"http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-transitional.dtd"> urbanMamas

Playing in the neighborhood, unsupervised?

As I type, the kids are outside, playing.  I am working on the kitchen counter, and I have no visual on the kids. But, I can hear them shooting and calling to each other.  So, even if I don't have a visual on them, I feel ok about them playing out front, where I can still hear them.

Then, one runs in and says, "Mama, can we ride our bikes around the block?"  I say, "OK, just stay on the sidewalk, watch for the [one] driveway, and always stay together.  Go once around and come check in."  With my older kids now approaching 10 and 7, I think they are more than old enough to start exploring on their own.  When I was their age, I'd be out playing in the neighborhood all afternoon with no check-ins with my parents.

At a friend's house earlier in the summer, our kids were invited by the other kid (age 10) to go two blocks to the neighborhood park.  His dad gave him a timer, set it for 15 minutes, and asked him to come back when the timer went off.  I thought that was a novel idea.  I just might use that trick.

Do you have older children, starting to experiment with walking to the neighbor's house a block away, going to the park with a friend or sibling, riding bikes around the block?  What sort of parameters do you lay out for them?  How old were the kids when you started to let them venture out on their own?


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

it's funny, we are new to portland (3 months) and i feel more comfortable letting our kids play in front of our house, on the sidewalk and 3-4 houses down on either side, than i ever thought i would... i think it totally depends on the neighborhood as well. we all look out for eachother's kids here, which i think is so important. my daughters are 7 and 5, so we do prefer that they check in every 15 minutes or so, and they are absolutely not allowed to cross the street... so far it's been great here, i wouldn't want to live in any other city! :)

If you haven' t seen this blog already, it is great, and addresses this exact issue:

It seems that our cautiousness tends to relate to our good or bad experiences... but I like to try my best to know my neighbors/hood and give the general world the benefit of the doubt, because that's the kind of world I want to live in. But since I won't buy my kids (11 & 9) cell phones yet, I'm looking into some good walkie talkies for their neighborhood ventures!

Very timely. My 7 year old's newest chore has been to walk the dog around the block in the morning. He first suggested it--he's always looking for new chores he doesn't mind doing so he can earn some money, plus he likes the independence. Sometimes my 5 year old joins him. This has been great, as it's a quick chore but an important one (better him than me walking the dog first thing!).

I let me 6 year old play out front without me being in eyesight and have just this summer let him ride his bike around the corner, but not all the way around the block. My 4 year old can be out there with him, but the 4 year old cannot be out there alone. I am always within earshot, and we live on a residential street.

Timely post: last night, sitting around with neighbors watching our 4-5 year olds play. A few houses down, kids playing/riding bikes & scooters around the block. The 2 year old was riding in the street (not on the sidewalk). The 4 year old was skateboarding down one neighbor's driveway, behind the family van, and across the street.
No adults in sight. No, they weren't supervising the 2 & 4 year old sufficiently.

My son is only 14 months old, but the very idea of him ever playing unsupervised makes me feel kind of panicky. Then I remember all the long summer days when my brother and I would play unsupervised on our street from sunrise to sunset with the neighborhood kids.

Love the suggestions of the timer and walkie talkies for when that time comes. I guess at some point you have to show your kids you trust them enough to spread their wings a little bit. Parenting is hard! :-)

We live in Vancouver. At age eight and a half we started letting our son walk to the park across the street (not a busy street at all) but he had to bring our cell phone and call and check in every 15min and we would call and check in as well. If he made all his check ins and answered all of ours he was usually allowed to stay out for 45 minutes total. He's 12 now and he regularly stays outside with his friends (in our culdesac, at the park or at a friends basketball hoop or skate ramp) from the time he finishes homework till dinner and then after dinner till bathtime. He and his friends have phones and we have all their numbers. They are good about checking in and watching out for one another. We have even let them ride their skateboards to Fred Meyer as a group to buy ice cream bars. As a side note, I know some mamas are hesitant to supply phones but my advice would be to look into the parent plans (we use tmoble) out there. Our son's phone doesn't work during school hours except when dialing my husband, my mother or myself. It has a limited number of discretionary minutes and is restricted after 9pm, he also has no ability to send or receive texts from anyone but me/hubby/grandma. We've told him that when he's able to pay the bill he can chose more options but for the time being the phone is for safety, not socializing.

I let my 3 year old wander outside in the front yard a few minutes ahead of me if we are heading out. He always does the same thing (head to the garden to pick whatever is fresh and ripe there), so I never worry. But I would never let him go outside to the front by himself for more than a minute or so.

Who knows what we will do when he gets older. I like the concept of free range kids. I don't want to live in fear, and I strongly believe in creating community by spending time out in your front yard, where you can talk to neighbors and people passing by.

Great topic. My 6 year old is itching for more freedom. I worry less about someone harming him and then about him wandering. He is impulsive with a strong will and, therefore, not always good about staying where he's supposed to. So far he can play in the front yard with the door open and me checking on him every few minutes.

I'm a huge supporter of free range kids. It's so strange to me that letting our children learn how to handle freedom and independence responsibly, and not living in media induced fear, needs a movement/title.

Love the timer idea! My 4 yr old asked me for the first time today if she could go outside and "play by the tree" by herself. I kind of surprised myself when I realized that I wasn't COMPLETELY opposed to the idea, although I told her no today because it was too hot to have the window open and I wanted to be able to see/hear her.
I grew up so far outside of any kind of city (on my grandparents' ranch) that I have no idea what its like to be a child in a city. We live in a residential neighborhood, but a busy one, right across the street from an elementary school. I have a feeling that if we lived in a quieter area, I'd be fine letting her go to the park by herself within a few years but this particular neighborhood has too much traffic, so I guess I'll never know how lenient I would have been. :-)
I have much more reservation about her safely crossing the street than I do about her obedience to staying inside agreed upon boundaries/rules once at the park itself. That one busy street is definitely going to keep her home for a few more years!

I have a 3.5 and 1.5 year old. When we get home my 3.5 YO often likes to "drive" the car, which is parked on the street in front of the house. She sits in the front seat and keeps herself amused for 15 to 20 minutes. I am rarely with her as I am inside getting dinner ready. I look out the window every couple of minutes to check on her.

I have ready here that parents would never let their kids play in the front yard unsupervised. I am wondering if parents here think what I am describing is allowing my child to play unsupervised and if so, is there an inherent danger I am missing in allowing her to play by herself?

Um, I hate to be the overprotective one, but Ted, that frankly sounds really dangerous. Once when I was a child, we were at my sister's horseback riding lesson and there was another family there with one child riding and the younger child was "playing" in the car. The emergency brake was on, parent had the keys and it seemed like a level parking spot. Well, turns out, one smart (and strong) 4 year old can put down the emergency brake and shift a car into neutral, which she did. Turns out the parking lot was not entirely flat and the car started rolling backwards faster and faster. The child had no seat belt on and the car was going too fast for people to stop it before it crashed through one horse corral and hit a wall at the far end of the stables some 200 feet away. Scary stuff. And she was only 4.

That said, I do allow my 3.5 year old to play in the fenced backyard unsupervised and occasionally in the front yard, which is well off the street when I have the window open for viewing and listening check-ins.

Wanted to clarify that I think the part that is unsafe is not the unsupervised play, but the fact that it is being done in a car alone. Frankly I think kids need unsupervised time, it just needs to be in a safe environment.

I think it's basically common sense and depends on the child. I remember playing outside with friends unsupervised at about 5 years old. I can't really picture myself letting my son play unsupervised younger than that in the front yard (backyard's a different story)...I also grew up in the 'burbs in a cul-de-sak and it's different when you live in an urban setting where cars wiz by.

I do like a lot of the free range kids ideas and think parents should act as guides and help give their kids tools for independence, but I'm also realistic and married to a cop so that makes us a little more paranoid ;)

And yeah my son is the type who would figure out the emergency brake and roll the car forward...

Ted - I had a similar experience "playing" in the car as a child. I somehow managed to shift the car into neutral and it was on a very steep incline. The car rolled down the driveway, across a street, then down, down, down to the bottom of a steep hill where it finally stopped in the grass. My mom was so thankful the car didn't roll over (and obviously I am too). She never let me play in the car after that, and I have a policy to never let my children play in the car unsupervised.

You can get small clip on GPS devices for kids. I think the loc8tor brand has a panic button on it so if the kids wants to be found it alerts you.

While I appreciate the heads up on the potential dangers of a kids playing in a car, I was more interested in the feedback on the dangers of unsupervised play. O

As for my child poaying in the car, my car is parked on our street and if the brake was off and the car was in neautral It would not move. If I gave it a good push, it might roll 1 or 2 feet .

Ted, I am a mandatory child abuse reporter. If I see any child in a car unsupervised I report them immediately.

10 and 7 seem reasonable ages to explore unsupervised, depending on their dispositions and understanding of safety, distance, and staying together. There's physical safety from accidents, and also of abuse. We have a group home on the periphery of our neighborhood and I believe there are sex offenders in it (I learned of it before I had kids). I'd check that kind of thing before letting mine go. Also there was a girl who disappeared in Florida, on her way home, after she separated from friends because she got in a fight with them. I wouldn't want that to be my child so I'd be very sure of my child's temperament before allowing that kind of thing.

My son is 7.5 and he and his friends (ranging in age from 7 to 10) play unsupervised outside in one or more of our five yards - three on one side of the street and two on the other - and has for about a year. Before this he could play out front with a friend in our yard and I'd keep and eye out from inside and he was almost always allowed to play in our fenced back yard unsupervised since we moved into our house when he was three. We live on a really quiet street, but still insist the kids look before crossing and they do. I feel really lucky to live on a street with lots of kids and that they have the chance to have unsupervised play the way I did when I was a kid.

I second the recommendation also for the Free Range Kids blog. It provides a rational counterpoint to all of the scare mongering that goes on in most media these days.

I let my older boys -- 8 and 5, now -- go around the block by themselves (and ours is a very big block). they can also go to the neighbor's house unsupervised after getting my permission, which is scarier than it sounds as we live on a busy street without parking strip or other traffic buffer and they have to go around a few fences on the sidewalk. thankfully, once they've gotten there, I can hear and see them from my kitchen window -- where I work when I'm writing, as well as when I'm just washing dishes etc. I only draw the line at dark, or dinner time, depending on the circumstance.

I've been giving my eight-year-old more and more responsibility, letting him ride his bike or skateboard to the park (about 7 blocks away) a few times, giving him a time to be back and letting him know he'd not get another similar chance if he was late. he came back at the *very* minute I specified the first time, huffing and puffing, and I relaxed.

this summer, I've relaxed further, letting him go to Starbucks or Walgreens (each a few blocks away, but with more traffic to contend with than the park) when he wants to spend his allowance there. giving him the responsibility seems to strengthen him somehow; I never have battles of wills or emotional outbursts on the days he's allowed lots of responsibility.

my five-year-old will get this responsibility a lot more gradually, as he has a distinct lack of social boundaries that's become more problematic as he's become more verbal. if I let him go to the park himself (or even with his big brother), he'd surely be begging to share the treats of whoever was picnicking there, and whatever else his little sweet brain dreamed up. I think it's all about knowing your own child's ability to assess risk; most kids are really a lot better than we expect (I heard a study about this recently); Truman, sadly, is not one of them.

We live on a busy inner-city street and there's no way I'm letting my kids play outside on their own. Even in the backyard I don't really let them out of sight for more than 2 minutes. I find I'd be letting them do that for my own convenience and benefit, and really what's so important that I can't watch my kids?
My husband grew up in a very safe, suburban area and had a peer vanish within a block of a number of people. She was never found. I"m sure I'm paranoid, but I think of that and think I'll just take the time and sit and watch my kids play. Plus, it's fun.

The comments to this entry are closed.