'Free-range education' seems to imply an unstructured learning environment in which children can follow their interests and passions.
The idea of 'free-range kids' seems to be a counterpoint to the fear-based parenting that prevents modern children from many of the freedoms that children have enjoyed for centuries.
My ideal of 'free-range' for children is raising them in an environment of support that promotes safety skills, exploration, creative thinking, problem-solving, and trust.
Why? Why not just keep children 'safe' from all manner of strangers, dangers, germs, bumps, bruises, and non-organic produce? I think it does children a disservice to limit them in this way. How can we expect kids to learn to make measured choices, accept reasonable challenges, learn their natural boundaries, develop confidence and skills, ask for help, say no when a task is beyond their capability or comfort-level, or come up with unique solutions to difficult situations if they are not allowed to practice these skills while they have ample parental support. What about as they develop into teenagers and young adults? Will they feel trusted and respected enough to discuss iff-y situations with a parent or trust their own intuition enough to walk away from something that doesn't feel right, or will they dive into every 'freedom' that they find available?
Animal Jam on the computer and then free-range roamed the snowy woods.
Our free-range chickens have complete freedom to roam every day, but they also have a cozy coop to take shelter from wind and snow. They have nesting boxes, fresh water and food, and roosts to perch on. They get closed in at night to protect from predation.
Similarly, I allow my children quite a bit of freedom within the framework of safety and support. Yesterday, the older two set off on an expedition down the valley from our house. They packed a deck of cards, a cloth place mat to play on, a box of matches, a small pot, carrots, celery, apples, tangerines, date-sweetened cranberry-oat cookies, mini Milky Way candy bars, a pocket knife, and few other odds and ends. Our dog, Carly accompanied them.
Because of the acoustics in the valley, if I shouted loudly in a sing-song, "Answer if you hear me!" They would likely call back, "We hear you!"
hot cocoa in jar cozies
When I tried to hike up, I found out that the icy snow that the girls were walking on top of was thigh-deep on me. OK. Sylvia came down and retrieved the cocoa to bring up to her sister, while Ayla and I had ours further down the trail. Then, Sylvia accidentally spilled cocoa all over their 'cave' and their stuff.
Camille is rather sensitive to certain sensory experiences. Her most anxiety-causing sensitivity is getting her hands sticky if she can't immediately rinse them. So, her hands got sticky and she panicked and screamed and started rubbing them in the snow and then they were even more uncomfortable. I offered her my mittens, a cloth to rub them on, any help she could think of, but it was All Over. I told her she could run home and we would meet her back at the house. Meanwhile, Ayla is crying because she couldn't go up to the cave.
I tried to make the best of it and hiked back slowly with Sylvia and Ayla.
I am not into hands-off parenting, and I'm not into preventing children from exploring or overcoming challenges. Finding that balance is a constant process of re-evaluation. Each child is so different, each situation unique. Clearly, there are unsafe situations in which a parent wouldn't safely let children 'free-range', but is the world really as dangerous as many modern parents assume, or as sensationalist media would have us believe?
What do you think? Did you roam the woods, creeks, neighborhoods, or city blocks when you were young? Do your children do that now?
A few related links:
overprotective parenting on playgrounds
reassuring crime statistics
*I don't love the term 'helicopter parenting'. Some children naturally want more hand-holding and reassurance than others, and I fully believe in supporting each individual child where they are at.
*I found the points about the negative side of over-protectiveness very interesting (including: undermining children's confidence, instilling fear of failure, stunting growth and development, and inability to launch)