Category Archives: Free-Range Kids

Goin’ Mobile – Keep ‘Em Movin’

As recently as 50 years ago, a study on children’s independent mobility (CIM) would have reported that many kids ranged far and wide with little explicit parental supervision. I was a product of those times growing up in suburban Toronto.

Back in the day, most of us adventured independently on foot, bicycle and public transit. By the age of 10 or 11, we could find ourselves miles away from home exploring the wildness of the Don River Valley, catching a movie at the Willow Theatre, playing shinny at the outdoor rink, or just skylarking in random pursuit of fun. Those were the golden days of free-range kids…

article-2300657-18C0F5B0000005DC-258_966x412Glasgow boys from the Gorbals district play in the Corporation Burial Grounds shortly after the Second World War. Photographer – Bert Hardy, © Getty Images.

In just two generations there has been a seismic shift in the range, frequency and independence of kids’ mobility. A recently published study based on research carried out in Toronto, Canada illustrates that for many kids, discovery of the physical world around them, a world unfettered by hovering adults, or caregivers just ain’t what it used to be.

“Adult supervision has become a central characteristic of the modern childhood experience.”

The ‘S’ word is antithetical to pushing boundaries, independently assessing risk, or just playing for the pure and simple sake of it.

Playground?Children in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. Photo Credit – Jeff Attaway. License – (CC BY 2.0).

Do parental perceptions of the neighbourhood environment influence children’s independent mobility? Evidence from Toronto, Canada
examines three CIM related questions.

(1) Is independent mobility associated with children’s physical activity levels?
(2) Do parental perceptions of the neighbourhood environment influence CIM?
(3) What role do parents’ mobility-related attitudes have in influencing CIM?

Where do these three questions lead? The short answer is that there are correlations linked to independent mobility associated with some of the considerations/questions above. For instance, highly mobile and independent kids were likely to accumulate up to 19.5% more physical activity per day.

Other findings include:

  • kids from low income neighbourhoods are likely to have higher livels of CIM
  • 65% of grade 5 and 6 kids in Toronto had some measure of independent time outdoors without adults;
  • parents who opted for walking, biking or public transit were more likely to have kids with higher levels of CIM;
  • boys enjoy more CIM than girls – parental decisions in this regard are gendered.

The study is available in Urban Studies 2014, Vol. 51 (16). The authors – Raktim Mitra (Ryerson), Guy EJ Faulkner (University of Toronto), Ron N Buliung (University of Toronto) and Michelle R Stone (Dalhousie University) – are hopeful that this research will help to support policy development aiming to increase CIM.

Given the drop off in outdoor play, the prevalence of electronic gaming and scheduled, busy lives it’s not a moment too soon. There is cause to champion a larger scope for free-range play and a return to common sense. For any kids living in the free-range zone, there is a high probability that they know fear, take risks and inhale adventure all the while increasing their CIM. For a great source of information on the free-range movement check Lenore Skenazy’s writings or her recent reality show, World’s Worst Mom on Discovery Life Channel.

6348404432_ba24b8ec68_oChildren playing in the Canadian Arctic. Photo Credit – Rosemary Gilliat. License – (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

When it comes down to the crunch and you’re thinking about your own kids it can be hard. I had to fight against an urge to restrict our son’s independence and mobility when he turned 8-years-old. Fortunately my wife was there to bring me back to earth, to remind me that we were both the beneficiaries of free-ranging as kids and that we have no reason not to entrust our own children with this gift. As irrational as it is, I still sometimes get knots in my stomach when our lad is off with his friends far from our care.

That’s when I sing this little ditty to the tune of Home, Home on the Range.

Home, home on the range
Where the children all go outside to play
And never is seen a portable screen
And the kids can breathe fresh air all day

Home, home on the range
Where kids just travel about
And never is heard a disparaging word
And the kids have no time to pout

Oh give me a town where the kids they abound
Where the wild is not too far away
Where always is heard an encouraging word
To get the kids outside to play

Start ’em moving young and get them outdoors. PlayGroundology friend Gill Connell has plenty of great ideas to get the kids moving at Moving Smart. Move on over and check them out….

Finally, listen up to the story of Maryland parents charged for letting their kids play and walk alone broadcast earlier this evening on CBC Radio’s – As it Happens. You may be incredulous to learn how the courts ruled.

The Adults Only, Two is Better than One, Playground Challenge

I spend an inordinate amount of time playing in and thinking about playgrounds. It’s a self-professed weakness. In fact, playgrounds have become the hobby I never had (I’m not counting the long derelict dalliance with philately). Like all of us with a keen hobby interest, I can go overboard by times, you know a little obsessed. For example, wondering how census data can benefit the world from a playground perspective, or maybe thinking about the origin of the slide….

Most of the activity and time revolve around the two blogs I write on the subject – to wit PlayGroundology and PlayGround Chronicles. I’m constantly being surprised and learning something I didn’t know the day before.

In one of those contemplative playground moments over the last few days, I thought of how adults spend very little time in playgrounds unaccompanied by children. In some jurisdictions, this can be a very smart approach as a lone adult can set off alarm bells, warranted or not. I thought it would be great if Mélanie, my love of seven years, and I spent some quality time at a playground without the kids. I hope we’ll get to do so in a couple of Sorel’s fun playgrounds sometime over the summer.

Then I thought of a new acquaintance – Lenore Skenazy of Free Range Kids. She came up with a fine challenge that created quite a media furor last week in the US. It was all about her ‘Take the Kids to the Park… and Leave Them There Day’ campaign. When I was a kid, that happened all the time. Have times changed that much?

I think it’s fair to say that some hysteria followed Lenore’s campaign launch so to speak. Bravo Lenore, let’s make sure that common sense prevails. I’ll be speaking with Lenore later in the week and will post about it here at PlayGroundology. I’m looking forward to our conversation and I encourage you to check out her site.

So Lenore’s hard work on her campaign and my ponderings bring you:

The Adults Only, Two is Better than One, Playground Challenge

Now I don’t know how old you are and the beauty of it is, I don’t think it really matters. Other than this is an adults only challenge. Nothing suspect here, just a few tick tock moments to get in touch with the wonder of kid movement. No primal screaming required, no outlay of money. Just a little time and perhaps a temporary bon voyage to self-consciousness.

Here’s your mission – go with the one you love (or a good friend) to the neighbourhood playground, or any other playground, after hours when the kids who usually hang out there have all gone home. Early morning is good too as the sun starts its daily sweep.

Give your love a push on the swing. Climb up the slide and zip down one after the other. If you’re lucky enough to come across a merry-go-round, hop on and spin yourselves silly until your eyes see new galaxies in the night sky. Make like simians and swing toward each other until you can no longer keep your grip on the monkey bars and drop back to earth with the thud of gravity. Then run. Run like lightening. Run like you’re trying to catch fast man Bolt just for the fun of it.

Take a break. You might want to reduce your heart rate. Do you remember what it was like to play as a kid? Does your body remember? This is the kind of reminding we probably just can’t get enough of, the kind that can bring a wistful smile to our faces and a renewed appreciation of the importance of play for ourselves and all the kids out there.

I plan to take the challenge soon. I play frequently with our kids at playgrounds all around the city we live in – Halifax, Nova Scotia. I have a sense though that it will be different with my love Mélanie. I’ll write a few words about our experience.

Now all you self-identified adults – get out there and have yourselves some playgrounding moments…..

Here’s a twin seater shuttle to ride to the stars. Strap yourself in and get rockin’.

I’d love to hear from readers who give this a try. Challenge your neighbours and friends to give it a whirl. There’s sure to be some smiles in it and maybe an aching muscle or two.