We made big strides on the weekend. My daughter (5 ½) went out to play by herself.
Outside. Alone. Out back behind our house.
Until now, we have always, always been within a few feet of our kids. If playing out front, we have rules about how many houses they can ride their bikes past before turning around and biking home on the sidewalk (it’s 6 houses). If at the park, there’s a comfortable distance but I spot behind adventurous climbers and make sure the kids are clustered so I don’t lose one as they explore.
This was different. As parents we made a clear left hand turn into Free Range Parenting.
Our backyard faces a field with a creek and giant willow trees. One of these trees has a skateboard swing which is a favourite of my kids. Our house is a walk-out with a raised deck so from the deck we can see the whole back field. Despite the proximity and view – I had never considered my five year old daughter old enough to play back there by herself.
Why not? Well, because they need to be supervised and that’s public property. And there are dangerous things – like tall trees. Dirt! Pokey sticks! She could smack herself with that swing and get a black eye!
Right. I can hear myself. Relax, Lady.
My husband was working on the deck the whole time and kept an eye on her. At one point he saw her run like the wind across the grass. A dog chased her. Yep – a good reason I was nervous - who’s protecting her? She hustled home, independently. Then, charged back out a couple of minutes later, unscathed.
Another time Michael saw her half way up a tree and called for her to come down (be still my heart!). She climbed down in her dress with grass stained and bark scraped knees pleased that she’d snuck further up that tree than I’d ever let her.
Without meaning to, I’ve parented in a mostly attachment parent kind of way. That hadn’t been my plan (or what my books told me to do), but it’s just what felt right to me. I have always believed in the free range parenting style but until now it was a theory to me, not a practise. There will be no encouragement needed for my kids to be free range kids, but I need to wear in the idea like a new pair of shoes.
Each time I checked on Lauren, the sun was shining brilliantly and I saw her picking dandelions by the fistfuls and twirling in the long grass. Then I saw two little girls picking flowers with her. Girls I have never seen before but they made friends. Remember that feeling as a kid?
As I watched my little-big girl pick those dandelions, it sunk in. When I was 5, I walked to kindergarten by myself. I road my bike for blocks before I had to come home (not just 6 houses away within eyesight of my parents) and I would hop from backyard to backyard in games of hide and seek.
Was it that different “back then”? The Globe and Mail wrote that being a mother in the 70’s was much better than being a mother today. Really? Better?
My kid is still in my view. She thinks she’s a million miles away. Learning how to make her own decisions, playing with nothing, exploring both the outdoors and her imagination. Perfect example of a free range kid. A couple of times, I thought “is this allowed?” I honestly considered – are we bad parents for not being (over)diligent helicopter parents? But no, this is a positive education for both us as parents and our daughter.
I so agree with the beneficial natural problem solving and life skills of “Free Range” kids and their ability to make do and use their imaginations. Children learn how to find play instead of being handed an activity. The “risk” is the trouble they get into with that imagination.
What kind of trouble? The trouble we all did? Like climbing into icky garbage cans and rolling down hills? Riding bikes and hoping to get lost in the neighbourhood? Some danger may lie ahead but most (like that enthusiastic dog) are elements our kids need to learn to handle.
That fear of risk hinders so many parents from letting their kids just BE. We schedule our family’s every minute with organized activities there is no time for spontaneous play. And when we hover we’re showing our kids to ask us what to do instead of figuring out a solution on their own.
When Lauren finally came in (after 3 hours!) she announced “the ‘very’ backyard is a super place to make friends Mom!”. She was so proud. And I am of her (and me!).
What age do you think is okay to play outside alone?