Boy Child is 8 now and we’ve decided it’s time to let him play outside unsupervised. Some of his friends are starting to play out, he really wanted to join them and often complained he was bored at home. I was certainly playing by his age and I’m keen for him to have some of the freedom that I enjoyed as a child. Playing out also fits with the Free Range Parenting Style we’re aiming for. While the right age to play out depends on the child, we felt that 8 was the right age for Boy Child to start playing out.
If you have younger children, you might also be interested in when you can let them play unsupervised inside or in the garden.
At What Age Can a Child Play Outside Unsupervised in the UK?
There isn’t a specific law about when children can play out unsupervised in Britain. It is left to parents to make the judgement and that judgement will vary from child to child. Some children are both sensible and confident from a young age where as others take longer to reach a point where they would be happy playing out alone and mature enough to handle the responsibility. The NSPCC has written a useful pamphlet on children being out alone.
When deciding if your child is old enough to play out unsupervised, it can be useful to try and think through possible scenarios and how your child would handle them. For example, what if they fell out with their friends. What if their ball rolled into the road. What if they fell and hurt themselves. What if a stranger tried to talk to them? What if everyone else went home? Before you give playing out the green light you can discuss these scenarios with your child and see if you are happy with their answers. You can’t prepare them for every eventuality but if they can deal sensibly with those things then it’s likely they can cope with the unexpected.
Different parents will also feel differently about risk. For us, now that he is 8, the value we place on independence out weighs the risks involved. We also feel it’s better to have these experiences while he is young enough to follow our rules rather than not experiencing freedom until he is a teenager.
Other factors that are likely to effect your decision are where you live, if your child has friends who play out and if they enjoy being outside, football crazy kids are usually really keen to play out so they can have a kick around with their friends.
Where we live
We live on a small estate which has lots of families on it. There are a few “greens” dotted about where children meet up to play outside unsupervised, one of which is quite near out house. The green is surrounded by houses and children from those, and surrounding houses, play out on the green. Until 5 years ago we lived on the edge of that green. While I love our house now, I almost wish we still lived there so that it would be easier for the children to play out. People who live right on the green let them play out from around 4 or 5 and just keep an eye on them from inside.
Houses on our estate are built on walkways. This means that lots of children can walk to the green without crossing a road. Unfortunately we aren’t in that position and have to cross a fairly busy road to get there. This has been the main stumbling block to playing out in the past. We’ve let him run errands for us before, like going to the post box, but we’ve always kept an eye out for him coming back so we can see him across the the road. On a couple of occasions I’ve let him take my mobile and he’s rung the house phone when he’s ready to cross back over.
Working out a plan for Playing Outside Unsupervised
Neither of these option really work for playing outside unsupervised though. I couldn’t keep an eye out for him all afternoon. I didn’t trust him not to lose my mobile if he put it down somewhere. We are lucky that my Mum lives a short, road free, walk from the green where he wanted to play so we made a plan that, I would see him across the road and then go and pick him up an hour later. If he wanted or needed to come home anytime before that, he would walk to his Gran’s and she would ring me.
We put in place various rules to make sure things ran smoothly. He is only allowed to play on the green. If his friends go elsewhere he needs to go to his Gran’s. He has one particular friend who lives on the green. We agreed that he could go in to her house if invited, but needed to ask her Mum to text me so that I knew where he was. There are lots of other general safety rules that are important, like not talking to strangers etc, but he’s already pretty well versed in those. I felt confident that he was ready to play outside unsupervised.
How it went
We were both pretty excited the first time he went out. His Dad tends to worry more than me but everything went smoothly. He played football with some boys, some are in his class, others are in different years at his school. One of the things I love about playing out is the chance to make different friends. I think as they get older, having different groups of friends offers some protection against the drama of teenage relationships. When I went to pick him up was happily running around, like an 8 year should be. It made me truly happy to see it.
He’s been playing out for a few weeks now and is still loving it. He’s been into his friends house once or twice and I always get a text letting me know he’s there. I do try to discourage him ending up there too often as I don’t want him to make a pain of himself. Mostly he plays football which, for him, is heaven.
With summer coming, I’m expecting to see playing outside unsupervised become a regular feature of our lives. I will need to trust him to cross the road at some point. There will be times he’ll want to play out when my Mum won’t be in. I’m debating getting him a cheap phone with no internet access but I’m not sure how practical that will be.
His little sister is a bit miffed that she can’t go out with him. If we lived on the green she would definitely be out there. As it’s further away, I don’t really feel she’s ready, at 6 and a half. In a lot of ways she’s more mature than him, but she’s also less confident. I worry that she would get upset and not know what to do. The difficulty will come when her best friend, who lives on the green, starts playing out. It will be hard for her to see her brother playing out with her friend when she isn’t allowed but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.
I’m also hoping that he’ll be doing the short walk to school by himself quite soon.
If you’d like to get your kid’s playing out but don’t live in a street where it would work, check out the Playing out website which helps communities to close streets in order to run safe playing out sessions.
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