When someone says the phrase “Free Range Parenting” The image that comes to mind is probably one of kids in the woods, building dens, possibly with bowl haircuts and wearing clothes from the 1980s. I would argue that free range parenting is actually a lot more than that. For me, it’s about giving children freedom to learn for themselves, to make mistakes, to develop decision making skills, to grow self confidence and to assess risk. It’s not just about playing out without adult supervision. You can introduce free range parenting in lots of areas of life.
Introduce Free Range Parenting at Home
I try not to provide entertainment for my children all of the time. This is surprisingly challenging between scouting, swimming, sports, play dates, homework and family time. My aim is at least one afternoon a week with no screens and no planned activities. I also like a few days a week like that in the holidays. These periods of time usually start with the children complaining they are bored. My response is “That’s great, go find something to do”. Eventually they get the hint and find ways to keep themselves entertained. I usually struggle to drag them away from it at meal times.
I encourage them to play out in the garden whenever possible. We have decking in the back garden which gets very slippery if it’s wet. Luckily they are old enough to play in the front garden now. I trust them to follow the rules which include not leaving the garden and coming to get me if the ball goes in the road.
Free Range Parenting at the Park
My children aren’t quite ready to go to the park alone yet. Our nearest ones are only a 10 minute walk but involve crossing more roads than I’m comfortable with yet. That doesn’t mean they can’t have some free range time when they get to the park. My aim with these trips is usually to plant myself on a bench and leave them to it. I’m happy for them both to go out of sight if they stay together or for my oldest to go off on his own. Quite often he’ll find a football match to join while my youngest stays closer to me.
I’d like to leave them to work out the equipment for themselves too however my oldest lacks confidence with climbing so this isn’t a good time to introduce free range parenting. If he decides he wants to have a go at something tricky I tend to go over. More to act as cheerleader for him than a helicopter.
Free Range Out and About
We’ve recently started to send Boy Child on Errands. He’s been to the post box, to drop something at a friends, to fetch a ball that’s gone over the fence and we let him go for short walks with the phone to look for Pokemon. We also encourage them to do things if we are out and about. For example, Boy Child will go and buy a bottle of water if he’s thirsty. Even little things like taking some rubbish to a nearby bin can build confidence and independence in a younger child.
I’ve also started to leave them outside of places on there own now. Initially I made them wait inside the toilets when I went in a cubicle. Now I let them wait outside the toilets. Girl Child still prefers to wait inside the toilets if she is alone but is happy to wait outside with her brother. On the subject of toilets, Boy Child usually goes on his own (at 8, he’s not that welcome in the ladies anymore) but there are some places, for example pubs, where I prefer him to come with me.
Free Range Parenting at the Soft Play
If you’re anything like me, going into the play frame at a soft play is your worst nightmare. I’ve refused to go in since my youngest was about 4. I saw it as a great opportunity to introduce free range parenting. If I’m honest, they haven’t always been happy about it but it’s normal now and they can both play, independently or together, quite happily without me. They both know not to go into the areas for younger children and I still keep an eye on them to make sure they are playing nicely but generally they disappear off and only come back for food (admittedly, that’s roughly every ten minutes, but still!)
Free Range at School
It might not seem that free range parenting is particularly relevant to school life but there are a few ways it can impact. In infants, it starts with them going into class. With Boy Child, I left him further and further from his class each day. This was great for preparing him for Juniors where we leave them at the gate. I also think that it’s important for children to take responsibility for their belongings. They both carry their own bags and if they come home without their water bottle they go in the next day without it, that generally makes sure they find it. I’m hoping to give Boy Child more responsibly for his homework in future but at the moment he’s not ready for it.
I’ve got a way to go before my children could really be considered free range. This is partly their age, partly that there are still things they need to learn. I also think it’s best to build up gradually to make sure children are comfortable on their own. My goal is for life to be like this. For now I will continue to introduce free range parenting in to our day to day lives.