Free-Range Kids

October 27, 2009

Last Sunday: kids, hill, and cardboard boxes.Our kids now have the freedom and space to play in a way that seems to be a rare in the States these days. Roaming freely with friends on bikes, creating their own games without an adult giving suggestions or parameters, having to work out conflicts on their own, digging through the recycling bins to find the perfect piece of cardboard for grass sledding or using it to build forts, hours of endless outdoor play, bug collecting, and the novelty of not having to lock our doors.

I had initially planned to post this pic and a few words about how happy it makes me to see our kids living a "free range" life. A few words explaining why we made our decision to live on-base. And then in the last week several things made me think even more carefully about what our children are experiencing right now. The first is this article by Michael Chabon on the Wilderness of Childhood. I had read the article earlier this summer via Heywood's Meadow. At the time it confirmed my long held belief that children need to have time for outdoor adventures and exploration. But reading it a second time last week, I was focused upon the connection between imagination, literature, and true adventures. One of the most exhilerating aspects of our current situation is that Noah has found a friend with similar interests. They not only spend hours together playing and roaming around the neighborhood but while doing this they are engaged in what they call "the game". It is essentially an on-going series of elaborate and complex narratives. Developing characters, acting out scenes, negotiating the plot together. I have never seen or heard anything quite like it before. They are totally immersed in another world. I am sure that part of it is their age, their excitement in their new friendship, but after re-reading Chabon's essay I also think this newly found freedom has ignited in their imaginations in a way I never would have expected.

And then there was this post at Motherlode which left me wondering about cultural perceptions and differences. Ofcourse, the Italian case is a shocking and extreme one, but doesn't seem quite right to generalize it on such a broad level. In our limited time here, I have been impressed by the strong family ties and cohesion rather than alarmed or disturbed by it as the Time Magazine article implies. And then I heard the sad news of this case. Having recently lived in the part of Florida where this tragedy happened, I am of course shocked, sad, and wanting to hold my children even closer and yet these comments on Free Range Kids help to keep things in perspective. So much to juggle and weigh. Feeling very lucky that we are living in this little bubble right now. Free from the tv, free from the scary headlines, free to roam, roll, ride, and wander.
Emily said...

exactly! i nodded my head the whole way through your post. how wonderful that your children are able to experience being free range. this is something that's been on my mind a lot lately...switzerland is, i think, more free range than the states. i'm part of a swiss expat listserve and this is a topic that comes up frequently because apparently the swiss give their kids much more independence than most americans are used to. i have yet to experience myself, as my oldest has only just started kindergarten, but i'm interested in (and hoping and nervous too) seeing if it's true.

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Mara from Motherofalltrips said...

This is a nice post. I struggle with this too, because the honest fact of the matter is that 99.9 percent of kids who go out to play on their own are going to be just fine- but something has happened to make us all pretty scared. (I actually think that something is round-the-clock news coverage.) And I completely agree that wildness, outdoor time, and space free of grownups are vital.

I am a bit renegade in my neighborhood in how much freedom I give my children. I've recently started allowing my 7.5 year old to start riding his bike in loops around my (small, safe) neighborhood. I make him check back in with me every three or four loops, but he is out of my sight for about 15 minutes at a time. And he loves it.

I've taught him the rules of the road and how to respond to strangers and have decided that I'd rather give him some of the joy and freedom I myself had than keep him under my constant surveillance.

I hope your children continue to enjoy their new-found adventures!

Cami said...

That sounds so wonderful. We have a little more freedom in Utah to let the kids roam around, but our rental house was more out in the country than our current one, so it's not quite as free--and mostly they roam to other people's houses, which i don't love. but even having a yard in which I can send my kids safely to play has really changed the way they play and imagine. Lovely thoughts.

likeschocolate said...

This is one thing I really miss and am sad that my children do not get to participate in except when we are in Europe. The idea of being dependant on tv, gameboys, computors, and toys as a form of entertainment does not thrill me, but we live in very urban area where it is not safe to let your children play outside by themselves. While I try to get them outside as much as possible, it is not the same as when I was a child and I roamed the whole neighborhood.

morninglight mama said...

Your situation sounds so amazingly lovely! I think your son and mine have similar play styles, and I can definitely see the immense benefits of an environment like yours. So happy to see this!!

Dana said...

Nearly daily I thank my lucky stars that we chose wisely with our neighborhood and have a similar experience (although, off post) in Northern Italy; I've never heard the term "free range" as a way to describe it, though. Nice. I'll tell you, Lucia, my brother and sister both have the same experience for their children in distinctly separate towns in South Louisiana. It's nice for everyone -- parents and kiddos.

HAve a great day.

Mom said...

You are so fortunate to live in a place where you feel you can give Noah the space he needs to play and discover on his own. Even though Michael Chabon cites that the statistics are no different than they have been in the past re abductions, you have the comfort of knowing that you live in the ultimate "gated community". Unfortunately most parents here don't feel that they can do that, although if more did do it it would make it easier for everyone to give their children that space. The base just feels like the 1950's neighborhood that I grew up in. It is such a shame that it isn't more like that everywhere.
I am going to hear Michael speak on Nov. 6th and hope he'll talk more about his own experiences with his kids here in the states. He has a new book out called "The Pleasures and Regrets of a Husband, Father, and Son".

Betsey said...

I enjoyed reading about your son's experiences. It reminded me of living on-base in Okinawa and the cardboard sledding my kids would do (with helmets on - you remember the hill Shirli lived on?!), the forts built, the kids wandering to friend's homes and bike adventures. The gratitude I feel for those three years of childhood overseas is tremendous. Thanks for the lovely reminder and images of your life now.

Haitian-American Family of Three said...

The photo alone makes me feel happy-I think its a completely different world to live in the country than in the city let alone a cultural that wholeheartedly supports family and family time together. We live in the city, but have six acres of totally wild land where our kiddo can lay and roll about in the dirt (and she looooves it!)its so important to be outside and having fun.

Corinne said...

I'm listening to Free Range Kids right now and WOW has it made me think. I love that your Noah is having such neat opportunities for exploring. I've had to reign in Xavey a bit since his exploring at the end of last summer ended with him being a bit lost and alone, rather far from home. I think he's just not quite old enough to feel confident that far. So, I'm constantly on the lookout for ways for him to do things on his own. I wish it was as easy to do around here as it is at your place :) But, really, he'll be 7 1/2 by next summer and we'll set up some new ground rules and try it again. I think he DOES need that time to be free, and Sheely LOVES riding her bike or rollerblading all around the neighborhood by herself or with a friend.

I like that we're thinking about it :)

holly said...

thanks for posting this. I think about it alot, how do I help my kids have the free-range experience I had growing up, even though we live in a different time and place than then. I'm glad there's lots of little things I can do at least!

thanks for the links, too.

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