December 27, 2011 Myrdin Thompson

Free Range Play

In November KaBOOM! launched its first guest blogging contest, asking parents to muse about their experiences with play. We received lots of entries, and while it was tough, managed to narrow it down. Over the next ten weeks we will be publishing the top ten, and we hope you enjoy reading them as much as we did! Congratulations to all of our winners. In 7th place is Myrdin Thompson from Louisville, Kentucky…

I am not a helicopter parent. I don’t hover. Not over homework. Not over fashion choices. Not over meals. And definitely not when it comes to play.

When I take my daughter to the park, I let her loose, to “free-range play.” Sure I scan the area, observant of all potential hazards: broken glass? Trash? Child who desperately needs a tissue? But I don’t hover. This is HER time. Not mine.  Will she fall? Probably. She’s six and has legs like a gazelle and once her momentum gets going sometimes she gets off kilter. Does that mean a scraped knee or elbow, or even a bloody nose? Possibly. But that’s what anticeptic, bandaids and tissue are for (yeah, the tissue you want to give the walking plague you saw when you walked onto the playground but don’t want to interfere in someone else’s “parenting”).

Don’t misunderstand, free range play means establishing rules in advance of going to the playground:

  • I stay put so she doesn’t have to.
  • Hand sanitizer will be liberally applied after play, but not during play. In fact, we may use the whole bottle, but when you are playing, touch whatever you like. Within reason of course.
  • Collaborate, communicate, create. Play with someone. Share ideas and respect theirs.

It’s not easy, but after years of playground experiences with her two older brothers I learned a few things:

  1. Sand tastes bad. You can do everything in your power to ensure they don’t eat it, but they eat it anyway. Because they are curious.  And maybe hungry. So bring a bottle of water. Rinse out their mouths. Move on. Don’t freak out. Address the issue. Go back to your bench. Repeat if necessary. 
  2. Children get tired. Just because I want to avoid the pile of laundry at home by going to the park doesn’t mean we stay until the cows come home. Sure, kids might pitch a fit when you “make” them leave, but you know it was time when you pull out of the parking lot, look in the rearview mirror and they are asleep. Gone in sixty seconds.

What is the purpose of play? Life complicated enough. Socks have to match, hair grows back slowly after your older brother has “helped” with a haircut, green veggies don’t taste good (even if they are good for you). If we don’t give our children the opportunity to navigate world when they are young, they will be less able to navigate it when they are on their own. Children need to be confident in their abilities, courageous in their choices, and criticial in their decision making. You can give them the tools, but you can’t live their lives. If I want her to dance like no one is watching, then I need to let her play “and forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair.” (Khalil Gibran).

parent perspective, mom, free range kids, free play, guest blog, parenting