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Free Range Kids

Sunday, January 24, 2021

So nice, taking Henry for a walk through the snowy park, to see children at our local outdoor skating rink. About 8-10 kids, probably ranging in age between 9 and 14 or so -- some leaving, some arriving.

No parents in view. Unaccompanied kids. Free range kids!

Apparently they'd shovelled the rink themselves. They'd set up some orange pylons to serve as hockey goal posts. But mostly they were not playing hockey, just skating around and hurling themselves into the soft fluffy snow banks and having a really good time.

One young boy hollered out to some friends who were approaching the park from about half a block away, "I can skate now!! Watch me!!" So proud, so exuberant that he'd been able to teach himself . . . and then he demonstrated a few strides.

We'd seen the same thing last summer on several occasions, with groups of young kids playing some elaborate game of hide and seek or maybe capture the flag or maybe something they'd just made up themselves. Also: having a great time. Running all over the place, boys and girls, through the woods and through an adjacent field and through the playground at dusk. Unsupervised.

Of course when I was a small kid myself, our parents thought nothing of telling us "Go out to play", pretty much all day in the summer and all day on the weekends all seasons of the year. I definitely remember being outside playing alone all over our city block in my pre-kindergarten year, so age four. I definitely remember my sister at 9 being assigned responsibility for my 6 year old self and our baby brother -- to walk us over to the local park which was several blocks away. Roller skating around the block. Biking ourselves to the local community pool, also several blocks away. You had to be home for lunch and home when the streetlights came on . . . but otherwise, very few organized activities and lots of freedom.

My own kids (now 30s) played in the park (which adjoins our back yard) by themselves from the age of 5 and 8 or so: so long as they were both together or with other kids. Built lots of forts in the woods, went down to the playground area -- the "deal" was that they needed to be within calling range and to respond when I hollered!! Even in the early 90s that wasn't very common . . . it wasn't common to teach your kids how to travel around town by bus either . . . but although some eyebrows were raised (parents can be so critical of other parents) I thought it was safe enough then. In our particular town.

What I've seen post COVID is more and more kids out together. On their bikes, their skateboards, their scooters. Heading back from the convenience store with a treat. Playing basketball at the park basketball nets. Maybe knocking around a tennis ball on the tennis court. Or a softball on the ball diamond. Organizing their own activities. By themselves without adults in view. Some kids, at least, seem to be enjoying more freedom than I've seen for the past 20 years or so . . . and I haven't heard of any untoward events whatsoever as a result.

The burdens of parenting have really exploded during the pandemic. No hockey league, no Little League, no Scouts, no choir. And if no school in person, then all the stress of home schooling -- very often when parents are also working from home. No daycare. Increased financial pressures too, in many instances. Many parents must be utterly exhausted and overwhelmed. For those experimenting with more free range approaches, it must feel risky: and I'm also sure it's just not possible in some locations.

But: I'm hoping that as a bit of a silver lining in these tough tough times at least some kids are enjoying increased opportunity to create their own games, manage their own relationships with other kids, some increased freedom and even some increased responsibility,

When one little guy fell down at the rink, several other kids came right over to make sure he was OK and to help him back up again.

Nice to see.

And I'm wondering: post COVID, whether this trend towards free range will be likely to continue? .

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  • MARTHA324
    We were totally free range kids back in the 50's! Out in the morning, in for lunch then out all afternoon. We loved to play tag at night....finally one Mom or Dad would call their kids and that was the signal for all of us to go home.

    Different times for sure.
    33 days ago
    I was free range and so was my daughter. We need strong independent children who become strong independent adults.
    34 days ago
  • no profile photo INCH_BY_INCH
    I love the new term...."free range kids" that was normal way of life when I grew up. emoticon emoticon emoticon
    34 days ago
  • BJAEGER307
    Your childhood sounds like my own. In my neighborhood, everybody's mother knew who you were and who were your parents. We played and played until dinner time and then went out for more. At night we sat on the porch and neighbors actually conversed with each other.

    I miss those times. I miss those times when kid times were not actually planned with playdates, and scheduled events. Those kids are missing out so much freedom.
    35 days ago
    Free-range kids in groups is great. It's a real shame that some people want to control other people's kids.
    35 days ago
    I envied those of my friends who had more freedom than me to do their own thing. But they felt uncomfortable about letting me move too freely. Knowing about so many sad incidents. its great you saw the kids playing but feel sad when I see young kids just sitting with their I-pads etc
    35 days ago
  • TZAPP22
    Free range kids with a good foundation tend to do well. We were free range kids with boundaries. As for accidents and other atrocities, yes they are possible with free range kids, but they also happen right under a parent's watchful eye sometimes as well. Definitely see more kids playing together these days and I do hope the trend holds up, especially the lifting each other up part.. If we want this world to be a safe place again, we need to work together to that end.

    35 days ago
    What interesting responses! And my - how sad that some folk knew so many bad experiences of free range children who didn't survive. We too were free range - though, as girls, less free than, say, my DH, whose mother was famous for being scatterbrained and having to pay other children to find him when he was a toddler - I believe the going rate was a penny. I knew of nobody who was badly injured or drowned or otherwise died - but we did look out for each other and I think we expected some bumps and scrapes. And for the bold adventurer who actually broke a bone - well - I believe there were only 1 or 2 and - and each was a hero on the school yard. My own son and nephews were also free range kids. Son was a good 10 years younger than his cousins so he was a child at the dawn of the home video game. We didn't have one and he resented his friends only wanting to play with them when he visited. And come to think of it - he did break his nose - and I never even noticed it - I assumed it was hormones and puberty thickening up his features and only found out about the "smashed up jumping off the bridge" years later.

    Truth is - grownups didn't want to play with us when we were kids. And we sure didn't want them around - they'd either give you a chore or a punishment - who needed that? Even extra curricular activities; scouts, music lessons, whatever - had their chore aspect to them. It was a world of us and them until our mid teens when we could begin to join in adult conversations with them - never would they would join in childlike conversations with us. You had to be smart and educated and thinking if you wanted to step into the inner sanctum of the morning coffee routine with mama and daddy.

    Well - I certainly hope a little more free range for kids is a result of this exercise in extreme safety. Maybe some parents will feel a little more confident in their kids' capabilities.
    36 days ago
    Thanks for this memory jogger.
    36 days ago
  • DESIREE672
    My childhood was free range too, though my mother said when we were adults, “What was I thinking?” A couple of dangerous things happened, but they were caused by older kids, not adults. I can’t say we came through completely unscathed, but I think the adventurousness I still have is due to that freedom. I didn’t allow my children as much freedom as that, though!!

    A huge good thing that’s come out of the pandemic for me is that I now rarely whinge about my adopted country. I respect the way they have handled it, and other expats grumbling now seems to be just a way of letting out irritability, as it certainly was for me.
    36 days ago

    Comment edited on: 1/24/2021 9:27:57 PM
    Yesterday ... DIL and DS2 let us know our older g-kids would be home alone for about an hour while the youngest and them ran a quick errand.

    What ???

    GS is just shy of his 10th birthday and GD is 7.

    When I was younger than them, my younger brother and I had full rein of our "neighborhood" that included a cattle ranch. We were sent 2+ miles away on our bikes to retrieve things from the community market. When playing ... my parent had no idea where we were.

    Our kids ... had watches and fixed times to "check-in" so we knew they were OK.

    And here I was sucking in my breath over g-kids safely locked in their home for an hour.
    36 days ago
    I agree, "free range" is not free of danger. Adult supervision is still important,
    36 days ago
    I hesitated to add my perspective growing up "free range" because although I applaud it in theory, my reaction mirrors that of Junepa even though hers was rural and mine very big city. I attended the funerals of more than one young friend. Yes, we rode our bikes and roller skated in the street, but sadly sometimes a car speeding to "make the light" had fatal results. One incident stays with me after 65 years. A mother who son was killed brought me his new roller skates so someone could enjoy them. Our neighborhood ice cream man never recovered when a young boy was killed running to meet him. Even visiting my grandma in rural PA includes a drowning when a young girl fell from the "swinging bridge" I love the idea of "free range" but unfortunately it also brings back some very bad memories.
    36 days ago
    My childhood, exactly!
    Make your own game rules.
    Run around or lay in the grass watching leaves or stars!

    36 days ago
    Parenting is different and in many ways much more difficult these days...Covid on top of that must seem like a huge burden. I am lucky to live on a cul-d-sac where everyone knows everyone else (of course we do have 1 house that complains if the kids so much as walk on their precious paved driveway) and the kids run pretty free-range.
    36 days ago
  • ALICIA363
    Glad to hear they’re balancing their pandemic lives as best they can. Counterweight to all the screen time for school these days!
    36 days ago
    We (Sis and I) were free range kids also. We could walk to the school yard and use the jungle gym, swings and seesaw were at our disposal. We could hear Mom call us in for dinner. Once I was older and the proud owner of my own back yard horse, I was expected to tell where I was headed and what time I'd be back. We rode bikes ALL over town. In a small town, everyone knew who our parents were and to call and report anything troubling.
    36 days ago
    Wouldn't it be wonderful :) ?
    36 days ago
  • HOLLYM48
    Oh, the good old days and so nice to see kids out playing again. We have a basketball hoop in our driveway and a bunch of the neighbor boys come over and use it. I am just so happy to see kids out playing and interacting! I love the fact that kids were out and together and in a safe environment. I wish there were more areas that kids could do that and parents didn't have to worry about them. I know my childhood was much like yours. Off we went, and mom would call from the front door when we needed to be home for dinner. We also lived in front of a cemetery so that was a great place to bike, play, walk, discover beautiful graves. We were never disrespectful but we sure did enjoy a big area to play!
    36 days ago
    I never thought about it but I was a free-range kid. I have good memories.
    36 days ago
    Interesting observation! My pastor gave a sermon a few weeks ago and introduced some research that had been done like 40 years ago, about how kids were free-range and what that looked like. Then the researchers went back a few years ago and the farthest kids explored was their own front yards. Honestly, I don't let the 7-year old grandson go beyond my visual when he bikes around the neighborhood. "...just to that mailbox..." so I can see exactly where he is. And they are not allowed in the front yard unless one of us is out there. They can be in the garage, but I'd never be far away. Sad, but true. How fortunate that your community is letting kids go more. I do see more kids at the park, but always in groups.
    36 days ago
    We were free range kids, out of necessity as Mom was busy working three jobs. I was 7 when I got my first house key. My sister spent most of her time with her best friend at the horse barns and my brother was with his best buddy. They were 2 and 4 years older than me so wanted nothing to do with me so I was on my own all the time. My favorite activity was hiking the trails along the river, both in the day and at night. I grew up enjoying doing my own thing by myself, so the isolation of Covid means nothing to me, just par for the course.
    I haven't seen really young kids by themselves here in the big city, but the pre teens are doing their own thing for sure. It would be nice if the kids got out more and played with each other (there are always kids on the hills and on the ice rinks)
    36 days ago
  • LYNCHD05
    I love the term free range kid. All of us of our generation knows all about being home when the street lights came on and meeting in a field to play ball. We had it pretty good snd let’s hope we see more kids today doing the same thing,
    36 days ago
  • NANCY-
    Free range they call it!
    I've seen a few boys riding their bikes. It is nice to see kids out playing.

    36 days ago
    Wow! You've described how it was for my siblings and me growing up! As long as we were together, things were cool. We did have to be home for lunch and supper and then, just like you, when the street lights went on, we had to be home. We biked, swam (in a pool w/lifeguards), played baseball, football, and had such freedoms.

    I hope that kids now (post COVID) are outdoors, playing together, getting fresh air, being kids more. Prior to this past summer it was desolate of kids! Always found it strange, but they were all in organized activities.

    36 days ago
    I'm another free-range kid, and definitely a proponent of such for kids these days - provided the conditions are appropriate. There's nothing like digging in the yard (for artifacts, or gardens, or whatever) or just running in the park, or inventing games with other kids.

    Let's hope the world stays a little safer for kids post-covid!
    36 days ago
    When I was growing up my mom would send us out to play but as you said we had to respond to her calling us. Of course she also worked. During the summer she would have us tell her where we were going (the girls only) my brother never had to report to her, just be home by supper time. I remember one time I rebelled and said if Cal doesn't need to tell you neither do I. Off I went. Got home and had all sorts of hell to pay. I hope kids can have some independence in today's world. I just hope they are safe. Good blog!

    36 days ago
  • JUNETTA2002
    Thanks for sharing.
    36 days ago
    Oh, my, yes...I hope so!
    As one of 14, we were definitely free range kids, as were my own three kids.
    Happy to say my wonderful daughter-in-law believes in free range and scoots her kids out the door every single day, with the bigger two watching the little one.

    36 days ago
    Free range kids - to be a free range kid - to raise a free range kid - that's the dream :)

    Do you remember any unfortunate incidents from when you were a kid? I grew up a free range kid in the country, I had peers who drowned (4), died in falling from the hayloft or other farm accident (2), etc. I had some close calls and saved a friend from drowning. For sure I loved my freedom, but having lived the experience and also the dangers, I was more vigilant with my kids. The city has different dangers. Traffic, more likelihood of encountering sketchy adults... Sorry to be a wet blanket. Just offering my perspective and adding that ideally, a free range childhood without incident is pretty awesome.
    36 days ago

    Comment edited on: 1/25/2021 1:44:18 PM
    "And I'm wondering: post COVID, whether this trend towards free range will be likely to continue?"
    Oh my word, I sure hope so!

    I grew up much as you did, Ellen, and I've raised a very lonely free-range kiddo! Why lonely? Because nobody else seems able to see the value in allowing their kids to grow up in an atmosphere of freedom and autonomy. We live in an extremely safe city, comparatively. I have never understood the concerns. Has my kiddo had some weird experiences? Sure she has... but she handled every one of them like a champ. She feels very competent out in the world and has developed a sense of responsibility, judgement and resilience her peers seem to lack.

    May free range be another one of the many blessings that thrive long after the pandemic ends!
    36 days ago

    Comment edited on: 1/25/2021 9:39:12 PM
    I remember the free-range summers and was glad for the no adult supervision, no one frowning at you for not being to their standards. I think the free-range would work if the kids continue looking out for each other. If they saw an unknown adult talking to a kid, would they keep an eye open, even challenge the adult.

    36 days ago
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