Kids on the Open Range..

I’m sure many of you have heard of the book Free Range Kids by Lenore Skenazy.

It has proven to be quite the controversial book. Many people have criticized it because of it’s lackadaisical approach at parenting. I’ll be honest. I would NOT let my kids ride the subway alone. I know there are things that my kids need to experience and there are things that can really only be learned by those experiences, but I have to draw the line at knowingly putting my child in a situation where they can get hurt or taken advantage of.

As moms it’s our job to keep our children safe. We take our job very seriously. My only problem is finding that line when we become too over protective and end up almost sheltering our children from their world. Don’t get me wrong, there are some things about our world that I would much rather my kids become aware of at a much later age. And I will try my hardest to make sure that that happens, I just don’t want to rob them of precious childhood experiences in the process.

What’s my point?

I’ve taken my first step.

My son is 6 years old. No, he doesn’t know a lot about responsibility. I’ve pretty much sucked in that department. But the kid knows what fun is. I’ve always tried to limit his playing outside to the backyard or to the sidewalk right in front of our house and only when the hubs or I are out there.

Recently, my son met a boy up the street who is his age. Like boys often do, they hit it off immediately and it wasn’t long before I started getting asked every 5 minutes if he could go play with his buddy. After a few days of walking there with him and supervising the play I realized that this was the perfect opportunity to give my son responsibility AND let him experience the open range.

The next day when my son asked to go outside and ride bikes with his buddy I told him yes and that I wouldn’t be going with him.

At first he was a little hesitant. This was something new and I don’t think he thought I was being serious. I told him there were a few conditions though. He was not to leave the street that his buddy lives on and he had to check in every 30 minutes. I know what you’re thinking. He’s 6. He has problems remembering he has to go to the bathroom let alone when 30 minutes have passed.

free range kidsWell, enter a new fandangled invention called the watch.

I simply set the alarm on the watch for 30 minutes from the time he left and told him that if he failed to report home that I would come and get him and his playtime would be over.

The excitement on his face was evident. Before my eyes I saw my son blossom under this new sense of ownership.

free range kidsI watched him walk up our hill and around the corner; I said a quick prayer that this experience wouldn’t be tainted for either of us.

Once he was out of eyesight I went into the house and started doing chores to keep from obsessing. I watched the clock like a hawk and when the 30 minutes passed I started pacing. After 32 minutes I was getting my shoes on to walk up the hill and then the door opened and there was my boy. All sweaty from riding his bike and pointing at the watch.

I was so proud of him for following through!

He asked if he could play some more so I reset the watch and sent him on his way. For 3 hours my son played outside and every 32 minutes he was walking in the door to check in.

Am I ready to send him to the park by himself? No, not yet. Especially since the closest park is about mile from our house. But I am taking this as a small victory in not only his independence but the developing trust I have in him.

Comments

  1. That’s really cool, and such a relief that it worked out for everyone!

    I would be okay with the subway thing if it was part of our normal routine, something Abby was used to anyway. I have plenty of friends that have children that ride the Metro in DC to and from school, with some busses connecting them door to door.

  2. I’m gonna have to take a page out of your book here soon. My daughter turns 5 on Saturday and is itching for this kind of freedom. I, on the other hand, am not itching to give it to her.

    • I totally know what you are saying Ryan.. it took a lot for me to do it but I gotta say seeing the way it affected him was well worth it. Just start out small :)

  3. Congratulations on giving your son that bit of responsibility. You both did great. It’s great when kids can entertain themselves with a friend.

    I do have to disagree with your description of free range parenting as lackadaisical. It’s anything but that. You give your kids more freedom as they develop the responsibility to use it. People criticize it that way because they assume kids who never seem to be supervised and cause a lot of problems are free range kids, but that’s not what it means to most of us going for that.

    My park situation is pretty similar to yours, and I don’t send my 6 or 9 year old there either. A mile is pretty far, and the street they’d have to cross is one I hate to cross myself, although now that the sidewalk on the park side has been extended to the stoplight, things are a bit better. We’ve had too many close calls for me to trust local drivers, however.

    That doesn’t mean my kids don’t range pretty freely, just that they don’t yet go on their own to places I think they’re ready to go to yet. It would so help if other parents in my area wanted to let their kids go too, as groups are safer, but that hasn’t happened yet.

    • Thanks so much for your reply Stephanie.. I just want to say that I do not define free range parenting as lackadaisical at all, especially after experiencing a small piece of it myself.

      It took not only a lot of effort to keep me from checking on him but also a lot of faith, both of which are seriously draining.

      I’m working on finding other situations that my son can experience on his own. So far the instance hasn’t presented it that has made me feel ok with him going on his own but my eyes are wide open to the possibility.

  4. you’ve inspired me Tina. Going to get a stopwatch for M and try to maybe give her a little teeny tiny bit of breathing room.

  5. This is the quote I always think of when I hear Free Range Parenting: “The hardest part of raising a child is teaching them to ride bicycles. A shaky child on a bicycle for the first time needs both support and freedom. The realization that this is what the child will always need can hit hard.”-Sloan Wilson.

    It’s hard. It’s hardest on us because we want to keep them safe, but shielding our kids from the potential for danger doesn’t mean they’re safe. It just means they’ll never know the freedom and accomplishment of riding a bicycle.

    • That is a wonderful quote Robin!

      It’s funny that you even mention it, it’s because of this experience that my son is now riding his bike well. He had just learned as was very shaky but practicing with his friend has helped him become more confident.

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