What Happened When 12 Moms Went 'Free Range'

Wendy Robinson | Aug 12, 2015 Being a Mom

girl on bikeI was raised a free-range kid. Of course, 30 years ago we didn't call being allowed to ride bikes by ourselves, or getting muddy in the woods, or walking alone to school being "free range." It was just called "being a kid."

But things have changed. Parents today tend to be more protective than in generations past, and in many ways it's paid off. In fact, children are statistically safer than they've ever been. (Could it be because we're hovering?)

Still, the free-range parenting movement is gaining popularity. These moms and dads are resisting the temptation to become helicopter parents, to be overprotective, and to worry too much. Their aim is to raise kids who'll become independent adults.

Even if we're not letting our kids roam for hours without supervision, we can all learn a few things from free-range parents. Here's what happened when some moms decided to worry less and free range more. The results are messy, occasionally bloody, and ultimately inspiring! 


Image © Christine Glade / iStock

  • Into the Woods

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    "We live in a quiet neighborhood that backs up against a small wooded area with a creek running through it. For the longest time, I had a rule that the boys (now 7 and 9) couldn't play in there or take walks through it without an adult. And then one day it occurred to me that I was really depriving them of the chance to have some of the freedom I had when I was a kid. So I changed the rule. Now they can go into the woods as long as they are together.

    What has been really interesting is that now they seem to bicker less and get along more because they want to keep working on a fort in the woods together. I love that as a side effect." -- Lisa V., Grand Haven, Michigan

  • Homemade Weapons

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    "I've been the stereotypical hippie liberal mom who had a total ban on any kinds of toy weapons, even ones the kids made themselves out of blocks or whatever.

    While I still hate toy guns, I'm starting to let up on the homemade swords and slingshots. I realized that part of being a kid is experimenting with the idea of having power, and weapons can be a part of that.

    I watch them have these epic battles outside now with the neighbor kids, and I can see that they are actually learning some problem solving. Like, when one kid hits too hard with the sword, they police themselves and make up their own rules about what you can and can't do with the weapons. I think that is actually pretty cool." -- Dani R. Lawrence, Kansas

  • Getting Wet

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    "It started raining the other day and I instinctively told my girls that it was time to come inside. Then I remembered -- duh! -- kids are waterproof.

    So I had them put on their raincoats and keep playing. I played in the rain all the time when I was kid. Why did I think the rules had changed?" - - Annie W., Tucson, Arizona

    More from The Stir: Are You a Free Range Parent?

  • The Walk to School

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    "My neighbor and I caused a bit of drama at school last year when we decided that my third grader and her second grader could walk the half mile to school by themselves. It really freaked other parents out. We even got a call from the principal about it, but, c'mon, really? They know how to get there and they were never late!

    It made them feel responsible, and it saved me from having to get out the door with my baby every morning. We chose our neighborhood because it was safe, so why not take advantage of the safety? I have no regrets." -- Stephanie N., Indianola, Iowa

  • Muddy Buddy

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    "I used to never let my daughter get too dirty playing in the backyard or at the park. I didn't want her to ruin her clothes or to pick up germs. But then my mom showed me a photo album from when I was a kid, and there were all these pictures of me and my sister knee-deep in mud, clearly having a great time.

    So, I made a pile of play clothes that I don't care about, and I let her get as messy as she wants now. It is amazing to see how much fun she has when I back off and just let her play." -- ReAnne B., Ashville, North Carolina

  • Grocery Helper

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    "Now, I would describe myself as a free-range parent, but when my kids were little I was a total attachment parent. One of the free-range things that has been great for us is letting my 11-year-old go run to the store for me sometimes. There is a grocery store about 3/4 of a mile away, and sometimes if I just need milk or a few things, I'll give him money and he goes on his bike. He feels super grown up, he's learning about money and grocery shopping, and I don't have to do every milk run. It is awesome!" -- Helen E., Albany, New York

  • Rough-and-Tumble

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    "I used to always swoop in when playtime between my boys (or with neighbors) started getting too rough-and-tumble. I was constantly hovering over them while they played. One day my husband said, 'Just let them play; they'll figure it out!'

    And he was right. They play rougher than I would like sometimes (we had a soccer-related bloody nose last week) but they seem to find their own limits for what is too rough, and they seem to play longer when I'm not constantly interfering." -- Grace T., Edina, Minnesota

  • Doggy Duty

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    "I recently put my 6-year-old in charge of the nightly walk around the block with our sweet old dog. They both love it." -- Jamie J., Denver, Colorado

    More from The Stir: Free Range Parenting is Only for Chickens

  • Camping Out

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    "My 7-year-old had been begging me all summer to be allowed to have a campout in the yard with his best friend. Even though it totally made me nervous, which was dumb because the yard is fenced, and we're on a safe block, I finally said yes.

    And do you know what happened? Nothing! They stayed up too late, got bitten by mosquitoes, and then came inside in the morning for breakfast. My son is now convinced he is a rugged outdoorsman." -- Kelly S., Abilene, Kansas

  • Crafty Kids

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    © ValeriKimbro/iStock.com

    "I love doing crafty things, so I have a massive collection of craft supplies. I never used to let the kids into the supplies unless it was a project I created or supervised.

    But then I realized that I would hate to always have someone telling me what to make, so I filled a box with supplies and gave them free access to it. I love the projects they come up with." -- Michelle L., Saint Paul, Minnesota

  • Tree House Fun

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    "Have you seen the tree house in our backyard? I use that word loosely! What I have in my backyard is a tree with random pieces of wood and cardboard nailed in at odd angles. My sons are making it themselves though, so I just let them figure it out. There have been no broken bones or hammering accidents yet!" -- Sasha D., Toledo, Ohio

  • High Diver

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    "My son wouldn't jump off the high dive at the pool until I stopped bugging him about it and gave him some space to work up the courage on his own. There is a lesson there, I think." -- Brandy M., St. Louis Park, Minnesota

    More from The Stir: Helicopter Moms vs. Free Range Moms

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