Saving (Restoring) Free-Range Childhood

Kerry McDonald:  The Value of a Self-Directed Summer for Kids.

Autonomy and choice are central to a self-directed summer, in contrast to the control and regimentation that define so many children’s days all year round. Parents from all socio-economic backgrounds face mounting pressure to have their children’s summer days filled with structured, and often expensive, enrichment activities; but poorer parents may confront the most coercion.

RTWT.  See also my related post Six Hundred Million Years in K-12.

The term “free-range kids” was originated, AFAIK, by Lenore Skenazy, who has a blog with that name.

8 thoughts on “Saving (Restoring) Free-Range Childhood”

  1. Single-parent families, or those where both parents work outside the home find activities for others to mind their kids. We have moved about the country more than we did in previous generations, so grandparents and aunts are often not available either. I have not seen that academic camps are of much educational value for children, but it does give them fun doing intellect-based activities with others, which I suspect is good training for future careers. Music camps and athletic camps do provide advantage, and in families where everything is a competition (even if you aren’t going to get a lacrosse scholarship), that drives them to get their kids out there.

    So the pool of children who even might have self-directed summers is reduced. My parents were divorced, and I did not have a self-directed summer until she remarried, and I had jobs soon after. However, my other time was my own. I joined some activities, but those were my own choice.

  2. In much of the country at this point if you let your kids roam free they’re likely to come home in a squad car with a referral to CPS. “Go out and play until sunset” is something from an entirely different world.

  3. Jet engine pioneer Gerhard Neumann wrote about growing in Germany between the wars, in a home where the approach to child-raising was closer to stereotypically Prussian than to stereotypically Jewish: “You did exactly as you were told by your parents. There was no such thing as saying no to them!…You were not to have a hand in your pocket while talking to grown-ups…Showing any emotion in Prussia was considered sissyish. There was no kissing between parents and children–only a peck on the cheek before going upstairs punctually at nine o’clock; and there was absolutely no crying.”

    On the other hand, Neumann could do pretty much what he wanted with his spare time. At the age of 13, he bought a folding kayak and, with some camping gear and a 12-year-old friend, took long journeys on the Oder River, all the way to the Baltic Sea.

  4. I think that the prosperity of being able to drive children places has changed our thinking about what is safe. I had to learn to cross busy streets in first grade, because there was no one to drive me to the library, to my grandmother’s for lunch, to the Y, or to choir practice – about a half-mile each in a mill city. Had there been a choice, my mother, who was quite protective, might have chosen differently. Children also worked at dangerous jobs – because there was little choice, not because we thought it was part of their development to work around dangerous machines. My great-grandfather went to sea at age 12 in Goteborg and went to Hong Kong and Rio before coming to America. That’s range. OTOH, once you are on board ship you aren’t walking about much, and your time is not unsupervised.

    We forget the stories of adventures that didn’t work out so well, of boys going through the ice, as I was just reminded of last month at an historical society lecture. There is a survivor bias to our tales.

    My grandparents and parents all had friends nearby and did not find the need to go far. I suppose they might have gone far at need, or for special adventure, but I never heard about it.

    We live in a closed neighborhood and my sons were allowed to go where they wished in it, but not outside it without permission. They have daughters, whose movements are even more circumscribed. Why encourage them to go out on busy roads unless they have a particular goal? I don’t have much use for the government involving itself unless there is serious neglect of children, but I don’t think it’s accurate to regard children’s freedoms as entirely a choice, nor always a positive one. The dangers were not entirely imaginary. Okay, my mother’s were largely imaginary, but that’s only part of the picture.

  5. My upbringing was rural, a luscious mix of rolling hills, forest and pasture. We all ran pretty much wherever we wanted, or as far as we dared. Back then it seemed there were not many no trespassing signs, the farmers did not seem to mind too much about kids running about in the woods. I guess they were not worried about being sued. We dragged around fishing poles and .22’s,and nobody called the swat team.
    Later on when we discovered girls, motorcycles and alcohol life got dangerous.

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