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? .