Do you have free range kids?

Amazing tree root

When I was about 12 I would play in the huge council park which backed on to my nan’s back garden. On my own. No adult supervision.
The sort of park they hold official fireworks displays in, it was that big.
And when it was time to go in for dinner, my nan would hang a towel out of the bedroom window and my brother and I would see the signal make the five-minute walk home together.

Do you give your kids the same kind of freedom you enjoyed as a child?
I don’t. There is no way my 10 year old is as free as I was at his age.
I was a child of the 70s and zipping off for lone bike rides and playing outside until it turned dark where what you did.
There was no supervised clubs or swimming lessons or playdates for us. Playdates were playing knock door run with the others kids on the block and riding to the fields with the wind in your hair.

So when do you let your kids out from behind your skirts, so to speak?
When do you let them grow up; find some independence; stop being so dependant on you?
My 10 year old has just started asking if he can walk to school a bit more. His school is a car drive away, so we’ve been dropping him off a bit closer and letting him navigate the rest of the way.
He’s not at school in a community where everyone recognises his face and so looks out for him. And his school is also in a town centre so it means navigating roads, shops, people on their way to work – it is very busy.
Every time I watch him walk away my heart is in my mouth. But I know I have to do it. It’s an important part of him growing up.

We leave him home alone sometimes – never more than half an hour. He says “I’ll put the washing away” or “I’ll just get my homework sorted” like a grown up.
But as a result his self-confidence has soared.

One of our very favourite things to do as a family is to go walking in the woods by us. The kids race off, climb trees, walk through streams, have battles with specially chosen sticks.
The rule is you can go and do what you like, as long as you can see us.
They fall, they stumble, they get a little lost, they accidentally bash each other with that specially chosen stick. They invent games; entertain themselves.
And all the while they have to pick themselves up, brush themselves down, solve the problem and move on.
It means they have to be creative. There isn’t a device showing them how to play, or a grown up directing them. They are thinking for themselves.

On a recent visit with friends, the children all came upon a fallen tree and were hypnotised by the root ball that was standing 6 feet tall.
Once again, they found suitable sticks and worked at bashed the soil off. No, I have no idea why either but they loved it. As in worked as a team, planned what they wanted to do then spent 20 minutes entertaining themselves with what seemed to me to be THE most boring of pastimes.
But they loved it. And they loved that we left them to it.

IMG_4217 Free range kids

So here’s the thing. There are risks in everyday life. And I believe that in order to develop a healthy understanding of that, children must be allowed to face risks.
I also think it’s important for our children to think for themselves and not rely on a parent to constantly tell them what to do and when.
I try really hard to subscribe to that ethos, but it’s not easy. So I’m taking small but significant baby steps!

And if you’re still  not convinced, read this interesting piece in The Guardian from a while back called Fred’s Modern Rite of Passage and see if that is more your style!

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17 Responses to Do you have free range kids?

  1. Laura says:

    I had a similar childhood to you – I was out and about all over the place.

    I have tried so hard to give my children some freedom. We're lucky that we live in very close proximity to two other families. The six children play together on and off and in different formations, their ages range from 7-11 and because my daughter, 8 plays mainly with the older girls she has been able to go off and do things with them that her peers don't. My children play out, more often than not, but are always within a triangle between the three homes – there are boundaries that they all respect. It took about a year before I felt truly comfortable with them playing out (not in our garden) but now I know that they are OK.

    They get to explore and play without an adult hovering over them, which is an important part of growing up. It doesn't mean that I don't clench my buttocks still whenever they ask to play out. But then, I don't think I'll ever be 100% comfortable with them being out of eyesight – even when they're 18! … I have to trust that they'll be OK.
    My recent post A serious moment … with god

  2. kathryn says:

    Modern day life is so different from when we were growing up. I think my kids are lucky that living in a smallish Italian provincial town they still havesome of the freedom that I had 35 years ago back in the UK and that my friends' kids back in Engalnd don't seem to have. Having said that, Italian mammas are very protective (I'm not one of those but some of it has brushed off onto me for sure) but my boys both go to scouts – they get to do so much more than they would if it were just us and them – sometimes it can go a bit too far (like my latest post) but on the whole I love that it gives them a sense of adventure, responsibility and independance – best gifts we can give them.
    My recent post Hard core..

  3. The Fool says:

    I like to think that I'll be like this, but my 2 aren't yet old enough at 1 and 2 to really see if I am. One of the reasons we moved recently though was to live in a neighbourhood where we do feel comfortable giving them some more freedom. The way you describe your walks in the forest are exactly how I want to be.

    I do also wonder if the world really is more dangerous now or if we are just more worried?
    My recent post The Running Dad – fitting it all in

  4. TheBoyandMe says:

    This is exactly the type of work that I'm doing with the National Trust at the moment with regards to the Natural Childhood campaign which several agencies (Forestry Commission, NT, Play England, etc) are championing. It's why I love Country Kids and the 50 Things campaign, it encourages outdoor play and makes children take risks. Did you know that our children have a lower life expectancy than we do and are the most depressed in the western world? Unicef did that research and it's all based around connecting with nature and their free roaming space.

    I love your posts showing the children being children in the woods and exploring. The advice you've given Mia about a branch being thicker than your arm is something I've now conveyed to hubby and The Boy with regards to tree climbing.

    Brilliant post Tara.

  5. Suzanne says:

    To have free range kids is exactly why we moved 600 miles, back home to Scotland. I had a childhood like yours Tara, as did my husband. We both desperately wanted that for our boys. The funny thing is, when we moved 2 months ago, I was convinced that my 7yo would be thought of as incredibly cool and street-smart. Moving from London to rural Scotland would make him the cool kid surely? I was so wrong. The children we've met so far are so much more independent than my 7yo, so much more street-wise. Of course, the 7yo has never been anywhere without us, never had unsupervised play dates. Never had to negotiate with other kids over the wrongs and rights of fetching a football from over a 6ft fence. He's been in a protected bubble all his life. Knowing that the number 38 bus will get you to London Victoria or that the green line is the District Line means nothing up here. It's the ability to build dens and know where to find balckberries that's important. And when you're 7, that's how it should be.
    My recent post Freedom

  6. UleyGirl says:

    I grew up roaming in and out of people’s houses, fields, farms and I’m sure my kids will. I don’t have these fears of them being outdoors, it’s safer than in a car or home (stats wise). You’re right though, it’s freedom with safeguards and responsibility. Tell someone where you’re going and don’t take big risks. Maybe rural communities haven’t changed as much, I see plenty of free range kids where I am (they always seem to turn up in my house!)

    I think years ago more people lived where they were born so were surrounded by family and friends. So even though the kids were risking free, someone they knew was probably Agata Keeling an write open.

  7. Both articles make interesting reading. I think it's important for kids to learn to be independent, and we have to teach them. I think if I was still living in London I'd be less inclined to let my kids out on the their own – ever. But, I feel much safer in Singapore and children tend to be given more freedom from a younger age.

    We live in a secure condo. My 5 year old keeps asking when she'll be allowed downstairs by herself, as a lot of other kids of a similar age do run free around the condo. Maybe next year.
    My recent post Sneak Peek: Art Garden 2013, Singapore Art Museum

  8. my parents wouldn't see any of us between early morning and late evening (only if we were hungry) and we got to play out up the mountains/forests all day long…even in the river!

    i'm glad that my eldest, robb (10), does get a lot of the same freedom…just maybe after a while i do go out and see if i can find him…pretending to walk the dog and not be looking for him! he will bike to school some days too, and even though i am following him in the car, i am on edge! he starts high school this september, so i keep telling myself i have to give him his own space to grow up…argh!! he has NEVER caught a bus by himself yet!!…

    plus, if my bois come in covered in mud, i know they've had a great day playing.
    My recent post the one where i need a rocket up my arse…

  9. Siobhan C says:

    Totally with you Tara. I feel exactly the same, and worry about how cosseted my kids are because I have to drive them to school and there are no kids on our road their age to play with (seriously). It bothers me. I really want my 8 (almost 9 yr old) daughter to start learning independence but not sure how. Planning to let her do a first trip to the shops on her own soon, but that's scary enough as she has handle money, queueing and till etiquette! I have a younger son aged 6,

    What we can do is whenever we go on holiday, go somewhere where they have some freedom and make friends e.g. keycamp in France where they can whizz around on bikes till all hours safely. Or in Uk, going camping or to a place where there aren't kids camps or organised activities, but where they have to make their own entertainment.
    That is so important. We love the great outdoors, and so do they so that's a big help.
    My recent post Silent Sunday

  10. I loved this post and the rites of passage one. Being one of 5 kids we were given a fair amount of freedom as my mum just couldn't run round after all of us, but I do wonder how this will work with my own kids, especially as L is now 6 so it's not that far in the future…

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