Letting them run wild


Rowan slams his hands on the sliding glass door that leads to the back yard, then turns to smile at me, all bare-toothed and amped. Both dogs are poised on either side of him, ready to join in the fun.

“Okay, bubs. I’m coming.”

I step past the stove and pantry on the cold stone floor and haul our heavy glass door open. My two and a half year-old blows past me in a blur of blonde hair and bare feet. The dogs bound up the hill.

He’s got at least four Matchbox cars on him, one in each hand and two in one of his pockets. I smile after him and lean on the door frame as he makes his way up the small concrete steps to the grass.

This is a regular event in our house – blowing open the back door to get the kid to play outside. No TV, no movies, no over-stimulating toys… just the boy and a couple of cars in the sunshine and dirt.

I can’t lie to you, sometimes, it’s a battle to peel him away from yet another screening of Wall-E in the living room. But, on other days, like today, he’s eager to get up and out.

I leave the door open and go back to the bread dough I left on the kitchen counter. I can see everything from where I stand, so I’m able to keep a watchful eye and ear on any shenanigans or cries for assistance. (Keep in mind that uninterrupted outside time for my child does not mean it’s unsupervised! Safety first and all.)

It has taken so much work for me to be hands-off with Rowan when he plays outside. I’ve wanted to monitor every move, plan every activity, and structure his time.

But what I’m learning more and more is that he needs his time to go be a little boy just as much as I need my time to be myself. And what better way to let my wild boy run free than with the wild air outside?

I watch him sit in the dirt and mulch and move his car along a tree trunk. This is something that all of our creative parenting ideas could never replicate – just basic, uninterrupted, imaginative time in the outdoors. Scrubby faces, dirt in between their toes and all.

As parents, I think we put undue pressure on ourselves to always be actively involved with our kids’ activities. We feel guilty if we’re not playing blocks with them on the floor in the living room. We feel guilty if our kids don’t do a craft activity every day. We feel guilty if our parenting styles look absolutely nothing like Pinterest tells us it should.

But the reality is, sometimes one of the best things we can do for our kids is to just let them go be kids. On their own. Without us hovering over them, orchestrating their every move.

It took a lot of work and bravery for me to admit it, and even more work to encourage it in my home.

The payoff is absolutely worth it. I have a highly independent and self-entertained little boy. He’s able to play outside for large chunks of time on his own, and I’m able to have a bit of quiet to myself… something that all moms can admit to needing every now and then. Not to mention, we both get a healthy dose of Vitamin D.

It’s a beautiful thing, just opening the door and letting your kid run wild.

What about you? Do your kids get uninterrupted outside time?


Nish Weiseth is a dreamer, schemer, believer, trouble-maker, rabble-rouser, and the founder of A Deeper Story, a community of misfit believers and storytellers. Nish and her husband, Erik, are outdoor enthusiasts living in the Rogue River valley of southern Oregon in the summers, and the mountains of Salt Lake City, Utah, in the winters. They have two children, Rowan and Scout.

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  1. There are days that I’m like “where are the kids?” and I find out they’re at the park or a neighbor’s house. It’s wonderful. Granted, mine are 13, 10 and 6, but they have more freedom than most kids these days. But not nearly as much as we had. And it’s thoughts like that that make me give them even more freedom…

    • Ha! I love that – “Where are the kids?” I feel like my mom always asked that question. 🙂

    • I love the times when my husband comes in and asks where the kids are. My mother is baffled by my willingness to let my oldest son (6 1/2 years old) play with only limited supervision, or *GASP* walk to church and back alone!!! We live about a block from the church on an untraveled road. Seriously.

      I have been making an intentional move toward loosening the reins on my son. He is a very responsible and self-aware child, and he has been thriving in the “new” world of responsibility. He usually ends up filthy, exhausted, and bubbling with stories to tell me about his adventures. Luckily, I have a washer, shower, bed, and open ear to take care of all of those side effects.

  2. Yes, yes and yes. Quite a bit of my parenting beliefs are starting to come from Through time, even the last 10-20 year, parents have begun to hover. Kids need to learn and experience!!

  3. There is nothing like the joy of watching kids play outside. Especially the boys seem to need to run, climb, and “explore”. I’m always amazed at the wonderful adventures they go on, all from the backyard.
    As far as alone time, I am a big believer in “quiet time” even for the big kids. We all need a little time where we can sit and just relax. I think it gives our minds a break.

  4. Love it! My kids are much older, but I still practice this principle. They have only 1 outside activity going at a time, and in summer besides the occasional VBS they have none. I love the summers to be pure play. I try to structure my home to allow for independent play and creativity. I might suggest a few activities if they are bored but once they get started with them I take my hands off the project and let them go at it.

  5. I grew up with 4 younger siblings and our parents, both working full-time, did not have time to structure our time. Basically, it was play time, chores time and homework time when we are at home. We were the ones who had to figure out how to spend our play time. I think it was more beneficial for us. It certainly taught us time management and discipline. Of course, I had wished that my mom were there for me more and I’m certainly gonna be there for my own kid. But I believe in giving children freedom to play on their ow and with their own games.

  6. I just wrote about that on our outdoors blog. Having lived in a big city for a month I think where you live plays a role in if you can do this easily.

    • It totally does. We actually live downtown in a major city, so it can be difficult. We’re lucky to have a little bit of a yard with a fence!

      • I was wondering what the outer limits of your yard looked like!!
        My poor children are forced to play outside with no direct supervision and/or guidance! ;P Pretty much every day, they go outside (I honestly only have to force them to go very rarely) while I clean house a little. We live in the city, but are blessed to have a fairly spacious back yard – and are overwhelmingly blessed to have a grandma living in a tent trailer back there for now!

  7. Not that easy living in a big city 🙁 Anyway, getting kids outside as much as possible is a good thing.

    • Adam, I totally understand the struggle of city life – I’m with you. We live right downtown in Salt Lake City, and prior to living in Utah, we lived in downtown Portland, Oregon. In Portland, it was a real challenge to do this not only because of the lack of space, but because of the rain. In Utah, we’re lucky to live on a larger city lot with a back yard, so we’re able to let him roam a bit outside. But we live on a busy city street, so the front of the house is off limits without us hovering! When I couldn’t just open the door and let him go, I tried to take him to the park and let him go wild there for an hour or two each day.

  8. Yes, my kids get a lot of uninterrupted time. At first it was difficult for me, because they would come in covered with dirt and mud, but then I realized that it was fun for them. Now, I kind of just let them go for it. They always seem happier when they have a lot of play time outside. I wish we had more space for them to play though, we live on a very small piece of property in town. I am dreaming of that picture above!

    • Yes, I wish we had more space, too! That picture is actually in a wilderness area not far from our house, but we have to travel by car to get there.

  9. My daughter is 18 months so I don’t exactly let her run free in the backyard. I do try to give her some breathing room to explore outdoors and indoors.

    My OB recently told me that it’s a good thing that my kids will only be two years apart (babe no. 2 due later this year). They can be each other’s playmate. I won’t have the pressure of being a constant playmate/cruise director/activity coordinator. Sounds good to me.

    • My girls are 2 years apart. They are 6 & 4. They play so well together and yes it did take the pressure off of me somewhat to constantly entertain them, but that didn’t happen until the baby was around 2. It’s fun to see them grow as sisters.

    • I’m due with my second one in December and I can’t wait until it’s old enough to play with his/her older sibling! That must be so nice!

  10. I need to do this more often. I agree that Pinterest/experts/etc. can at times make me feel like I’ve got it all wrong, because I’m not the structured mama and I don’t really have a “style.” But I remember what it felt like when I was seven, and I ran out the sliding glass door with the wind in my hair and the yard was my kingdom. Not much compares to that feeling, and nothing my mother could have done would have duplicated it. Great post.

    • I think not subscribing to a parenting style is actually beneficial. It lets us carve our own way with our individual kids! It provides so much freedom, huh?

  11. My kids are outside a lot during the day, riding bikes, playing with the neighbor kids or running in the sprinkler. They come inside to cool off and get snacks and drinks. Every night is bath night at our house in the summer; they are filthy by bed-time.

    • I hear you on bath night every night this time of year! I also have a separate catagory of clothes called “outdoor clothes”. It’s what the kids wear every day unless we are going somewhere. They even put the outdoor clothes on at night after baths instead of jammies, so they are ready to go first thing in the morning. I used to fuss over clothes, but the “outdoor clothes” are old t-shirts and shorts or pants, always washed in hot. My kids, ages 10, 7 and 7, know that if we’re going to run out to the store, they need to change into their “going out” clothes. Those are the clothes that are cute, without stains and holes. My life has gotten so much easier now that I don’t “care” what the kids look like at home. And to answer the question in the post, my kids get tons of outdoor, uninterrupted time outside. They have free range in our yard. We no longer have a TV, or do video games, and they always wake up with ideas of how they want to spend the day. My job has become much easier with these “older” kids.

    • Yes. Bath every night here, too. Whether is rinsing of layers of grime or chlorine, it’s a must-do in the summer!

  12. A little over a year ago, we moved to a house with a shaded, fenced-in backyard, and it’s been wonderful. I can’t supervise from my kitchen window (too short!), but I’ll let my 4 year old out by himself for a few minutes, and then his sister & I will join him . They have the best time digging around in the dirt or playing in the sprinkler.

  13. I don’t let her out in the backyard quite yet because there are some not-so-friendly dogs on the other side of the fence and my daughter is more than friendly. 🙂 But I do let her on the back porch by herself and she loves it.

  14. I love letting the kids play freely while I can just sit and read or watch them. We live in a town home with a courtyard with a park in the center of the U shaped houses and although it seemed great at first to move here it has become a real pain. Many of the kids here are mean and not children that I want my kids to hang around with but it’s hard to prevent it when the neighborhood playground IS your front yard.

  15. Jennifer says:

    I’m totally on board with giving our kiddo time to run free and explore in the backyard too—I’m also lucky to have windows/doors peaking out there so I can see everything. I believe in unstructured, non-hovering playtime and it has produced a very independent toddler who is able to entertain herself—I enjoy listening as she plays/imagines and talks while playing alone, not to mention it saves my sanity on many days!

  16. Oh yes! My children are about to head out themselves 🙂 So much discovery happens when they are allowed to simply explore!

    Kate 🙂

  17. I’ve been focusing on lots of outside time this summer! With our long, cold Michigan winters, I’m making sure we enjoy summer as much as possible.

    With that said, I have to be outside with my 3-year old. We don’t have an enclosed back yard, nor can I see the yard from inside. So it wouldn’t be safe or practical for me to just open the back door and let her play outside.

  18. Kara Nutt says:

    We live at the corner of 2 one block long streets in a small town in Central New York. While our back yard isn’t fenced in, it is large and there are very clear boundaries I have established for my now 5 year old.

    I started when he was 3 with a very limited area he was allowed to roam free in and I would be able to see him from my kitchen/family room windows. Failure to stay within bounds resulted in immediate loss of outside play for the day.

    That only happened once the summer he was 3 and once again when he was 4.

    We have slowly increased his boundaries and I look forward to the year (not this year) when I can allow him to go the 2 blocks down and around the corner to the school play ground by himself. I can see the play ground from my house, but the walk involves one block along main street and out of sight.

    I, too, enjoy Free Range Kids and I’m trying to raise one.

    If I instill nothing else in him, I hope to teach him to rightly asses a situation and it’s risks and make an intelligent choice.

    • I totally agree. And one of the best ways we can teach them to make those choices is by letting them go and allowing the choice to naturally occur! Such good wisdom here.

  19. Great post! I really believe kids need to learn to enjoy their own company, and develop creative ways to pass the time. Some of their best learning comes this way, and develops a life-long ability to make creative use of time.
    I am a high school teacher, and am always amazed at how some kids just don’t know what to do unless someone is guiding them. So many after-school activities are adult-led, and kids just don’t have to come with ideas. Who wants their kids to be so easily led? Which kids often succomb to peer pressure? Ones who don’t know what they like and rely on others to tell them.
    Let kids play!

    • I think that’s one of my biggest fears – that my kids won’t know how to use their time creatively, that they won’t be able to entertain themselves or use their imagination. It’s so lost on this next generation coming up… I’m fighting hard to go against it!

  20. Thanks so much!!!! I do have boys that sit and play in the dirt for hours outside each day. I had begun questioning my lack of involvement in these long stretches of time. I met with an older woman in my church a few weeks back to share my concerns. She encouraged me along these lines that it is okay to just let them be kids and that I don’t have to be planning something for their entire day. That same lady just forwarded me your article to encourage me! Thanks so much.

    • Oh I’m so glad that this was an encouragement to you! Yes, I absolutely think it’s okay to let your kids just play! If they want our attention or involvement, most children are smart enough to let us know (though my child does it through misbehaving!).

  21. I am trying very hard to loose the overprotective role I have been playing in my kids outdoor activities. I have a 9 and 5 yo. More and more I encourage my kids to go outside and play. I also have told my DD daughter to call her friends who live in the neighborhood to play. But my DH and I have also been encouraging each other to do more outdoor activities.

    It is not the same world I grew up in where my mom kicked us out of the house and told us to be back by dark. 🙂 I rode my bike to the pool every day which was several miles away.

    • Oh it’s certainly not the same, is it? I remember hitting the road on my bike and not coming home until just before dark! Every summer, my mom got me a new watch so I always knew what time it was and when I needed to be home. Ahh, the days before cell phones. 🙂

  22. I totally agree! Open the doors and let them outside. I’m seeing too much hovering over kids – I grew up when we were outside ALL day long!

    This is what I do with my kids:


  23. It’s definitely difficult as a parent to give kids freedom as they get older. I am constantly amazed by the creativity and ingenuity that they display when they are left to their own devices. Sure they can be messy and even a little naughty but allowing them the opportunities to figure things out on their own and develop self-confidence is a wonderful thing. I’m certainly guilty of being overprotective (my oldest has severe allergies so I know this plays into it) but i’m working on letting go a little.

    • I’ve been known to be a helicopter mom, too. Mostly around playgrounds and bigger kids! But yes – their creativity is always astounding when they’re left to their own devices!

  24. Sometime I have to just resist the urge to keep her CLEAN and let her have fun in the dirt!

  25. Great description of the absolute absorption you son experiences in his own made-up game. A key ingredient here that I had to get used to (and get my kids used to) is letting them be bored. Letting them have to come up with something to do. One of the worse deficits we’re facing as a culture is the inability to create or concoct. We’re so swamped by information and easy entertainment that we never learn how to entertain ourselves or think. period. My son loves to roam in our back woods looking for dragons with his home-made sword. Glad to read all these comments and know there are other creative souls brewing in the next generations.

    • Oh letting them be bored is so hard! Especially when they’re so young. But I completely agree with you – it’s almost a necessity!

  26. Thank you so much for this article. I wholeheartedly agree with children being allowed to play freely, both inside and outside of the home. It is something all of my children have always done, and I have never regretted it. Whether we lived in the city or the country, it is one of my guilty mother pleasures to quietly observe my children playing. So much creativity and adventure is inside each one of them. Yes! for dirty faces, scruffed up toes, and everything else free play brings. Thank you again for sharing.

  27. This blog comes at the perfect time for me. Just this morning I was wondering what had happened to my idea of a craft every morning (it lasted all of 3 days), and was feeling guilty that my son was playing alone (again) while I did laundry and cleaned the kitchen. Although I want some nice one on one time whenever baby #2 is sleeping, it is also lovely to see what he comes up with on his own. Today alone-time meant using a watering can as a trumpet, and building a dump truck with his lego. Thanks for this.

    • I’m glad it was an encouragement to you. If it’s any consolation to you, doing craft time in this house is the equivalent of pulling teeth… for both me and my child. 🙂

  28. It is in those unstructured moments that our children learn a little independence and creativity. (Sometimes I get MY unsupervised time outdoors and it is divine. )

  29. Elizabeth says:

    I had to chuckle a bit when I saw this post. Now that we have a fenced yard it is so much easier to let the kids run outside and play and with a 1/2 acre lot they have lots of room to play. I may have little kids (3.5, 22 months, and 3 months (okay the 3 month old doesn’t run and play!)) but my boys love to play outside. Actually trying to keep them inside is down right hard. I love that they play on their own and together. My oldest child has always been great at independent play and I see now how it helps his creative mind. With a new baby in the house it helps because I can’t always be right there with them. We may have lots of dirt coming in and out of our house but to me it means they are having fun!

    • Oh the fence makes all the difference, huh? It’s a must-have for us since we live in the city. Keeps my kid safe and keeps the dogs from barking at the cat next door!

  30. I grew up in an area where we could play outside all day while Mom stayed inside. I wish we could do this. We don’t live in an area where I can just let them run totally free or dig or climb trees. We get out as much as possible, though, but I don’t get time without them, and I can’t do chores while they work. Happy for you though. Great idea.

    • Yeah, I don’t really let my kiddo out of my line of sight, so if he’s outside and I’m inside, I’m relegated to the kitchen. It’s not really a time of productivity for me as it is a time for me to sit on the porch with a book while he plays!

  31. I’m a huge fan of individual play! Normally I’m near my little guy while he’s playing on his own. I love when he’s so focused and would really rather not have his mom hovering over him or suggesting things. Then of course when it looks like he wants more interaction, I stop what I’m doing to play with him and keep him company.

    His independence lets him really focus and learn to find fun in anything around him without needing an adult to make suggestions.

  32. Our girls are still pretty young so I don’t let them roam a ton. I do think that it is important to consider the impact on others when you do let your kids run free. For example, the other night at the park, I was playing with one of my daughters. Another girl who’s dad was playing baseball nearby came over to play with us. She was an energy sucker, who desperately wanted someone to pay attention to her. She wanted me to watch her and play her games. Clearly her “roaming free” wasn’t really roaming free – she was asking me to parent her. I think the same thing happens when you let your kids play at neighbors or outside. Someone is doing the parenting – it might be an older kid or another adult. I’m curious if other people have had to deal with other people letting their kids “roam free.” How do you respond? I was ready to go tell that dad to pay attention to his daughter before she was off making out with some boy trying to get her attention needs met. (I didn’t)

    • Do you have any suggestions about how to deal with an “energy sucker” child of your own, beyond dropping everything and paying attention to them all the time?

      My almost-4 daughter will go up to pretty much any adult (at the playground, at the library, visitors to our house/yard) and “ask [them] to parent” as you put it. I do watch her, but I have another younger child to keep an eye on too, and I trust her not to do anything dangerous. She’s just the “energy sucker” type – her favorite thing to say is probably “watch this!”

      Sometimes I just feel like I am repeatedly saying, “I’m sorry, honey, but I can’t watch you right now. I’m sure play food creation #542 is great, I need to keep your baby brother from jumping off the ladder, and when I’m done with that, somebody has to make dinner.”

      All that to say, I do try to consider how it affects other people, and I try to keep close tabs on my daughter and make sure she’s not bothering whatever adult she’s latched on to. It’s also why she’s heading to preschool in the fall. Hopefully it will both give her more practice at sharing/relating to other children (besides baby brother) AND fulfill some of her need to be constantly showing off.

      • Have you heard of Carol Tuttle’s book, The Child Whisperer? I’m obviously going off of very little information from your comment but it sounds like you might have a Type 1 child – tons of ideas, very imaginative, energetic, etc. I highly recommend her book as I think it really helps learn more about your child’s true nature and how best to parent them based on that information.

    • Oh, I wasn’t trying to make the argument that we should not parent our children! But rather, we should constantly stop trying to entertain them all the time.

      I completely agree with you on supervision. I think when we move out of the privacy of our own yards to a public space, particularly with other children, the dynamic makes a big shift. I’m a big believer in being hands-off with our kids and letting them figure things out (for the most part. not exclusively, obviously), but I do think, as parents, we need to supervise on at least a basic level. We never stop being parents! But we can definitely stop being cruise directors.

    • That’s a tough one and I’ve experienced it, too. This may sound awful but it kind of depends on how I feel. If I feel like I have the energy to give, I will engage a bit. Otherwise, I do the “mmmm….” and keep reading or doing whatever I’m doing. I always feel a bit sorry for the kids, though, as it is sad to see them want/need validation. 🙁 We did a swim class once and there was a little girl who so obviously wanted/needed her mom to validate her efforts and it was EXHAUSTING having her constantly want to be watched/praised/etc. I did it for awhile and finally I just couldn’t do it anymore.

  33. We have the tiniest little back yard, and last summer we had it fenced in. The neighbors joke about how we have ‘incarcerated the kids’. The problem is that we live on a very busy street where people tend to blow past the 35 mph sign while going 60. Our older boy (about to turn 5) is autistic and not always fully aware of his surroundings. The younger (just turned 2) is as heedless of danger as any kid can be. I feel terrible that we don’t have a big yard, or some reasonably safe woods for them to wander in. Maybe some day.
    In the meantime, they get plenty of time in our fenced patch, and it is a real joy to see how they love to explore the small things – dandelions, dirt, sand, the small garden, and BUGS. My 2 year old has developed a love of spiders that truly baffles others. I think it’s awesome.

    • When we moved into our current home, my oldest was 5, my son was 3 (and just diagnosed with autism) and the baby was 6 weeks. The very first thing I did was have a privacy fence put up around the entire yard. Aggressive dogs on one side and an alley in the back made me extremely nervous. And, like you stated, my autistic son is not fully aware of his boundaries or surroundings. Having my yard fenced was THE BEST thing I have done for my kids. Now, 7, 5, 2 and another coming along, my children are free to play outside in a safe environment all day long. And, my son LOVES the outdoors, so letting him be free to play without constant fear is such a blessing. My neighbors on the other side were not too pleased about our fence, at first. They have lived there nearly 30 years and didn’t see the need. But, since then they are very understanding. Providing a safe play environment for my kids (and especially my son) was more important than what my neighbors thought!

    • Yes! Long live the fence!!

  34. As the firstborn in my family, my mother was thrilled to have a little girl she could play with. She tells a story of a day when she decided I was a little brat, though. I was playing in my room with my dolls and shut the door. She came by, opened the door and asked if I wanted her to play with me. My response was “nope.” She was floored that her kid wanted to be alone, but then honored my wishes…and I think it was in that quick minute that she also fostered and appreciated my imagination and creativity!

    Not really the same…but sorta!

    • Oh, I’ll never forget the time I sat down next to Rowan and started playing blocks with him. He promptly took them out of my hands, put them all in the box, grabbed the box and moved to the other side of the room to play by himself.

      It was a hard mix of complete amusement and heartbreak!!

  35. To me this is just common sense. Why have we lost the ability to discern the obvious? Our parents had no trouble with it. My mother would send us outside and say “Be back before dark” as early as 5 years old.

    • Unfortunately, it’s not so obvious these days that kids need unstructured play time! There’s such growing pressure on parents to constantly entertain their children!

  36. Yes, some of MY fave memories of childhood are hours and hours spent running freely about the neighborhood with friends. Usually until after dark – playing games, chatting in the grass, running in and out of houses for snacks, etc… I definitely love when I catch the tots creatively playing, – inventing, pretending and planning out scenarios. It’s so good for them. (and moms love the breaks, as you said!)

  37. My kids have pretty much free range on our street. My son is 9 and has been crossing the street by himself since he was 2-1/2 or 3. He is very independent and this year we have allowed him to ride his bike by himself to the Little League Park which is about 3/4 of a mile from our house, he also goes for runs on his own. He is very independent and has always been that way. My daughters I keep a little bit closer eye on, they like to wander off so I am not as lenient, but they do love their “alone” time outside as much as I do!

  38. love the whole uninterrupted outside time… even more, i love that you call your son bubs. we called our son that when he was a toddler. sometimes the old nickname comes out, but it’s kind of morphed into bubba (which is amusing, since he’s the skinniest kid around).

  39. michelle waite says:

    We live in Oregon where sunny, rain free days are a gift. I expect my boys to spend such days outside playing. When I was a child we were only allowed in the house to go to the bathroom. We were expected to stay outside, stay out of trouble and use a swing set and our imaginations to stay busy. It worked well for me and it works well for my kids.

  40. We let our kids out to roam regularly. One daydreams in the grass. One digs and fights bad guys in the sandbox while I occasionally look out the window. Though don’t forget that this kind of idle (non-hovering) play can take place indoors as well. The more I leave my kids to their own devices the better – for them and for me! I try to give them at least 2 hour blocks of free, unstructured play time each day.

    • Yes, absolutely. Indoors as well! I’m a bit selfish and prefer to be outside, so I make sure he goes out every day. But on crappy weather days, we do the same thing inside!

  41. I really struggle with getting my little guy to play on his own. He’s still awfully little, only 21 months, but he so often wants me to direct his play. I really resist doing so every time because I want him to learn to play independently and make his own discoveries, but he’s just not quite there yet. I so hope that with consistent encouragement and Mommy’s-hands-off time, he’ll become more comfortable with independent play.

  42. Oh, I so wish I could post a pic I took this morning…
    Living in Oregon – and it being summer vacation – I told my kids to get outside on this sunny day. They grabbed all of the boxes they could find in the garage, set up a play house, and then sat down to “watch” their pretend tv in their pretend house that they built in the shade.
    Baby steps.

  43. It’s been a journey for me… when my girls were younger, I was right there with them. Admittedly I was frequently reading while they were playing, but still, always only a few yards away. They always seemed to want me right there- they’re big-time chatters and needed someone to at least pretend to be interested in their running commentary on the elf house they were making out of leaves and bark, or compliment them on their jumping skills or whatever. My son seemed to crave independence though. When he was little I’d sit on the front porch reading or sewing while he played in the sideyard- he was always in view, but he was really doing his own thing. About the age of 10yo he started shoveling the walks of everyone on our block, and then he got a couple of jobs shoveling for some of the stores on the main street of our town. He’d be up before dark and on his way and I admit I panicked a little more than once at “what could happen.” Rather than rein him in though, I got him his own cell phone (something I swore I would never do!) so I could keep track of him and make sure he’s safe. Now at the age of 13yo, he daily takes 10 mile bike rides by himself, he goes fishing and takes himself to church and back. Part of me worries when he’s out on his own and I don’t really feel at rest until he’s back within my sight (just being honest here!) but on the other hand, for this kid, I know that this kind of independence is crucial. And for what it’s worth he is highly confident and very competent, extremely diligent and mature… I don’t think he’d have those qualities to the extent that he does had I kept him home and “safe”;-)

  44. Shannon says:

    I enjoyed this post. Just about done reading “Bringing up bebe” about an American mother raising children in France and cultural differences in philosophy. Great read!

  45. This all so true! I worry about the next generation-they aren’t being taught to make it in the world on their own. We can’t watch over them forever!

  46. And I feel guilty if I haven’t taught her something new or helped her learn the alphabet. Crazy.
    I try to give my Elly independence but we don’t have a fence around our yard. I have caught her trying to walk to the school playground a block away. All I can think is that they’ll call me a bad mom and take her away.

    • I understand that tension, Marie. And it’s a good thing to teach our kids something new, and help them learn new things! I’m definitely not saying that we shouldn’t invest in time with our kids.

      And I understand that not everyone can just open the door and let their kid play outside… I think decisions need to be made based on the individual needs and circumstances of each family.

      With the content of the post, I simply wanted to push back on the idea that we need to structure all of our kids time with tasks and pre-planned activities. I just wanted to encourage parents to not feel that pressure… that letting our kids just play outside (as safety allows & with appropriate supervision) on their own is a good and healthy thing for both kid and parent.

  47. What a great reminder! I too struggle with guilt when I don’t live up to my own “agenda” of completing certain activities with my kids. I feel like I have to “make up” for the lack of space to run around and “be wild”, as much as I would LOVE to let my kids do that. The difficulty we have is that we live overseas in a large city in a large apartment complex with a only bit of space downstairs, which also isn’t safe enough without decent supervision. Having clean & safe outdoors to play in is sure a luxury! Where we live, the “outdoors” is usually contaminated with trash and toxins, not to mention cars that don’t really respect pedestrians. I would love to read/hear about ideas to help kids maintain creative physical activity when safety & reasonably clean outdoors are not readily available. Thanks for the post!

  48. Victoria says:

    I love this post. As a mother of three between six and two I believe in kids being raised on fresh air and learning to entertain themselves.

  49. Oh, it is really nice to see kids engage on other activities. For sure you are so glad to see that your kid really diverts his attention to another thing such as playing and running outside.

  50. I battle the guilt I feel, I’m sure from a shift in culture, that I *should* be playing with my kids all the time. I work all day and only have a few hours in the evening during the week, so I feel I should spend every minute with them. But that is unsustainable and ultimately not good for everyone. I can’t see the kids in the back yard from a window, but I try to let them play together and check on them every five minutes or so. My youngest is not quite three, so needs more supervision, but my older one we allow outside on his own (he’s almost 6). Or I will park in a chair at the corner of the yard and tell them Mommy is relaxing and they can play on their own. They get a little bit of independence and I can either read or watch what they do with that freedom!

  51. What a wonderful point you’ve made! There’s so much to be said for what looks like boredom. It’s often just a pause between finding activities. And, although parents seem to think their kids need a guided tour of the outdoors (“Look at the lizard!” “See how the trees have lost their blossoms and are making leaves now?”), the fact is that kids tune us out when we’re telling them about other things, so why do we expect being outdoors would make our constant chatter any more welcome? Let them observe on their own and what happens? They become observant children!

  52. One of my friends (mom of 5) says that boredom is an important part of her kids’ lives. She works hard to resist the urge to structure their days, so that they are forced into boredom that sparks creativity to find something to do. Amazing adventures can come from just letting kids be kids!

    When my first was 2, he required near constant interaction. Having his brother was a wonderful expansion of all our independence – the kids entertain each other (or fight like crazy!) and I can actually prepare a meal or clean house. The other day, I even READ A BOOK (well a few pages) outside while the kids ran around!

  53. This topic is near and dear to my heart. I wrote about my own free-range childhood here:

    If I can find a way for my own children to have even a portion of the free-range childhood that I did, I will be thrilled. It saddens me that today’s children have so few opportunities for true exploration.

  54. I love that picture! I recently just started letting my 5 year old go out in our enclosed backyard alone as well. I can see him from my kitchen window so I guess it’s not too bad. However, he is a very rambunctious and wild child so I really try to check on him like every 5 minutes, literally!

    One time, I actually went out there to find him in our tree with one of the branches lying on the ground (I still haven’t figured out how he managed to get that branch off!). Our backyard is pretty small so I guess it’s not much for him to do out there except play with our dog.

  55. Both dogs are poised on either side of him, ready to join in the fun.

  56. My boys spen countless hours in our backyard just playing and having fun. We do not have a tv for this very reason. I believe kids need to be kids and get exercise and use their imaginations and explore. We don’t live in the country, so they stay in our fenced yard, but they love being outside and are healthy and active and lean kids. I think a lot of our problems with add and obesity these days really have to do with the overall seditary lives we live compared with generations past. Kids are meant to have energy and work up a good appetite and use their minds in ways other than structured paper and pencil learning or watching media.

  57. This brought a smile to my face. I also have a two year old who LOVES to be outdoors, and up until 4 months ago, I let him run freely (supervised of course). Then 4 months ago he broke his femur in a freak accident in our backyard..two weeks before my C-section with our second son. Hardest time of our lives. We would have completely lost it if it were not for God holding us up.
    He is now running again and being such a boy, but I’m struggling with not following behind him making sure nothing bad happens. Every time I open our back door, I am filled with anxiety and pray that nothing happens. But each time, I’m getting better and watching him run around the yard imagining who knows what warms my heart. There are few things more precious than watching him play.

  58. Diverting the kids wants to other activities can be a great way for the m to enjoy and experience new things. In fact, I have 3 year old daughter who wants to escape from me and play outside. As a mother, I think experiencing new things can help well for the development of my daughter so I just let her playing outside together with other neighbor’s kids. Luckily, my loyal nanny is always there to guide and supervise my little angel.

  59. Thank you so much for sharing this. I grew up in the country as an only child so spent hours upon hours exploring with my little dog, taking walks, talking out loud, dreaming, writing. I loved it.

    I was older when I had kids and I find that I let them do a lot (though we live in a subdivision so not really exploring the woods!) but then I feel really guilty. I was thinking about why that is the other day and I realize it’s because most of my friends had children before me and I became a mother in this online age when everyone has such strong opinions about THE right way to parent. I feel guilty because I wonder if I should be spending more time with my kids rather than letting them spend time by themselves.

    But they seem happy and healthy and well adjusted so perhaps I need to trust myself a little more. 🙂

  60. I don’t know what makes us feel like we should spend every minute with our children doing some kind of structured play or learning activity (Pinterest? Attachment Parenting?), but that independent time is so important! We noticed our now 12mos old girl had an independent spirit from day 1 and has enjoyed playing independently from an early age, giving mama some much needed breaks. She’d much rather play in the dirt and in our garden than with toys, and we prefer that too! 🙂

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