Free Range Kids

Some kids just wish they were free range:

Oh Please, Can We Free Range?

Some kids really are:

Free Range Kids (Last Winter)

Many thanks to Lenore Skenazy for the terminology for a parenting style sometimes less flatteringly called “lazy,” “slacker,” or “negligent.” My parenting style.

Free ranging means I don’t do a lot of the things that most U.S. parents do. I don’t always make lunch–if there are ingredients for simple-to-prepare foods, then the kids are expected to make their own. I don’t always go outside with the children while they’re playing in the yard. And I don’t make them sit at a table and spend large portions of their day studying what I think it’s important to study.

I also don’t tell them “no” when they ask to ride their bikes in the street, or stop them from using a sharp knife to cut shapes out of a large cardboard box, or prevent them from walking out on the roof from their bedroom window.

But “lazy” doesn’t really begin to describe this parenting choice. Children who make their own lunches make bigger messes. Yes, they can clean them up, but their best cleaning efforts are never quite enough for my taste. In my experience, children who are not sitting quietly at the table doing schoolwork are generally either A) Being exceedingly messy somewhere else, B) Being exceedingly loud right here, or C) Doing something they know they really shouldn’t be. Furthermore, children who use sharp knives sometimes get cut.

So if it’s not laziness, and I recognize the potential for danger, why this choice?

Because it’s good for them.

Just like a chicken cooped up in a cage all day may be as safe as possible from external danger, but will never meet its full chicken-y potential, so also a kid cooped up in a classroom, then at the table doing homework, then doing chores, then plunked in front of a television because it’s too dangerous to go outside alone, is a kid who will never meet his or her full potential.

Children who learn to do things for themselves, and who learn from a combination of guidance and hard experience, develop a level of self esteem that can never be gained from a classroom. They learn that they are capable and important human beings who can accomplish things in the world.

They also learn that they are tough, that they can survive when the going gets rough.

I free range my kids because I know that I cannot protect my children from every bad thing that could ever happen to them. I can’t even protect them from the big bad stuff. Since I can’t protect them, I want to teach them that they can handle it, they can survive, recover, thrive, no matter what life throws at them.

And the best way I know how to do that is to let life throw some stuff at them, while they still think I’m cool enough to help them get through it when it does.

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