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September 06, 2016


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Your croissants series is one of my favourites, too! I'm looking forward to the new series.

Very good points here. I feel most comfortable and happy in an urban neighborhood, and uneasy in typical suburbs -- I think the absence of sidewalks troubles me. I love living where we can walk to the library, the coffee shop, a grocery store now, and where we can take the bus anywhere. Once they can manage the bus system, they're golden.

The class divide is something we should be hammering hard on, because people are receptive to hearing it right now. We can't insist that good parenting requires a level of hovering that is available only to the privileged.

You are speaking my language :)

We live in a walkable suburban (older, inner suburb) neighborhood. We walk and bike for most of our transportation, but my oldest is only 8, and doesn't yet go anywhere by herself. I do see kids out, but they seem to be a little older, and usually in groups.

I really do want her to be able to go places by herself, and I'm glad we live in a place where she should be able to.

Your focus on this topic has definitely shaped my thinking over the past decade. My kids have done pretty well with getting themselves places starting in early adolescence, and now I'm thinking about asking my 14 year old to walk about 1.5 miles from her middle school to her therapist's office, every other week.

It's not a great neighborhood, but there are sidewalks. She could opt to shorten the trip a bit by jumping on the city bus. One worry is how heavy her backpack will be.

Today is the first day she will see her therapist in the new school year. We have arranged for Grandma to take her from school to therapist, but she still has to figure out what to do for the 1 hour she'll be waiting for Grandma. Yesterday I suggested she walk to the city library, about 0.25 miles from school, and she said "WOW, that would be so AWESOME!"

So I think that will be our plan, and I will be showing her how to walk those 5 blocks in the next few days.

Oh golly, what a great topic. Raced over here after I saw your note on Twitter. I have some special favorites that come to mind:

--THE WHEEL ON THE SCHOOL. The way the teacher sends the children out to just THINK, to ponder solutions to a problem. And this leads to their wandering all over their village, interacting with neighbors and the environment.

--JANE OF LANTERN HILL. Probably my favorite example of all. You might remember a long rhapsodical post I wrote about this book long ago. Jane is where my Jane got her blog name, in fact. Jane is a get-her-done kind of kid, a tackler-of-problems. But this isn't painted in a heroic, bold context: she's quite matter of fact about it all. You need help fixing your roof? I'll be right up.

--PIPPI LONGSTOCKING, of course. The larger-than-life version of Jane. :)

--The E. Nesbit books? RAILWAY CHILDREN in particular comes to mind.

--Oh my goodness, I can't believe I didn't land here first--the Swallows and Amazons series!!! Kids camping on an island all by themselves, sailing around the lake, frying eggs over a campfire, adventuring gaily. Those kids are the epitome of competent. Their father's telegram in the beginning of the first book, granting them permission to sail to the island alone: "BETTER DROWNED THAN DUFFERS. IF NOT DUFFERS WON'T DROWN" -- could any attitude be farther from our modern parenting styles? I confess his words make me shiver. But they speak to his absolute confidence in his kids' ability to take care of themselves.

I also like books like the DANGEROUS BOOK FOR GIRLS & its BOY counterpart (don't love that they are split up like that, though) -- again there's that matter-of-fact tone, "Here's how you do this" -- implying that you CAN.

Swallows and Amazons forever! We're on Missee Lee, which is I think book 13 in the series.

Anne of Green Gables has kids who wander through the woods, walk on ridgepoles, start clubs, save lives (Minnie Mae and the croup).

Hilda van Stockum's Bantry Bay and Mitchells series. The Bantry Bay kids wander all over Ireland, especially in Francie on the Run. The Mitchells go on subway adventures and collect scrap and solve problems when they break expensive statues.

Oh and the Melendys! Free range kids in New York City in The Saturdays and in the country in the other books.

When You Reach Me. Miranda wanders about New York too.

From the Mixed up Files of Mrs Basil R Frankweiler.

I like what Erin says, "We can't insist that good parenting requires a level of hovering that is available only to the privileged."

I've been pondering quite a bit about freeing my kids of late. I really want to be able to send Bella to the library on her own and she's itching to go. It would be great for her to have some quiet time to read without siblings underfoot and she could keep herself stocked on good books to read. It's less than a mile away and there are sidewalks, but there's one major intersection she'd have to cross that doesn't have a light and people are not careful going through it. I'd probably let her walk it anyway after walking it with her a few times. The library even lets kids 4th grade and up be unaccompanied. But Dom isn't quite comfortable with her crossing that street yet. He says when she's 12. So another two years.

But the kids do ride up and down the block on their bikes unsupervised and play out on the street with the neighbor kids occasionally. Though those kids are in school and not around all that much.

Sorry more books: Little Women, Chronicles of Narnia, the Little House books. Miss Happiness and Miss Flower. The Kitchen Madonna. Oh and don't forget Half Magic! Sn Slower Sun Faster. Noel Streatfield's Shoes books.

Actually, pretty much all of my read aloud list of novels that I haven't chosen because they tied in with our history studies have been chosen with the sort of semi-conscious criteria that they are a sort of Free Range Literature. I deliberately choose books which portray competent children occupying themselves in interesting ways that are not dependent on adults. Also, a bonus if the kids are from larger families and spend time playing with their siblings.

Isn't it funny that many more recent books about children-on-their-own have to *do* something to the adults to explain why the kids are on their own? Orphans in danger (Mysterious Benedict Society), etc. But Swallows, Laura, etc. could have parents AND still be free to DO much.

My Father's Dragon is SUCH a wonderful little series (3 books in one volume). Elmer Elevator is nine and runs away from home and saves a baby dragon and fends for himself beautifully. My boys and I all loved it.

Thank you for this and thanks, everyone, for all the book recommendations! I have been pondering the difference between my own childhood and the one my kids would have if we went with current cultural norms on this topic and it would be...HUGE. I didn't grow up in a particularly conveniently located neighborhood, but it did have sidewalks, and I could (and did) still walk to elementary school starting in kindergarten. I had older siblings and neighbors to walk with me, but that also seems to be part of the answer, right? And by the time I was in, say, second grade (my memory is hazy), I was allowed to walk or bike to a couple of different stores and a playground. I have a distinct memory of walking home from a summer enrichment program by myself, the summer between fifth and sixth grades, and feeling SO happy and independent. I also distinctly remember reading a LOT of these books (The Saturdays! I had forgotten about them! So great!) and thinking it was totally normal and good for kids to roam all over and do stuff by themselves.

The follow-up question that immediately springs to mind when thinking about my own kids is: how do you recommend handling the anxiety that the constant cultural hammering about the danger kids are in can generate? Are there books and resources to reassure ME (and my husband) for those moments when we know things are safe but need some reassurance about them? I realize that sounds super sissy but I definitely find myself in need of some fortification. (This thought brought to you most immediately by my recent perusing of the Michigan statutes regarding leaving children in cars in order to, say, run inside a gas station, and the language is EXTREMELY SQUISHY - "unreasonable risk" is not something I feel confident that a random person outside a gas station, or a police officer, would evaluate in the same way that I would.)

Eagerly awaiting more of this.

I can't stop thinking about this! I went back and reread the post and a few more things jumped to mind. I had forgotten that, once we were eight or nine, we were allowed to ride our bikes to the public pool (which involved crossing one major street) and spend our own money on admission and on snacks. Those are some of my favorite memories from that phase of my life. We also lived in a neighborhood that was economically mixed, and I do think that made a big difference. I had friends in elementary school who lived MUCH closer to the school than I did, but whose parents drove them instead of letting them walk...and I don't think class was irrelevant to that difference.

I am also thinking that our current living situation might end up being perfect for letting the kids start doing a little bit of independent exploring in a safe way - we live in university family housing, in an apartment complex sort of set off from main roads, with a network of sidewalks that connect a bunch of mini playgrounds throughout the complex. But when is old enough to start doing that? I don't have confidence that Gregory, who is almost two, would be able to distinguish the cookie-cutter apartment doors from one another and find his way back if he went out by himself. Is that a reasonable concern at his age?

Absolutely reasonable, Miriel. Two is pretty small. You can let him figure out navigation while you watch. Can he run ahead when you're bringing in the groceries, so you can steer him in the right direction if he goofs it up? He'll learn faster than you might think.

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