How Much Freedom Is Good for Kids?

Since we’ve established that kids need outdoor time for optimal sensory development, the next logical question is just how far from a parent’s protective gaze should little tykes be allowed to wander?

I’ll never forget when my son was about two, we were on a playground. My son disappeared inside a plastic tunnel, and with all the children scurrying everywhere, I lost track of him. My heart lurched as I frantically poked my head in the play house, the covered slide, and a maze of tunnels. At last I found him inside the orange one and breathed a big sigh of relief. I’m sure it was only a minute or two that I couldn’t locate him, but it felt like a hundred years.

Of course, I know this mini-parental panic is far from rare, and that we can’t keep our kids tethered to our sides for all time. It’s outside, through unstructured play, that kids can test their own limits, build social skills, and grow in myriad ways.

Have you heard about Free Range Kids? These children are deliberately set free by their parents to walk to school by themselves or roam the neighborhood with a pack of other free-range young souls. I know a mom who was reported to Child Protective Services for letting her six-year-old son play on his own in the park right across the street from her house.

So how far will you let your child wander? How do you ensure that he’s still safe when away from your gaze? How do you foster a sense of freedom, exploration and self-confidence in the great outdoors? And how do you stay calm when you lose sight of your child on the playground?

Shana Burg