Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Free Range Kids

The four older kids playing in our side yard on a warm winter day, taken through the side window. 

Recently, I stumbled onto Lenore Skenazy's blog Free Range Kids.  Lenore Skenazy was in the spotlight a few years ago when she let her then 9-year-old  make his way home from a department store on the New York subway.  She got a lot of backlash from the media and parents all over our country calling her a negligent parent.  In the meantime, she's written a book about it and started this blog, which I find fantastic.

In fact, I will quote from her blog what Free Range Kids is all about:
Do you ever...let your kid ride a bike to the library? Walk to school? Make dinner? Or are you thinking about it? If so, you are raising a Free-Range Kid! Free-Rangers believe in helmets, car seats, seat belts — safety! We just do NOT believe that every time school age kids go outside, they need a security detail....Here's to common sense parenting in uncommonly overprotective times!

This blog really resonates with me.  After all, I grew up in the last generation of free range kids.  I remember at the age of thirteen riding my bike with my eleven-year-old brother several miles, under a freeway overpass even, to find some girl's house that he liked from school.  We figured out how to get there based on a map of our city that I had found in my parents' home office desk.  We took our backpacks with snacks and water and planned out the whole thing.  We told our parents we were going for a bike ride.  As long as we were home for dinner, they weren't too concerned about where we went.I can remember several incidences like that throughout my school-age years at different ages.

Fast forward twenty-five years.  Kids can't even go to the neighborhood park to play by themselves without CPS being called, the cops being called, and charges being filed against the parents.  Honestly, I'm more afraid of having the cops called on me for letting my kids play outside without me hovering over them than I am of anything actually happening to them.

I'll admit right now.  My two older boys (ages nine and seven) walk to and from the bus stop (three blocks away) completely by themselves.  I let my kids play out in our neighborhood without me there all the time. In fact, I let them take the baby out in the stroller when it's nice and they walk around the block with him.  I let them stay in the car if I have to run into the bank for something quick, grab a book on hold for myself at the library, or even run into a grocery store for one item. I have left the two older boys home for a brief amount of time (one hour) while I am at my daughter's dance class or running an errand.  My older boys have even walked to the bigger park that's a couple blocks away by themselves.  I even found out that they like to go down into the canal that runs next to the park and walk under the bridge and play down there.  I told them as long as they are careful to not do that when there is a lot of water, I'm okay with them exploring and enjoying their childhood.

But it's not just about letting them play without you nearby.  It's about letting them learn to do things on their own.  Lenore Skenazy's nine-year-old found his way home on the Subway without his parents hovering over him.  Nine-year-olds are capable of reading maps and following directions.  It's about letting them try things by themselves so they can practice it and get better.  My older three boys (so including the five-year-old) cut up fruits and veggies for me for dinner.  By themselves.  With a sharp knife.

When I was a new teacher, a veteran teacher gave me sound advice.  She said, "Never do anything for your students that they are capable of doing for themselves."  That was in the light of so many teachers doing so much of the work to ease the burden on the students.  Prep work and such.  Cutting out flashcards, that sort of thing.  It really lessened my load considerably as I didn't spend hours of prep time at the school that some of my colleagues did.  And my students became quite capable little people.  I like to apply that philosophy to parenting too.  It really works.

If the goal of parenting is to raise kids to be self-sufficient, independent and responsible adults, then we as a nation are failing miserably in a lot of areas.  You might be shocked at some of the things parents are charged for as you read about them on Lenore Skenazy's site.  I haven't read her book yet, but it's on my list of to-reads.  I am a free range parent and proud to be one!


Shar said...

I agree Jenna... I don't hover over my children either. I wish they could have had the childhood I did... roaming about as long as my parents knew where we were and were home when we were supposed to. It is hard for me sometimes to let them go too far w/out me. Not because i don't trust THEM, but i don't trust OTHERS. It's a scary place we live in, and for that I am not as free with them as i wish i could be. good article tho. <3

Royalbird said...

I actually don't worry about others as much as I used to, but I think the neighborhood where I live has made the difference there. Most of us know each other and our kids play outside together. Not sure if it would be exactly the same for me if I wasn't living where I am now. But like I said, it's not just about letting them play outside, it's also about letting them take responsibility for things kids should be able to do. Someone on that website talked about how her 13-year-old niece didn't even know how to wrap a present. I'm sure that's from parents who don't want mistakes always taking over and not letting her try it herself. Kids are messy and they make mistakes but that's how they learn. I think a lot of parents today forget that.


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