Should children be "free range"?

User - posted on 01/12/2011 ( 22 moms have responded )




Recently there has been lots of debate about the amount of freedom we give our children to play outdoors, walk to school etc and questioning if we should let our children be "Free range".

How much freedom do you give your children to play outdoors without supervision?

Would you let them walk to school on their own?

When is the right age to start letting them do this?

What effects is not letting our children being independent and play outdoors having on them - if any?

It would be great to hear your thoughts on this!




Jodi - posted on 01/12/2011




"How much freedom do you give your children to play outdoors without supervision?"

Plenty. I have a 5 year old and 13 year old (as well as 18 and 11 year old step children), and they all play outside unsupervised (obviously). I have allowed my kids to play outside unsupervised in my back yard (which has a secure fence) since they were quite young, maybe around 3, for short periods of time.

"Would you let them walk to school on their own? When is the right age to start letting them do this?"

Not my 5 year old, not yet. My 13 year old was permitted to start walking to school when he was about 9. Research shows that children do not develop a strong periphery vision until they are around 8-9 years of age, and therefore, allowing them to cross busy roads can be a greater risk. It is a misconception that the world is a more dangerous place than it was 20 years ago, so while obviously I have fears for my children's safety (we all do), I am realistic about the fact that the risks are very small, almost nonexistant.

"What effects is not letting our children being independent and play outdoors having on them - if any?"

I believe that we need to allow our children to take calculated risks, and learn to be independent, in order for them to be able to make healthy choices as they move into their teen years. Failure to allow them to take risks in the early years can result in rebellion as they get older, and also results in them not having the ability to make good choices for themselves. I find it difficult to explain, but I do believe risk taking (and I am talking right from allowing your *baby* to go on the big slide even though it freaks you out), helps them to learn more about themselves, develope great confidence and self-esteem, which in turn, leads to less rebellious behaviour, and ultimately, less risky behaviour when it really counts the most, as teenagers.

[deleted account]

I agree with what was already said. And I also think that these questions should be answered with individual children and living circumstances in mind.

My daughter was playing under the carport by herself when she was 18 months old. Of course, I would be in the kitchen with the door open. At 2.5 years she won't play alone in the backyard, because SHE likes for me to be within her sight. She's uncomfortable with being left alone in the backyard, so for now I'll stay with her. No point in forcing her to do something she's scared of.

She'll walk to school in 3rd and 4th grade. She'll ride the bus for all the other grades, until high school. The schools in this town are split by grade levels, and the 3rd/4th school is in our neighborhood. The other schools are not within walking distance. The highschool is across the highway from our neighborhood so she'll walk or drive (if she's lucky).

Like the others, I feel that not allowing appropriate independence can hinder their development. I'd hate to send an 18 year old to college that has never even been allowed to walk to school by herself.

Tara - posted on 01/12/2011




My kids are free range.
They are homeschooled so they don't walk to school. (they wouldn't anyway, they would be on a bus).
But... my kids have lots of freedoms, we live in a tiny little town, my older two girls ages 8 and almost 11 are allowed to ride their bikes all around out town. They walk/ride to the store, to the library, to their friends houses etc.
I don't let them go to the river to swim alone, they must have their teenage brother or an adult with them.
My 5 year old is allowed to play unsupervised in our yard, and is allowed to ride her bike down the street to the cemetery and back, (I can see her the whole time).
I allow my kids as much freedom as I know they can handle.
When we go grocery shopping I don't make them stay with me, they are allowed to go off to another department to look at books, toys, etc. or I give them a list and they go do part of the shopping for me.
I allow my almost 11 year old to be dropped at the pool with a friend to go swimming for 2 hours.

I believe that in general people are becoming too overprotective of their kids.
Children need boundaries and limitations but they also need to learn to be self-aware, to be able to make wise choices.
Keeping children in a padded box and not allowing them to spread their wings and explore will only lead to an inability to make good choices when they are out without us.
I want my kids to be thinkers, people who can look at a situation and determine what is the best course of action, on their own.
My kids are independent thinkers, they are also very confident. They know almost everyone in town who they see on a regular basis and if they were ever in need of help, they know who to go to and who not to go to.
Kids can't live in bubbles because of our fears.
That being said, our town is small, our neighbours are friendly and it's a safe environment for them to explore. If I lived in a large city center, our rules would be different. There wouldn't be as much freedom to go around the neighbourhood etc. but they would still have the skills needed to be safe when they are out alone.
I know that if I lived in a big city, I would be way more anxious about them being out without an adult.

[deleted account]

that's a really hard question to answer so vaguely, every child is different and can handle different amounts of freedom at different ages. It all depends on mental development.

Isobel - posted on 01/12/2011




That's funny...I always get nervous in small towns. I live smack dab in the middle of a very large city and I feel very safe here because there are always people around to see what's going on.

If I lived within walking distance to school, my kids would be allowed to walk on their own (as it stands they are allowed to walk home from the subway station if I have to go grocery shopping after school).

I do believe that children today are over coddled and need to be given more freedom to build self esteem and an ability to make decisions for themselves.


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[deleted account]

I think it is a matter of maturity as well as age. Just because I would let one of my daughters do something at 5 doesn't mean I will let the others. I think all children need to have a level of supervision until at least the age of 10.

Jenn - posted on 01/13/2011




My son has been allowed to play outside by himself since he was 3 - (he'll be 5 in 2 weeks). My kids will never walk to school since we live in the country and they have to take a bus (too far to walk). I've let my son go by himself next door to play with the little girl there. When we're out somewhere and he has to pee he uses the men's room on his own. I think it's good to let kids be as independent as possible.

~♥Little Miss - posted on 01/12/2011




I think this all depends on the maturity of the child, and location.. If I lived where I do now? HELL NO! I want an electric fence around the yard so no one can get in, and no one can get out! But for really, if I lived in a nice neighborhood, and the school was within 1 mile...I think that would be great for the long as they were mature enough. I am not sure what age I would allow it though...11 or 12? Is that too young?

I think children should have plenty of independence in a nice neighborhood, i think it is wonderful for self esteem.

My children are to young for any of this right now, but when my almost 5 year old goes to his aunts house with his 2 cousins age 5 and 6...they are allowed out in the back yard alone to jump on the trampoline. We can see them from the kitchen window, or we just go out on the deck. They are not allowed in the front yard alone.

[deleted account]

I wish my neighbor hood was a good one. I live in an apartment with no yard and a highway right outside my door. If im still here when Gab is older, i will most defiantly feel like it is causing issues with her. I don't want her to feel like its her fault she cant play outside by herself. Hopefully i get my house before then :P

Charlie - posted on 01/12/2011




It's all circumstantial really .

In my area we are generally safe , low crime , everyone knows everyone and not far from anything so yes if my children showed maturity I would let them walk at 8 - 9 years old with the other kids that walk .

I believe every child should be as free range as age and enviroment allows them to be .

My son is two he plays outside sometimes on his own although I can see and hear him at all times from the house and it takes seconds to get anywhere in our yard plus we have great neighbours an old lady who adores Cooper and is always in the garden .

Nikkole - posted on 01/12/2011




My son is 3 and my daughter is 6months so obviously she gets no free range :)

My son plays outside but not by himself we live by a few child molesters so i dont let him out of my site (you would be surprised how many registered child molesters live by you we went on the internet and it showed our town and a few others close to us!) Our shool is not close to our house so i will be driving them or they will ride the bus!
I feel when there about 8 or so they can play outside alone i would feel comfortable then!! I think independence is a good thing but there are other ways to teach that then to let them be unattended outside.

Rosie - posted on 01/12/2011




my almost 11 year old walked to school on his own at 9 and i am fine with it.his brother may do it sooner, since his brother is more responsible than him. i feel if you never let your kids have any freedom by themselves, they aren't going to learn naturally what to do in situations, and will be incredibly awkward as an adult facing that particular situation for the first time.

i'd say it also depends on where you live too. i live in a safe area, low crime. i don't worry much. if i lived in a place with more crime i'd think a little bit more about it.

[deleted account]

Well, I have to follow the rules of our housing, so I don't give my girls (9) as much freedom as I would LIKE to.... They are allowed to play right downstairs outside my front or side windows. My son (3 in March) is allowed to be outside w/ them.

There is a school right across the street and if my girls went there.... they could've walked there alone since first grade. They go out of district though (10-15 minute drive), so will never walk to school. If we still live here when my son goes to school... he'll be able to walk himself in first grade (I think).

We recently got a playground behind the laundry room in our complex (I can see the front of the laundry room from my front's 2 buildings down) and the 3 of them (together, or just the girls together) would be allowed to go there unsupervised, but again, it's against the community rules.

Becky - posted on 01/12/2011




I let Cole play outside by himself - he's almost 3 -althought right now it's too cold to play outside at all! Our backyard is completely fenced with neighbors on all sides, so no strangers or wild animals are going to come over the fence. I leave the backdoor open and just pull the screen so I can see and hear him. Although he prefers company, so usually one of us is out there with him, and of course, it depends what he's doing. If we have the wading pool filled or he's driving his jeepe's supervised. Zach hasn't been allowed outside by him-self to this point, but he couldn't walk last summer, so it wouldn't have been much fun for him anyway! This summer, I'll probably let him go out with Cole.
They won't ever walk to school alone because school isn't really walking distance. Well, technically it is, but it'd be a long walk and either down the trans-Canada highway or through a very large park that the river flows through and where there are some wild animals. Not to mention a lot of distractions with playgrounds, etc! Once they're 7-8, I will probably let them walk to/from the bus stop by themselves, depending on how far away it is. There's a park around the corner from our house that they'll probably be allowed to go to together or with friends once they hit that age too. Some of our neighbors, who we know, back onto it, so they'd have a safe place to run to if anything happened. Right now, I don't let them in the front yard alone because it's small and there's nothing to do in it and they don't know to stay off the street, but once they're older, I won't have an issue with them riding their bikes around our cul-de-sac or playing street hockey with the other kids. We live on a quiet cul-de-sac, only local traffic, and we all know each other.
I do think it's important to base the amount of freedom your kids have on your kids' level of responsibility and the safety of where you live, but I also think it's important for them to have some responsibility and freedom at an early age. Because eventually, you're going to have to cut the apron strings and if you've always driven them to school because you were afraid to let them take the bus and never allowed them to play alone or go to anywhere with their friends, they're not going to handle that freedom very well when they get it.

April - posted on 01/12/2011




Ask me again in a few years. Z is only 2 and kind of impulsive. He's like Celeste's twin never know what he will get himself into. He is a very good listener, but you have to tell him specifically what not to do. He is not very good at generalizing. I may tell him he cannot bring toys outside that are indoor toys and he'll run and get a different indoor toy (because I didn't tell him he couldn't take THAT toy. See what I mean?)

Meghan - posted on 01/12/2011




free range? LOL, are we raising chickens?
I think it depends on the child and where you live. I let J (2) play out on the deck by himself...but its like 10 feet off the ground and totally blocked off with no access besides the house. I have no idea when I would let him play outside by himself. We live on the side of a mountain and I can't really see the yard or street from any window...

Celeste - posted on 01/12/2011




This is interesting! Back story on me. My grandmother was *very* overprotective. We weren't allowed to be in the front yard *at all*. I didn't learn to ride a bike til I was 11 when I went to live with my dad. When I went back to my grandmother's as a teenager, I wasn't allowed to walk around the block by myself. As much as I love my grandmother (she's passed away), I think she did a disservice. It took me a LONG time to gain a sense of independence, and I think that had a part to do with it..

Now, I am struggling with this with my own kids. Because it's so ingrained in me, I feel uncomfortable with letting my 8 year old daughter play outside by herself. She does, and she goes down the street to play with her friends. It's hard for me, and I check on her a few times..

I have 4 year old twin boys and they play outside unsupervised in the fenced in back yard. Though, I have to keep an eye on them because they can get into trouble, like turning on the hose and spray each other when it's too chilly, or flooding the backyard LOL Front yard, I supervise them. Again, I just don't feel comfortable with it yet..

As far as walking to school? No. It's several miles away and to get to school you'd have to go on the freeway or walk about 3 miles to get there. It's close to us but you have to take a round about way to get there because there's no direct way of getting there.

Consequences? Me as an adult LOL

Jodi - posted on 01/12/2011




How much freedom do you give your children to play outdoors without supervision?
My daughter isn't quite 2, our front yard is fenced in which I love, our back yard is not. But I have never left alone in the front yard and only for a few seconds to grab something out of the garage for our back yard and it will probably remain that way until either the pedophile 2 houses down moves far far away (or the one a couple of blocks away), or until I feel comfortable with her maturity/responsibility to be alone outside and know how to react to different situations. (In my head that age is 8, but I easily concede, depending on her, it could be earlier...or later.)

Would you let them walk to school on their own?
To school? No, that's miles away! lol To the bus stop, yes, it's only 3 blocks away from our house, if I stand at the corner of our street I could watch her all the way, which I probably would for at least the first few times (if we weren't planning on homeschooling that is! lol) I would probably walk down to drop her off and pick her up through kindergarten, more for my own getting outside, getting to chat on the walk about school and make sure she's comfortable with it all. By 1st grade for sure I think I'd be letting her walk by her own, without me even watching at the corner.

What effects is not letting our children being independent and play outdoors having on them - if any?

I'm not sure really, but probably enforcing the idea that the world is not safe without mom and dad right there. When we play outside, I play with her for a while, but I always have ulterior motives for being outside as well. Like, hanging clothes on the lines, mowing the lawn (we have a reel mower), weeding my gardens, raking leaves etc etc. If I don't have "chores" to do, I read a book, paint my nails, whatever whatever, so it's not like I'm hovering over her every second. Plus we go to my parent's house 3 or 4 days a week, they live in the country and she gets to just run, I might not see her at all for 10 or 15 minutes (there is nothing she can get into) and she'll come running back to show me a feather, or a pinecone, or whatever it she's found! So, she's part-time free-range! lol

Bonnie - posted on 01/12/2011




How much freedom do you give your children to play outdoors without supervision?
My boys are 2 and 4 years old. They only play outside alone for a few minutes while I go inside to get something, otherwise I am out there with them. I can sit on the deck while they are playing though. They are never outside in the front of the house alone. I think when my youngest is at least 4, I will be more ready to leave them out in the backyard alone for longer.

Would you let them walk to school on their own?
I only have one child in school right now and he is only 4, so no. Once he is around 10 years old, I would be okay with it.

What effects is not letting our children being independent and play outdoors having on them - if any?
The only thing I can think of right now is that it may hinder them from wanting to be independent down the road when they need to be. They could also be afraid when the time comes and they have to.

Tara - posted on 01/12/2011




So much has to do with where you live as well.
Up until the last two years, I lived in the countryside with no neighbours, a drive way that was 1/4 mile long, and acres and acres of fields and forest, my little ones could play outside alone at 18 months, while I watched from the kitchen or laundry room, and from that time on, they were allowed outside, as they got older, they were allowed to go further and further, at 8 my oldest could go off into the bush to watch birds and squirrels etc. he knew how to use a compass and he knew to stay on the trails. We also had walkie talkies so I could keep in touch with him.
At 10 he was making maple syrup so he went out daily to dump his buckets etc.
But there was never a threat of a human coming across him out in the bush, but bears, wolves and coyotes were always on our mind. So... we taught him how to behave in the bush, how to protect himself etc.
He is an avid outdoorsman now in his 17th year... has more survival skills than most adult men too!!

LaCi - posted on 01/12/2011




Mine's only two but here goes.

He doesn't play outside alone, because he's only two, he likes to do what he wants, and I live next to a highway so I just won't let him out of my sight yet.

When he starts school, after I walk him a few times to show him the way he can start walking farther and farther by himself because I only live 6 blocks from the schools. If he goes to those schools, and if I still live in this house, that'll be right around the time I graduate so I'm not sure if I'll be able to afford private school yet, I really doubt it. So, the first couple years he may be in the public school down the street. If I lived farther I probably wouldn't let him walk. With it being in my neighborhood I'm pretty okay with idea.

All the public schools are in the same 2 blocks at the center of my neighborhood, it's really the perfect place to live in this town if you have school aged kids that are attending public schools. There are also crossing guards at each of the "busy" roads, which aren't really all that busy.

I don't know that it really has any impact. I hope that by letting him do things on his own he'll be more independent and self assured.

Cassie - posted on 01/12/2011




I don't give my girls much freedom yet (well Emma gets no freedom but she's only 6 months) but that is due to their ages. Kiera is 2. We have a fenced in backyard so I allow her to play in the yard by herself while I sit on the back porch and read. I have also gone inside to check on Emma when she is napping while Kiera is playing in the back yard. She is not allowed out front alone but that is because she darts down the sidewalk to go to neighbor's houses and still doesn't grasp the importance of staying out of the road.

The girls will be allowed to walk to school once they are in first or second grade. Our Elementary school is in our neighborhood at the end of my street so it will not be a concern. All the neighborhood children walk to school. :)

At times, I believe that we are overprovective of our children today compared to when I was growing up but I don't know if I could do any different. When my girls are a bit older, they will have free range to play outdoors in the neighborhood. We live in a wonderful development that is full of children of all ages. They will be allowed to walk/ride their bikes to the park and community pool when they are older as well as just play in the fields of the neighborhood with the other children. I will feel safe and comfortable giving them this freedom. If we lived anywhere else in the city, I'm not sure I would feel this way though.

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