Raising Free-Range Kids in Pacifica and Beyond

Thoughts and questions about raising free-range kids—safe, self-reliant children—here in Pacifica and beyond.

This morning, my five-year-old daughter Sasha proposed that her eight-year-old brother A.J. should walk her to school sometime. Her timing could not have been better.

I've been wanting to blog about Lenore Skenazy's Free-Range Kids for a while now, but my thoughts on the subject have been swirling around in my head, refusing to coalesce into actual words. Please forgive me if this blog post seems a little raw, but I'd really like to launch some dialog among parents and other members of our community. (And by "community," I mean everyone who might be reading this article. So whether you live here in Pacifica or elsewhere, whether or not you have kids, I want to hear from you.)

When I was in kindergarten, I walked to school with a friend who was also in kindergarten. Without our parents. My husband was chaperoned to kindergarten by his seven-year-old brother. We somehow lived to tell the tale, so why does my blood run cold at the thought of my own kids doing the same thing?

We live about a mile from my kids' elementary school, along a fairly busy street. I have to admit, neither of my kids is very good about looking before crossing the street. Both tend to wander around with their heads in the clouds…but maybe that's because I'm always there to yank them back before they're smashed to a paste?

How old is "old enough" to walk to school alone, here in Pacifica or elsewhere? I'll go out on a limb and say that five is too young, and while I think my eight-year-old could get himself to school, he's not quite mature enough to take responsibility for his little sister. I want to say this isn't because my head is filled with media hype and fear-mongering, but because I know my own children…but I'm not sure. If it were just a couple of blocks, I would give it a shot, but instead I told them, "Let's talk about it again in the fall." After all, we've only got two weeks left in this school year, so why not put it off a while longer?

And so, dear readers, I pose my questions for you: what do you think? If you're a parent, are you raising free-range kids? Why or why not? And if you're not a parent, what's your opinion?

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Stephanie Trelogan June 09, 2011 at 01:21 AM
And your kids lived to tell the tale, didn't they? Not only that, but I'll bet they're more confident and better able to deal with the world than kids who have been raised in a bubble of safety. Thanks so much for your thoughts, Ian.
Maggie Markham June 17, 2011 at 02:27 AM
My kids walked about a mile to school together, 3 of them at ages 5, 81/2 and 10. They crossed a busy street with a cross walk and we had done it many times together before I let them do it alone. ( I use to tell them that sometimes I followed along to make sure they were paying attention, watching to make sure the cars saw them before they stepped out etc.) They are in their 20s now and confident, healthy adults I'm proud of. But even 15 years ago there were parents around who wouldn't dream of letting their children walk to school. One time my daughter's friend stayed with us, I think they were 3rd graders and she was really nervous and excited about walking to school. She had never been allowed to walk anywhere without an adult before that. I agree with comments about raising fearful kids. The world is not as scary as news, movies and tv make it out to be.
Ryan Teves June 17, 2011 at 01:03 PM
I love the discussion and I think we all look back with nostalgia at the times when kids did stroll in little groups... to school.... or to the candy shop. I really think that type of freedom is invaluable. Whether or not it is possible obviously depends on the town you live in, though. Some towns simply aren't safe enough, while some, like Scotts Valley, still have this type of lifestyle. Let's keep fighting for it, though, it is such a healthy thing. Ryan Teves author of "In Defense of the American Teen."
Stephanie Trelogan June 17, 2011 at 03:02 PM
Thanks so much for your thoughts, Maggie. It's crazy how hysterical parents—and I include myself in this—can get about giving their kids the smallest freedoms. Many generations of kids, yours included!, have lived to tell the tale of walking to school by themselves. I'm looking forward to giving my kids more and more freedom, and I'm thrilled that this blog post as sparked conversation with other parents.
Stephanie Trelogan June 17, 2011 at 03:04 PM
You are so right, Ryan. I think our little town does afford this freedom, so long as we parents can let go. But isn't that what parenting is mostly about? Letting go? Off to go find a copy of your book...the teenage years aren't all that far off, after all.


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