free range kids

So what do you think? Heard of this lady? 

I totally get what she's saying, and part of what really hits home with me is the need to teach kids self-reliance. But I'd struggle to let a small person find their own way home. 

I love the idea of providing 'safe' freedom for kids to explore and learn, and I don't want to be guilty of infantalising children when they're not infants, or being a 'helipcopter parent'. However, I also don't want my kids to grow up too soon, and if I'm aware of risks, how can I possibly put my children in the way of them, however minor? 

Your thoughts?

Adventure is in the genetic makeup of my three, thanks to Adam. Mister can I climb it, paddle down it, jump off it, ride through it? He searches out city parks that have at least a tiny bit of adventure – tall things the kids can climb, wobbly things they might fall off. Big slippery dips. 


He despairs the removal of those enormous metal rockets from council playgrounds circa 1985. 

Saturday morning was HOT in Sydney. So we found some water to play in. 


I hadn't thought to pack swimmers (or spare clothes) of course. 


 Oh well, they don't look very wet at all. 




They slipped over. There were scratches and there are bruises. They had a ton of fun. 

In a way I wish I could let my kids be more free-range. I think independence is exhilarating and great for self esteem. Just not sure I could ever leave an eight year old in a shopping mall to make his own way home by train. You?



30 Comments on “free range kids

October 25, 2010 at 11:11 pm

Mmmm, another of my favourite books. I really want to give this one to the in-laws, but can’t figure out how. I’d heard she’s in Australia.

Yeah, she was the “worst parent in America,” eh? I thought her kid was pretty pretentious, and it was a big publicity stunt for a writer, but I still agree with what she says.

I’m forever saying, “you can try if you want. If you fall it’ll probably hurt, but I’ll scoop you right up and cuddle you and kiss you.” (I know it horrifies some people.)

Of course, he’s two, and the risks involve me standing nearby. I’m sure my perspective is pretty limited.

You said, “if I’m aware of risks, how can I possibly put my children in the way of them, however minor?”

I think that’s part of our role- to point out the risks, get them to think about the possible consequences, and then to have a go, and develop a realistic view of what they’re capable of, good decision making skills, ability to take responsibility for and cope with the consequences, etc.

I’m hoping that I will know when my kids are ready to find their own way home by train- I have no problem with that being at age 8 if you’re talking about a sensible, street-smart kid, at midday on a weekday, in a safe part of town. I hope they will know, too.

I dont want to focus on the things to be afraid of, especially when my kids are likely to live longer than any other kids in history! If there’s anything to fear, it’s not the 1 in a million or more things. I’m more afraid of the effects of not letting him try stuff, like climb a tree- his fear and lack of confidence, plus lost opportunities for developing strength and coordination, and all the childhood fun of being up a tree! (Or one of Adam’s metal rockets.)

Did you hear about the outrage over Sesame Street? They recently released “vintage” DVDs- stuff from my childhood, to mass public outrage. They showed kids on tricycles WITHOUT HELMETS! And playing in vacant lots!

And I’m much more afraid of what’s in his food, and what he’s breathing from our carpets and stuff.

Really rambling now. Love you.

October 25, 2010 at 11:16 pm

Oh, also, he makes me laugh- points at fairly random things and says, “if you fall down dere, you’ll hurt your felf.”

October 25, 2010 at 11:19 pm

Hi Fi. Where is that park? It looks fantastic and I know my littles would love it.
I think I am a bit more free range with my kids than some – but that possibly comes from having climbing run away children that I can’t keep up with. I am not sure about the ride the subway home at 9 thing, I will let you know when I have a 9 year old.
I am with Adam with the despair about the removal of old play equipment. I remember hearing on the radio that kids don’t learn how to be careful so much any more because play equipment is mostly super safe these days. My old primary school had a flying fox strung up across the play ground. Just hold on to the bar and push off. I can’t imagine it is still there any more!

October 26, 2010 at 12:28 am

Last year I let my 10 year old walk to the local train station and then catch the train to Flinders St (Melbourne). It was about a 15 minute train ride. From there he then walked (using a map, as he hadn’t been before) to his dad’s work. He loved it and was fine. I fretted quite a bit, but felt he was responsible and would be ok.

Not sure if I would do it younger that 10 though. I did some research on letting kids walk to school on their own and they say that at 10 kids peripheral is broadening making it safer for them to cross the road.

October 26, 2010 at 1:48 am

My mom was a super worrier. Particularly for me — a girl. I can remember times in my childhood when my older brother would be allowed to do something at a certain age, and when I got to that age and asked to do the same, she would say no, because I was a girl and it was more dangerous for me. This would really piss me off, and I never planned to be like that for my kids. I can understand her worry a bit more now that I have a kid and see how much you can love them and fear the pain of something happening to them. My daughters only two, but I like to try to stand back as much as she’ll let me. She has confidence in her own strength and climbs and hangs from things, and I just spot her. With my heart in my throat I’ll let her climb to the REALLY HIGH slide. The confidence I see in her when she does something a little scary and successes is worth it. And she’s good at letting me know when she doesn’t feel confident — like around new people. I think my mother-in-law thinks I hover and cuddle too much in these situations, but I can feel it when my daughter is uncomfortable and know what it takes to make her comfortable — and when she gets there, she does confidently start to interact with people. I think the key is knowing your own child and the given situation, and what’s okay and best for your own child. Having worked in childcare for years before I had a kid I have seen parents that are way over protective — especially if they had trouble conceiving. I remember one mom who would freak out over any scratch on her kid, when he himself was like a little rock when she wasn’t around, bouncing off things, plowing through things, tumbling around. My point of view is, they’re kids, they’re supposed to have bruise, scraped up knees.

Oh, and my biggest pet peeve: Boys as tall as me in the women’s rest room! Seriously! Cut the cord!

October 26, 2010 at 2:09 am

Hmmm…definitely a question I go back and forth on. Do I think children have less freedom nowadays? Yes. How far will I step back as a parent? Probably not far enough πŸ™‚

Katie @ Sew Many Mamas
October 26, 2010 at 7:48 am

I have no idea where I fall on that. I don’t think I would let my eight year old ride home alone, but then again, it depends on where we live. Where we live now- no. If we lived somewhere else- maybe. The balance between independence and safety is just another (of the many) fine line parents have to wander along until they find what works for them!

October 26, 2010 at 11:23 am

I discovered Free Range Kids a while back. What I loved about Lenore was she made me stop and think about my parenting style. I have definitely opened my mind to more freedom for my children and now when they ask to do something, I have more options than before(but it’s still baby steps).

October 26, 2010 at 12:36 pm

Unfortunately we have had to become a little more protective as our neighbourhoods have changed over the last few decades. As kids we could roam the streets with our friends and Mum felt safe in the knowledge that she knew everyone in our street. I was always being “put back together” by my friends mothers and other neighbours and taken back to mum with various degrees of abrasions. Now we don’t know or trust the person next door, let alone up the road. That sense of community has gone and so has the innocence of childhood.
Our kids are allowed to explore and partake in some fairly physical games and sports but not without a parent or trusted friend within eyeball distance. However, I have never run to my child if they fall or hurt themselves, unless obvious trauma has occurred, so they tend to be more resilient to bumps and bruises. My kids are very familiar with the age old saying “you’ll be right”. Which is code for “thank goodness you’re alright because Mummy just had a near stroke thinking you had broken every bone in you leg with that crazy stunt”. I just cover the grey hair with dye.

Sarah B
October 26, 2010 at 12:38 pm

I think it is often dependent upon the ages and personalities of the children. I have recently become aware that I am a reasonable amount more ‘free range’ than some of my friends. I let my 10 year old walk two blocks to buy me some bread on his own, or with his 8 year old brother.

I have on occassion left the 5 year old at home while I drive the 2 blocks to pick up the older 2 from school, with the instruction that if the 2 year old wakes up, can you just chat to him in his cot until I get back! I think many people would disapprove of that.

I have this ‘code’ where the kids know never to acknowledge to a stranger on the phone that neither Mum nor Dad are there, and with the 5 year old, I tell him not to answer the door if I have gone for the 2 minutes to pick up the others from school. In some ways having more kids and an often absent husband has made me allow them more freedom, because of the practicalities of life. I trust my kids, and them knowing that I trust them is very important in a whole lot of ways. As they get older, part of that trust is trusting them to assess risk themselves.

I would say their ‘free range’ has increased by increments, and no doubt it will continue to.

October 26, 2010 at 3:06 pm

I also have read a little on her and think it’s good food for thought. Trust your instincts but also remember to let you children learn their own….

foster a sense of community where you live and perhaps that makes it easier.

Hear Mum Roar
October 26, 2010 at 5:34 pm

I think at the end of the day, it all just comes down to trusting your own instinct. That, and believing that you know your own child well enough to make that call

October 26, 2010 at 8:18 pm

Glad you are loving “my” park πŸ™‚

October 26, 2010 at 10:26 pm

I’m with you in that I love the theory, but it’s hard to get the nerve to put much of it in practice – maybe when they’re older it will be a little easier?? I saw Lenore on Q&A and thought she seemed confident and fair in her parenting style, something I strive for, but I guess it’s all so individual. I also find the stats about kidnap etc being down but perception of those being up, really fascinating.

October 26, 2010 at 11:36 pm

I’m so impressed- well done, and thank you!
Quick question, though, I’m curious- you drive 2 blocks to pick 2 kids up from school? And they’re over 5? How come?

October 26, 2010 at 11:38 pm

Yeah! Anyone know a book about how to foster that sense of community?

October 26, 2010 at 11:41 pm

I do agree, but I think our instincts are getting messed up. My mother-in-law sits around watching CSI and reading novels about hideous murders, and I don’t think she has a realistic sense of what the real risks are. I’m not sure I do either, but I’m trying. Life is safer now for kids than it has ever ever been.

October 27, 2010 at 7:04 am

actually very good point: chemical and additive-laden food actually poses more of a threat to children than axe murderers.

October 27, 2010 at 7:11 am

It’s Pyrmont Park down the end of Harris Street. We should have a park date! I wanted to put a flying fox in our backyard (big, long, very slopey) in Brisbane. Maybe one day!

October 27, 2010 at 7:12 am

I’ve been thinking about this trip – so sensible. And he’ll remember that forever. I hope I can let my kids explore like this.

October 27, 2010 at 7:13 am

ha ha! so true!

October 27, 2010 at 7:14 am

too funny – henna? xx

October 27, 2010 at 7:18 am

that’s the million dollar question right? It’s easy with a school community or homeschooling social group. Community gardening? That’d be right up your alley.

October 27, 2010 at 7:18 am

I am. Thanks for telling me about it!!!

October 27, 2010 at 5:43 pm

Free range kids seems to be the ‘in’ topic for discussion at the moment. My kids are not free to roam by any means. I have created my own form of free range. We moved from the inner west last year (which had an amazing community spirit by the way) to canberra just for a couple of years. We have a beautiful big backyard and I am constantly pushing the kids outside to play. We have a great climbing tree…we just love that tree, heaps of space for the kids to ride on their bikes at terrifying speed which they have completely mastered, lots of vege patch happenings, digging, hide and seek and just generally having lots of fun outside. We try not to have too much tv (they certainly watch it but not in huge doses) and we have very little computer time. We encourage using their imagination and getting back to the basics. That is my free range. I read a book recently called ‘Last child in the woods’ which talks about nature deficit disoder and how kids just don’t play outside anymore. I think that is a big issue for the current day as well. Great discussion though…it is really interesting to see how everyone else goes about these kind of things.

October 27, 2010 at 7:06 pm

Ha, up my community alley. Wonderful idea, though. I always wanted to put a sign on my worm composter (kinda ugly in the front garden) inviting all the gardenless neighbours to contribute their kitchen scraps. Sure it would have either confirmed me as the local nutter, or else been completely overwhelmed pretty quickly. Which, I guess… nutter.
Also pretty sure I’d need council permission, health board regulation, etc, etc. The National Trust property I used to volunteer at had a huge compost, educational display, just to produce fertiliser for their own use, and they were ever so strictly minded by the powers that be. Compost is permitted less bacteria than camembert!

October 27, 2010 at 8:56 pm

I can so relate! A while back when contrasting my childhood with my daughters I was concerned by what she was mising out on. All that free ranging… But then I read ‘The Green Hour’ by Todd Christopher and realised that she can have lots of free ranging – but we’ll be joining her (or watching from afar). We can share time connecting with the world – and eachother.

So looking at the pics of your kids playing in the water, they look pretty free-range to me. So what if you are watching them. i’m sre they are still experiencing the sense of freedom.

October 27, 2010 at 9:47 pm

Thanks Heather – Last Child In The Woods just went on my Christmas list. That sounds perfect.

Sarah B
October 29, 2010 at 10:04 pm

Hi Sue,very late response to your question. We almost always walk to and from school, I only drive when I am leaving the 5 year old at home to supervise the 2 year old who is asleep, and when that happens I do drive, as I am trying to get back there again as fast as I can before someone realises I have left my 5 year old and 2 year old alone at home!

Almost always I wake the 2 year old up, it is only if he has been sick, or got to sleep very late or something, that I leave them at home. Usually I wake him up and the walk there in the pram is enough to overcome the grief of having been woken up!

Jodie Petrov
October 30, 2010 at 7:55 am

Coming to this a bit late, but I got to thinking about the difference in attitudes to this issue in different cultures while we were living in Germany. We frequently saw kids younger than 8 catching the SBahns to and from school alone (and then walking from their stops home alone), riding to school with just other kids, walking to school the same way. Also playing on the streets with no adult in sight.

I was slightly surprised when friends in Austria were completely relaxed about their then 6 year old doing chalk drawing for hours, alone with similarly aged friends, downstairs outside their apartment. They lived 3 floors up and the footpath was only visible from one of the bedrooms…. when I offered to go and check on her my friend looked at me oddly and said, “oh, if you like!?”. It made me question why I was concerned when they were so obviously not!

I don’t know why it’s still like this over there but we did find it refreshing…

As our little guy is only nearly 2 it’s too early to say how we’ll be as he gets older, but I would hope that we lean more in that direction!



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