WORD!

The idea is not radical. It’s simply a way to “re-seed” the all-too-empty playgrounds and parks with children. There’s no reason kids can’t play on their own. Crime is down since when we parents were kids. Diabetes and obesity — the twin scourges of sitting inside — are up. What’s more, it is SAFER for kids to play than not to play, and this study (if you need to wave one around) says that letting kids play UNSUPERVISED is one of the best things a parent can do for a child:

Professor Roger Mackett, who led the study, said: “Allowing children to leave the house without an accompanying adult has significant benefits.

“The health benefits are clear, but without action the less tangible benefits of increased independence and self-reliance will be lost.

“That may be a very great loss with many implications.”

Fight the fear that has kept kids indoors or only in supervised programs. Go forth to Facebook and Twitter and the PTA to spread the word about Take Our Children to the Park… and Leave Them There Day!  And let us know if you get some traction! –  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?

Outrage of the Week: School Cordons Off 3-Foot Hill

Hi Readers — Just got this note from David Robert Hogg, who blogs about traveling the world with kids at MyLittleNomads.com. Talk about making a mountain out of a molehill!  — L
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Dear Free- Range Kids: I live in Seattle. Home to hikers, snowboarders, world travelers. It seemed like everyone I know was giving their kids the freedom to explore pretty much how we did as kids. OK, maybe not quite, but close enough not to land us on the Outrage of the Week.
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Then I got our weekly email from my boys’ school. They are taping off a part of the playground because some kids had fallen, slipped, or tripped on it. Wrote the principal:
Dear Parents: After a few injuries caused by large groups of students running down the slope to line up after recess, I asked our custodial engineer to temporarily tape the area to keep students from running down the slope.
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 have been communicating with our district gardeners and machinists to discuss a better solution such as landscaping the sloped area to prevent students from unsafely running down into it … I am also meeting with the Playground Committee this week and will seek their input on the improvements for safety reasons.

This is a "dangerous" hill?!

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Dear Principal (I wrote back): I was very disappointed to see the yellow tape around the dirt slope on the playground and even more disappointed to read your reasoning for it. 
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I’m a firm believer in the value of play – real play. There are risks, of course, that are serious enough to require intervention. A dirt hill with a 3 foot slope is not one of them. 
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In the simplest terms, what happens when a child falls while running down this slope? They learn they need to be careful when running down the slope! Remove the challenge and the consequences and you remove the opportunity to learn. Let me ask two questions:
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Are we making our kids any safer?
Almost certainly not. While potentially anything could happen with any fall, the majority of upsets are likely minor scrapes and bruises – if that. But more important, there’s evidence that removing small risks from a playground only serves to encourage greater risk taking – and prevents no injuries in the aggregate.
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Are we making kids any smarter?
The message we’re sending when we try to protect our children from trivial dangers like this is that we don’t trust them, their intelligence, their ability to learn. To be safe in the real world requires the ability to tell serious risk from manageable risk. Teachers talk in the classroom of getting kids to think independently – and then the children walk outside to see tape marking off a slope that a 2 year old could safely run down.
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Kids are better off  when they learn to navigate the real world than when they are protected from every possible risk. A playground that more closely resembles the real world makes for safer, stronger, and smarter children in the long run.
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It’s difficult to write seriously about such a trivial matter but I fear if I don’t speak up now that this policy of a zero-risk schoolyard will only grow stronger and our kids will pay a steep price. Steeper, even, than a 3-foot hill. — David Hogg

Guest Post by Greg Olear: Swan Song for Swings?

 Hi Folks! Here’s a guest post from Greg Olear, senior editor of The Nervous Breakdown and the author of the novels Totally Killer (Harper, 2009) and the brand-spanking-new Fathermucker, which concerns a single tumultuous day in the life of a stay-at-home dad. I absolutely adored Fathermucker — soooo funny and soooo spot-on about parenting foibles (every single, crazy one of them!!!!!!) — that I am delighted he’s writing here today! — L.

Swing No, Sweet Preschooler By Greg Olear

Last year, for a variety of reasons, we decided to move from the idyllic Hudson Valley to my hometown in no-longer-idyllic New Jersey.  Our son would be entering kindergarten in one of the best school districts in the country—the main impetus for our move—and it fell to me to find a suitable preschool for our daughter.

This proved more difficult than anticipated.  For one thing, my hometown had become, to my solidly-middle-class astonishment, the sort of tony suburb where you had to fork over 75 bucks to apply to a preschool. As we were new in town and thus late in the application process, this meant we’d quite possibly be paying $75 a pop for fancy letters regretting to inform us that enrollment was closed.  So we had to choose prudently.

One afternoon, my wife and I took a drive around town to tour the various preschools.  It was Sunday, so they were all closed. All we could do was check out the playgrounds.  And that’s when we noticed something unusual.

“These playgrounds all suck,” my wife said.

She was right.  Compared to the glorious expanse of fun our daughter had grown accustomed to at her preschool in upstate New York, these Jersey playgrounds were downright pathetic: small, cramped, and devoid of any remotely interesting equipment.  They looked more like pens for dogs than playgrounds for kids.

And then we realized, simultaneously, what was missing: “No swings!”

It was true—not one of these pricey preschools was endowed with a single swingset.  We guessed at reasons: lack of adequate space was the best one we could come up with (northern Jersey has become, in the years since I last lived there, as densely populated as an actual city).

Ultimately, we opted to send our daughter to a brand-spanking new preschool the next town over, even though it, like all the others, did not have a swingset.  We asked about this deficiency during the interview.

“The state inspectors strongly advised us against it,” the director told us.

“Why?”

“There are concerns that a small child might choke.”

“Choke?”

“You should have seen this great slide I bought for the playground,” she said wistfully.  “I had to return it.”

There are two ways you can get hurt on a swing: 1) The swingset breaks, or 2) You let go.  That’s it.  (Contrary to urban legend, it is physically impossible for a child not wearing a jetpack to swing high enough to go over the top.)  But choking?  How exactly would someone choke on a swingset?  Why are we — that is, why are insurance companies, who charge prohibitive premiums in New Jersey for preschool swings —worried about this?  Has this ever happened in the history of time?*

I thought of my own childhood, the countless hours my two- and three-year-old self spent contentedly swinging back and forth and back and forth.  There was nothing I enjoyed more than that. But kids in my hometown would now be deprived of that pleasure, because of the bureaucratic fear of an outcome that is about as likely as alien abduction.

The school we chose proved terrific — great teachers, ambitious curriculum, etc. My daughter, now a kindergartener, loved it there so much, she likes to go back for lengthy visits during her vacations.  But she may have loved it even more if there were swings.

*Apparently, it has.  According to safekids.org, 147 children perished from “playground equipment-related injuries” from 1990-2000. Most were on equipment at a private home, but about 40 weren’t. (That is, four a year.) And strangulation — usually caused when the pull-cord from a sweatshirt gets caught on the equipment — was the leading cause of those 147 deaths. I couldn’t locate statistics for swingset strangulation deaths specifically, but it seems, to me, highly improbable, way more improbable than being struck by lightning. — G.O. 

Is this child in grave danger? New Jersey says, "YES!"

Perv Alert! Man Seen Photographing Boy at Park!

Hi Readers — This just in! A creepy old guy was seen taking pix of some young boy in Idaho. The cops were called! The media alerted! Hearts pounded, rage burbled, all because…

Um, a grandpa was photographing his grandson.

He left when some crazy lady started yelling at him. Here’s the story.  — L

All Adults Are Potential Predators (Even Ladies Eating Donuts at the Park)

Hi Readers: The headline on this story says it all — almost: Women Ticketed for Eating Donuts in a Brooklyn Park. The REASON these women were ticketed was not the donuts, it was the lack of children with them.

Local law — that is, the law in my insane city — says no adults are allowed on playgrounds unless they are accompanied by kids. In other words, my city officially believes there is absolutely no decent reason any adult would or should ever want to be around frolicking kids. (Or swings. Or jungle gyms.)

If that reminds you of segregation, it should — because that’s exactly what it is. We are segregating adults from children who aren’t their own. And, just like the earlier segregation parts of our country condoned, the idea is the same: Keep people apart by warning them about each other. One is innocent and good and pure, one is monstrous and lewd and uncontrollable. Must to separate.

Way to go, New York. — Lenore

Mmm! Predator Chow!