trying to raise free range children

It is hard to raise a free range child these days and mostly it is my own darn fault.  I let fear take over.  Alec and I listened to the author of free range kids speak this past week and that has me thinking about how we are teaching these kids of ours about the world.  I grew up riding my bike by myself with darkness as my cue to go home.  I walked home alone from the bus stop.  Through the woods!

Now everything is prefaced by a warning.  The kid’s game I downloaded for my phone came with a warning.  No, I am not kidding.  Apparently they felt they had to remind me to never leave my child unattended.  The game, they advised, was not a babysitter and it is DANGEROUS to leave a child unattended.  Before the game would work, I had to click that I had read and agreed to NEVER LEAVE MY CHILD ALONE.  Even if I did leave her alone, she has my phone.  Full of numbers.  She could call for help.

But really, she had my phone…where was I going to go.

Today I asked Gemma if she wanted to go outside and play in the rain.

“No”, she answered…”I’ll get wet.”

“Yep, that is kind of the point.”, I replied and assured her that it would be fun.

Reluctantly she followed me out after the promise of 2 stars on her chart for the effort.

Slowly she creeped out the front door.  Whining.

Then she loved it and did not want to come back in.

I wanted to put the camera inside and I left her out in front of our house.  By herself.  In the rain.  She did not even have my phone to play that game (or call for help.)  I stood and watched from the doorway, not because I was scared for her safety, but because it was wonderful just to watch her play in the rain.

I want my kids to be free to enjoy childhood, free to make messes, free to go out and get wet.  I want them to be free to be alone.

I want to be free of the fear.

Photo Notes:  D3 with Lensbaby Composer lens and my old SB-26 flash

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  • cazz - Great sentiment…and I agree with you absolutely.
    Our ten year old has just started riding his bike to school and home on his own, and on Friday he even had to let himself in and be alone for almost an hour…he loves it!October 30, 2010 – 6:12 amReplyCancel

  • Becky - I agree. My girls are 11 and 13 and they come home to an empty house after school (we do have neighbors for emergencies) and they walk to the library, or the park, or to their friends’ houses. They have a cell phone to call. They walk to the gas station to buy a soda and a candy bar. I believe they need to learn how to navigate the world.October 30, 2010 – 6:43 amReplyCancel

  • Stephanie Beaty - such amazing words — gemma is blessed to have you as a mama.October 30, 2010 – 7:17 amReplyCancel

  • DawnK - My parents must have been horrible parents to have left me alone when I was 10. LOL! When mine were 8 or 9, I let them ride their bikes a few blocks away to the Hostess outlet store for treats. I just went with them the first time and told them to watch carefully for cars before they crossed the street, because from one direction they don’t have to stop. They never got hurt.

    I agree that they need to have some independence on the way to adulthood. My kids loved when they were old enough to stay home, when we went to Home Depot. They were always bored on trips to Home Depot. I thought it was great, too, to just go out somewhere with hubby and leave kids alone. (When older one was about 11 and the younger one was 8.)October 30, 2010 – 8:16 amReplyCancel

  • Diana - Oh gosh !! She looks awesome !!!October 30, 2010 – 11:11 amReplyCancel

  • angela (jhscrapmom) - i have many of the same thoughts. i think if you do not give them the opportunity to become confident and able at a young age…it leads to problems when they hit their teen years. of course, there are always limits that need to be in place for everyone’s safety…but i think too much has been made of “what if”‘s. i am a big fan of this author’s take on childhood. i bused and metro’sd by myself from a small town to school in montreal starting at the age of 11. by myself. best life experience ever. i was able to do it because i knew how to handle things because i was given the opportunity to make decisions and even mistakes from the time i was little. good stuff rachel:)October 30, 2010 – 1:26 pmReplyCancel

  • Katy - I know that feeling. I have been trying to decide at what age I will let my daughter walk to school by herself. School is literally five minutes away from our house but I’m panicked at even the thought of it. I want her to be independent but I’m scared of what might happen. I guess you have to just let them go.October 30, 2010 – 2:03 pmReplyCancel

  • María Paula - I agree, i’m glad to see that people in other countries notice this as well.October 30, 2010 – 5:46 pmReplyCancel

  • Anna - Mine’s only 6.5 months and I’m thinking about the issue of free-range already! I want her to be, but I’m worried that I’ll be too worried to let her. Constant mental vigilance to remind myself what Lenore was saying … It’s actually safer than it ever was and just FEELS like it isn’t because the news regurgitates every horror story from around the world right into our lounge rooms 24/7. Chill mamma!October 30, 2010 – 6:23 pmReplyCancel

  • Breanne - So glad the LensBaby came out to play too! These are wonderful! How did you keep your camera dry? I love the third from the top.October 30, 2010 – 10:37 pmReplyCancel

    • sesame - I actually balanced a giant golf umbrella over me at the same time as shooting…it was quite a sight.October 31, 2010 – 6:25 amReplyCancel

  • Rebecca - Too true… it’s amazing how many of the 4-5 year-olds I teach get scared fretful the moment it starts raining in the playground because they’ll “get wet”. A bit of drizzle never hurt anybody, I wish more parents shared that sentiment…October 31, 2010 – 1:52 amReplyCancel

  • Mel - I am not sure yet how I will be when my 3 year old is older. At the moment she is allowed to play by herself in her room which a lot of Mums I know find shocking. I hope that I will find a good balance between risk and letting her roam the wildside.October 31, 2010 – 2:32 amReplyCancel

  • Valentina - Amazing shot! i love Gemma! She is so adorable!!! I love all your photos Rachel!!!! you are fantastic!October 31, 2010 – 5:26 amReplyCancel

  • Karolina - Great photos!
    I think just like you. I think that you need to let your children more freedom. We have to teach them self-reliance, to then be able to cope with adult life, they must also develop resistance to different situations but I also think that is the limit in giving them this freedom.October 31, 2010 – 7:02 amReplyCancel

  • Jayne - I love all your photos, particularly these which so well reflect the joy and exuberance of a child let loose in the rain.

    My girls are grown up now (in their 20s) but I had exactly the same dilemmas as you. My childhood had consisted of hours and hours playing on the beach, sometimes with just my brother and occasionally with a friend from a few houses along the bay. It was totally idyllic Enid Blyton stuff, and I often lamented and felt guilty about the lack of freedom of my own children. I never did give them the degree of freedom I had – too scared that my child would be ‘the one’ – but I can report that both are happy, well-adjusted adults. Keep on doing what you’re doing and it’ll all be OK in the end. 🙂October 31, 2010 – 11:55 amReplyCancel

  • Aly - The lensbaby lens gives the rain such a cool effect!October 31, 2010 – 12:17 pmReplyCancel

  • tara pollard pakosta - Unfortunately in this world we live in now, it’s not possible to have a life without worries!
    When I was only 12 years old, I was babysitting my 5 month old cousin ALONE for a whole
    weekend! I made homeade baby food, did laundry, cleaned , organized all while entertaining a baby!
    My almost 11 year old is just learning to do laundry now, but I would never leave her alone for an hour with
    a baby! or even by herself! Kids now days just are growing up in different times, it’s sad!
    I would like to let her have a little more room to grow though!
    taraOctober 31, 2010 – 3:08 pmReplyCancel

  • Jennifer - Hi! I just found your site through and I love your photos!! This set is precious!!November 1, 2010 – 12:22 pmReplyCancel

  • Harika75 - Man… this debate came up recently amongst friends because I stumbled across the free range website a month ago and slowly realised my way of thinking was just wrong. It made me think about the times my Mum would let me run to the tuck shop and get milk and bread for the family when I was 8 or 9 and I clearly remember how AWESOME I felt being given this responsibility. I want the same for my little Miss and if it means I gotta let go of the ‘their’s evil around the corner’ mantra that we all have, then I will do that. We are living as though everything is a risk but the biggest risk would be to forbid our kids to navigate and handle situations that holds them back on making sound and correct decisions. Trust me, they can make em, just think back to your own childhood.

    I commend you and oh… Faboosh piks!!November 1, 2010 – 4:16 pmReplyCancel

  • SquiggleMum - Fab post. It sometimes amuses me that in our desire to be great parents we have raised a generation of kids who say, “But I’ll get wet!” Here’s to relaxing a little and embracing some of the joys of our own childhood. (And OH MY these pics are amazing. Love the exuberant expression in the 4th pic!!)November 2, 2010 – 7:56 amReplyCancel

  • Cristina - I love the photos! And the whole philosophy of “free range” children. I hope I’ll be able to do the same with my kid.November 9, 2010 – 10:38 amReplyCancel

  • Johanna - When I became a mother I looked into myself in the mirror: “We have to talk.” Was I going to protect my child the way my instincts told me to? And to build up a very dangerous world for him to conquer later. Or was I going to force myself to be stronger and let him grow up without too much fear? Now that he is 16, I’m happy I decided to trust a bit.

    My kid took his daytime nap outdoors in a pram, in all four seasons. Yes, in winter too. He was a very healthy baby.
    He went to school alone and came back alone since he was 7, often to an empty home if I had not got back from work yet.
    He traveled 100 km to his grandparents’ house, by bus since he was 4 (we have some great busdrivers here) and by train some years later. He spent his childhood upside down doing somersaults and cartwheels and jumping off the swing in its wildest speed. And he didn’t break a single bone – until he was 14.

    Today he is a teenager who has got a reasonable amount of self-confidence and whom I can trust to take care of himself when he is away. I don’t fear for him. That’s a whole lot easier for both of us. My need to protect him has not gone away. Sometimes I think it gets deeper as they grow up because the challenges grow bigger too. But all his life he has been learning to spread his wings one day, and he is a great learner. So why fear?November 11, 2010 – 10:35 amReplyCancel

  • Christie - Childhood 101 - Hear, hear! To more free range fun, however hard it is for us to let go xNovember 15, 2010 – 3:37 amReplyCancel

  • f2g2 - I like this philisophy, you are definitively an open minded mother.
    Talking about (may be a little too much) free range kids, have you seen “The Fox and the Child” ?
    It is a beautiful tale about a little girl strolling in the mountains and trying to get friend with a wild fox.
    For someone who loves photography and who is not closed to the free range philosophy, you would certainly appreciate this movie.January 9, 2011 – 9:33 amReplyCancel

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