Sunday, March 15, 2009

Going (Semi) Free Range

It's been on my mind a lot lately. I was talking with two of my good buddies the other day about how much risk we allow our kids to take. The talk inevitably led to how we ourselves grew up. And the consensus seemed to be that we are over-protecting our kids and that we're too chicken to do anything about it.

Unlike the two of them, I grew up terribly sheltered by my over-protective parents. I wasn't allowed playdates and field trips let alone sleepovers. Golly, I didn't strike my first match or plug in my first power socket till I was well over eight years old. When it was time for college, I had to wage a very silent but stressful emotional war to get my folks to agree to let me choose what to pursue and where to do it...just because the campus was 300km (186 miles) away. Don't even get me started about when I began to cook. It's a miracle my siblings and Dad survived the two weeks my mom was hospitalized when I was 11. I don't think they've still gotten over the shock of eating my cooking though.

So of course I told myself I wasn't going to be as stifling with my own child(ren).

And here I am almost 20 years later falling too obviously into that over-protective parent trap. Step into my home and all you'll hear are:
"Don't get too near the stove, you'll be burnt."
"Don't wet the step-stool, you'll slip."
"Don't run too quickly around the bend, make sure I can always see you."

Don't, don't, don't.
And you've probably already read the one about being worse than the Malaysian Film Censorship Board.
My urge to protect and cushion is just too strong.

Part of me is frustrated that as free range as I want my son to be, I'm limited by the cramped, urban apartment space we live in. The other part knows that blaming our home is balderdash.

Today, while contemplating if I should continue to be on the Ambleside Online Yahoo Group, I came across these links there:

An outdoor nursery school in Britain
An outdoor preschool in Canada

Now wouldn't it be awesome (and so in tune, BTW, to Charlotte Mason principles) to homeschool in the big wide open outdoors? How will we do it though when all we have is a tiny strip of a patio outside our apartment? Or when 90% of our home is covered in carpet (and I hate cleaning it?)

Perhaps I should start by taking a leaf from Gever Tulley's book. Will you let your kids do these...
1. Play with fire
2. Own a pocket knife
3. Throw a spear
4. Deconstruct appliances
5. Break the Digital Media Copyright Act/ drive a car?

(and by kids I mean ages 5-10). Which of these have you done yourself as a minor or would admit to doing? (This will make a good meme don't you think?). If only Mr Tulley's classes didn't cost almost as much as our monthly rent, I would sub-contract the "free ranging" like any self-respecting Bay Area parent.

I think part of the reason I'm so guilty about this is that when I began homeschooling DS, I promised myself that I would help him become more self-sufficient. Mm-mm. No sign of that yet. I realize how wimpy we must sound to those parents who have their kids in cub scouts and/or 4H.

Well, yeah, I guess he's only six and it's not too late.

I'm thinking of getting him to cook me an egg all on his own this coming week. What d'ya say? Time to rethink how we spend our free time eh? Hopefully it will be successful (and independently accomplished) enough for a triumphant blog post next week.

A few "5 Dangerous Things You Should Let Your Kids Do"-worthy links I need to research in more detail:
Destination Imagination
Equipped to Survive
Outward Bound
Trackers Bay
List of survival training schools


  1. Absolutely! It's NOT too late! I'm not a particularly overprotective mom. I am okay with exploring, getting dirty, falling, slipping, using knives in the kitchen, etc.

    I think that I'm this way for three reasons -- my own free range upbringing, my faith in God, and my trust in my own child.

    We are urban dwellers, and I can relate to what you said. I often grieve that my daughter is not having the childhood I had -- catching fireflies, building teepees in the woods, etc. But she has her own city experiences that I didn't have.

    Enjoying poking around your blog today! A nice find!

  2. Hi Jimmie and thank you for "finding" me and also your comments on another post :) Just today, I relaxed a little and allowed him to climb a slightly slippery uphill path on his own...(releasing a big breath here)...I'm getting there LOL :)

  3. You inspired me to write my own post about this topic. I linked back to yours though.


  4. You know, if you're worried about the stove, why not give him a short paring knife and have him chop vegetables? I did that with my kids. And grate stuff. Wash dishes. Sweep. Sew a seam. Easy stuff, but gives them a sense of balance with tools that won't burn them.

    We have blow guns, very rickety swings, and a lot of other slightly idiotic things for the kids to play with, but I still think that practical skills are the best.

    Gadzooks, you have the weirdest word verifications, Suji. I just had mishbart. What the heck is that?

  5. Great suggestions Sheila! Thank you!

    Mishbart...hmmm...Misha Barton's secret nickname? An Amish Bart Simpson?

    Sigh...blowgun AND 3 curious kids at home. Interesting!


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