A Question About the Toilet Down the Hall

Hi Folks! Here’s a question about bathroom break protocol at a Sunday School. Weigh in! — L

Dear Free-Range Kids: What got me interested in this movement is a conversation I had at church just over a week ago. I’m my church’s Health and Safety Officer, but we also have a Child Protection Officer who is also Churchwarden.  She approached me just before the service and asked my opinion on what age a child should be allowed to go to the toilet unaccompanied.

I should explain the toilet is in a room adjoining the church which connects with the school and has a door opening onto the school yard. This is left open so the Sunday School students can go into the school hall and return to the church later. The Churchwarden seemed to be worried that a stranger might climb over the fence into the yard and attack a child using the toilet.

She was called away by someone and the service started a minute later so I didn’t get a chance to reply, but the question lingered with me. Talking to her later, I suggested a cutoff age of 12. I actually thought younger would be fine, but felt that that would probably cause outrage, knowing how paranoid people can be about child safety. To my absolute astonishment she said others had convinced her it should be 14, as this was the legal age children could be left on their own in the UK!

I have since found out that is untrue — there is no proscribed legal age its up to the judgment of the parents.

I didn’t press the issue then but I have been researching it and that’s what led me to this website. I must say it’s one of the most heartening things I’ve ever come across. I work in a secondary school as a science technician and I’ve often felt sad at how restricted children are compared to when I was growing up.

But, back to the church issue. I’m sure she’ll bring it up at the next Church Council meeting, but I intend to fight a cutoff age of 14. Just what sort of society are we creating if a young person of 12 or 13 can’t be allowed the dignity of going to the loo on their own in broad daylight?

I agree! And I’d set the age a lot younger. I actually think first graders can get themselves to and from the bathroom on their own. Didn’t most of us? I sure did. And after reading (in the comments on the post below this one) about the 4 and 5-year-olds using machetes elsewhere in the world, I have a feeling we First World denizens REALLY underestimate what our kids of capable of.

What’s more, the idea that some miscreant is going to scale a fence in the  hopes of maybe finding a kid in the bathroom on the other side is bizarre in its unlikeliness. If I were a thug, I’d certainly prefer committing a crime that did not require me to start by climbing.

The whole situation sounds safe and simple, and let’s not forget it! — L

Hey Kids, It’s Fireworks Time! Sort Of. Inside. On a Screen.

Hi Readers! In one English town, outdoor fireworks have been deemed too “dangerous” (and chilly) for kids to enjoy. So now the fireworks are inside, reports the Small World News Service:

Instead of wrapping up warm to enjoy the bangs of fireworks around 100 youngsters will sit inside watching images on a projector screen.

The virtual fireworks are accompanied by sounds of explosions, including ‘bangs’, ‘whistles’ and ‘crackles’ recorded from outdoor displays.

Childrens groups have accused the event’s organisers of subscribing to ”cotton wool culture” and killing off an important British tradition.

But organisers hailed their indoor bonfire night as ‘safer’ than big outdoor events, which must meet stringent council health and safety regulations.

How long before kids come inside after school to watch videos of other children playing in the park? Hey — it’s ALMOST the same thing. And it’s so safe! — Lenore

How Can You Keep Your Child REALLY Safe From Germs?

Here’s how! Phew! All thanks to the U.K. show, “That Mitchell and Webb Look.” L.

Guest Post: How to Get Kids Outside & Exploring Again

Hi Readers — Here’s a note and a plug from a Free-Ranger across the pond  who has come up with a new way to lure kids outside. His name is Daniel Raven-Ellison, he lives in London and he’s a “geography activist.” As such he’s a founding member of The Geography Collective — a partnership of geography teachers, academics, artists and explorers.

Their goal? To get kids adventuring again and learning their way around, so they become curious, clever and bold. To find out more about Mission Explore, click here, and to find out more about the Geography Collective itself (which still has me a bit befuddled), click here. To order their book of “missions,” which really sound fun — things like “Let Your Dog Take You for a Walk,” and “Draw a Local Fantasy Map” — click here if you’re in America, and here if you’re in England.

Then stop clicking and go explore already! — L.

Are you ready to Mission: Explore? By Daniel Raven-Ellison, The Geography Collective

I am father of a 6-year-old boy who is somewhere outside. He is probably going on another adventure down the overgrown public alleyway, searching for our cat Mushroom. I’m not that worried about him because I (mostly) trust him. I also have good reason to think our wider community will not harm him, though I do fear some locals being afraid to help or even speak to him. His ability to play outdoors is key to his wellbeing and development (and that of his community), but a culture of risk aversion is putting him in harm’s way not only now, but in the future.

Exploration is one of the best forms of play. It is essentially a process of asking questions and searching for their answers. The “journey” may be real or imagined,  near or far, but it always involves thinking. It is a creative process which in all its forms  — physical, emotional, intellectual, spiritual, sensual — involves taking risks and using imagination. By limiting children with unreasonable boundaries they end up having fewer experiences from which they can imagine possible solutions. If we are to have creative children, they must have the right to explore.

My son’s ability  to find our cat would clearly be reduced if he’d never thought through where Mushroom goes — when and why? In the future it may well be these same skills will help him to deal with issues in his family, community and places of work.

Just in the same way that the media frequently distort dangers (even though it is safer in the long term to play outdoors for our mental and physical health!), it does the same for exploration. The media are fascinated with the new, distant, rare, exotic, dangerous and inappropriate. The reality is that everyday life is mostly safe and that everyday explorations can be enjoyed in every neighbourhood.

Two years ago a group of us formed The Geography Collective to engage young people with geography. We have developed guerrilla geography which gets children “doing” geography at unexpected times and in unexpected places. This is geography, but not as you know it. It’s not just about listing place names, but questioning the world in new ways. We’re interested in the geography of lost cats, marginalized people, hidden issues and challenging injustice. Our geography is as critical as it is radical.

To challenge the cotton wool culture that is damaging our communities and to show how powerful geographical thinking is, we have written Mission:Explore. Made up of 102 illustrated missions that can be undertaken anywhere in the world (not just England), the book encourages children to engage with their community in new ways.

The book is aimed at people aged 10 to 10,000 though my 6-year-old loves it. It’s for individuals, families, clubs and teachers to attempt missions that get everyone thinking about the world in new ways.

All of our book royalties are being invested in free copies of the book for deprived children. Currently if anyone buys two copies of the book from our website we are giving a third copy to a kid who can’t afford their own.

I really hope that you love Mission:Explore and see the value in what we are doing with it. If you have any questions or requests please get in contact through our website: missionexplore.co.uk. — Daniel