Category Archives: Home on the Range

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.

Where Have All the Children Gone Long Time Passing?

New Yorker, Lenore Skenazy is advocating a change in mindset around play, trust and responsibilty as it affects kids. There’s no mistaking her passion for what has become a favourite subject matter. You may have read about Lenore in the national press, or heard her getting interviewed on major television networks. She was responsible for the ‘Take Our Children to the Park… & Leave Them There Day’ campaign in May of this year.

Lenore’s disbelief and outrage is getting a venting through her writing. A journalist by profession, she wrote a column, much after the fact, about letting her son do a solo subway journey from downtown Manhattan to their home. She was pilloried in the media as an irresponsible parent. This experience gave birth to Free-Range Kids, initially a blog and now a book in its second edition.

I first came across her when I read a piece she penned for Salon – The war on children’s playgrounds. Did I hear litigation, that perennial antithesis to fun?

I caught up with Lenore a couple of weeks back as she was getting ready to head out of the city over the Memorial Day weekend.

I just don’t believe that children are as endangered as pop culture is trying to make us believe for a variety of reasons that I think actually are nefarious. I might sound like a crazy, paranoid parent but I’m crazy, paranoid about the messages we’re getting from the media as opposed to people looking outside at all moments everywhere looking for people to rape and kill our children. – Lenore Skenazy

Along with Lenore, let’s imagine a place where kids roam, a place where the outdoors are a magnet for fun, healthy activity, liberal doses of mischief and perhaps just a small serving of mayhem. Imagine parents who trust their children and communities enough that the kids don’t have to be chaperoned around the clock.

This is how I grew up as a kid in the 60s and 70s in Toronto, Canada. It was no Shangri-La but there were decent doses of sanity going the rounds. Maybe it was something in the air or maybe it had something to do with the fact that our parents grew up in the midst of a global war. Those of them that came from Europe and Asia knew what real danger was all about. As for their North American contemporaries, even though the war was never fought on their soil those kids grieved for dads and big brothers who never came home again.

In the naughties and now into 2010 and beyond, the life that I took for granted as a young boy, the one where most of us created everyday adventure away from supervision and prying adult eyes is now the exception to the rule. In urban centres at least, the default position for ‘play’ has nothing to do with ‘ground’ and everything to do with simulation and screens – the flash of binary code, the tao of wii and manufactured panic.

There’s a moral panic afoot. The same as in the 50s how did everyone become afraid that comic books were going to rot our children’s minds? Then there was the whole panic that day care centres were filled with satanic cults… – Lenore Skenazy

I’ve noticed that playgrounds in my hometown of Halifax, Canada are frequently sparsely populated. This isn’t any kind of scientific measurement but when you visit 20 to 30 different playgrounds in the run of a summer you pick up on these things. Most of the kids who do go are under the age of 10 and accompanied by parents.

Lenore is taking back the free-range, staking it our through humor, analysis and research. She is striking a note and many are flocking to her blog, engaging her as a guest speaker – an alternate voice in a wilderness where independent play is getting short shrift and kids find themselves on an endless, organized activity-go-round.

I say bravo. Let’s all consider a riff on an old folk tune –

home, home on the free-range where the kids and all their friends play
where never is heard a paranoid word and the parents are loving all day

Playgrounds have an exceptional role, though not the only one, to play in this. They are kid space, fun space, testing limits space. If there is an issue about playground security, perhaps we should be thinking about something like a Playground Watch modelled on Neighbourhood Watch to make them more secure environments if required.

As for me, I have two older, independent kids and three little ones under five. The babies aren’t ready for free-ranging as yet. I’m hoping that when it’s their time the voice of reason will prevail again and that a solo subway ride with parental approval by a kid of 10 in London, New York, Toronto, Tokyo, Berlin, or Boston will not result in a news story that sparks a backlash of intolerance and sanctimony.

Fill the playgrounds with free-rangers – let them have the joy of discovering their own abilities.

Last word to Lenore –

You can still have fun on playgrounds even if the stuff, the equipment is less than fun. I do remember the really fun playground we’d go to when I was a kid on Memorial Day weekend. The attractive thing was they had a tall slide and a swinging gate. You’d go really, really fast on the swinging gate and it seemed pretty much to the clouds on the slide. I never see either of those anymore. That was in Kenosha, Wisconsin in a place called Petrifying Springs. – Lenore Skenazy

Look for Lenore on Parent Dish.