Tag Archives: Free Range Kids

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Children Opt for the Box Over the Toy

First came word from Lenore Skenazy, the wonderful keeper-of-the-calm-flame over at Free Range Kids, that the era of the passive toy was over. It seems she had done a sweep of the recent Toy Fair, where next Christmas’ gewgaws were revealed to the trade, and found, to her delight, that largely gone were loud, electronic, performing toys like Tickle Me Elmo, and in their place were toys that called on children’s imaginations to build with them and do things with them. Imagine that!

Then I ran across this story that should be required reading for anyone who is in any way feeling inferior or stressed out because their children do not have the latest wonderful toy that will help them get into a good college, or at least goose their fine-motor development:

When the Children’s Discovery Museum in San Jose, CA, found itself with empty exhibit space between shows, clever exhibit designer Ronnie Bogle tossed a few giant boxes, which had contained the museum’s new recycling bins, into the area. Almost immediately, children were crawling in and around them, drawing on them, role-playing in them, and creating skyscrapers, houses and forts. New boxes were added and the exhibit was christened Box City. It became one of the most popular exhibits in the museum.

You can read the complete story of Box City here.

Said Ronnie Bogle, “One of my fondest childhood memories is when we got a new refrigerator and my dad gave me the box. For two weeks that thing went from being a house to a rocket ship to a train to a car.”

This is another nice reminiscence about playing with refrigerator boxes, from the GagaSisterhood site, which is geared to grandparents.

Children’s Museum marketing manager Autumn Gutierrez echoed the idea that children can have fun without fancy toys.

“The kids really love our high-tech exhibits,” she said. “But then the window washer comes along, and they are just as excited by that.”

Worth remembering!

Photo: Melissa Gutierrez

Related posts:

Gopnick: Babies Learn by Playing
Time Magazine: Can These Parents be Saved?
Children Opt for the Box Over the Toy
Movement to Restore Free Play Gains Momentum

Inspired by Grass Stain Guru: The Joys of Being a Free Range Kid

One of my favorite bloggers, Bethe Almeras, the Grass Stain Guru, has a consistent and wonderful gift for capturing the joys of childhood and the outdoors. She has posted often about simple pleasures, outdoor creatures, and all kinds of activities and play.

Recently she posted a short reminiscence called Free Range Guru about her childhood in which she enjoyed the freedom to wander, explore and play in nature. She also regularly accessed her imagination — so much so that she actually talked to sticks. It’s a lovely post and it sparked the memories of readers, including me.

What it brought up for me was this:

“I also talked to sticks! And ants and bees and rocks and marguerite daisies and tiny flowers that grew on bushes in Southern CA that had a distinctly wonderful smell. I lived in an apartment until age 9 and, while I loved moving into a house with a big backyard and a perfect climbing tree, the apartment neighborhood also offered wonderful opportunities for exploration.

I lived in walking distance of two lovely parks and my walking mom took advantage of them. But I also found plenty to observe in the (sometimes green) spaces between and around buildings, and at 6 or 7 I would announce that I was taking an adventure walk and would do just that. People of all generations (well, mostly seniors and kids) seemed to be around and, except for crossing streets, which I was allowed to do one by one, it was not particularly exceptional to do this.

I also had media and school and activities, but there did seem to be a space for exploration and imagination that many kids don’t have today. I know I have a certain sense of the natural world, of neighborhood and community, as well as a delight in being by myself, as a result of these childhood experiences.”

Does this sound like a child you might know today? Perhaps, but more likely not. They don’t often find the same stretches of time available for play, the same parental spirit that lets a child  — in age-appropriate fashion — wander a bit. As a result, children miss out on opportunities for play, as well as development, friendships, and the ability to order and navigate their surroundings. As witnessed by Bethe, me, and so many others (including Lenore Skenazy, who writes the Free Range Kids blog), these skills and experiences can color our whole lives.

I also use my own experience to note that one needn’t grow up in a rural area to experience nearby nature. Nature and its value can be found in a park, or any wild or green space, even a small one and even one between apartment buildings.

I’m very excited about the work the Children and Nature Network is doing to inspire and educate people about ways to connect children to nature. So much so that I host their discussion forum. You might want to come along!

Following is a sample of the nearby nature where I grew up. As a kid, even the smallest (the better for secrets?), local, and not always particularly special looking, spaces fed imagination and play.

Photos: Susan Sachs Lipman

Time Magazine Cover Story: Can These Parents be Saved?

Just out today, it’s already making the rounds as Time magazine’s most e-mailed story, its new cover piece: Can These Parents be Saved?

” … We just wanted what was best for our kids”, Nancy Gibbs’ piece begins, before detailing the ways in which extreme, fear-based safety practices, and efficiency models best left at the corporation door began infecting childhood. She writes:

We were so obsessed with our kids’ success that parenting turned into a form of product development.

The backlash against overparenting has come, she says, in part driven by changes in the economy:

…  a third of parents have cut their kids’ extracurricular activities. They downsized, downshifted and simplified because they had to — and often found, much to their surprise, that they liked it.

The article is a fascinating snapshot of the conundrums many parents face. We want to protect our children and give them opportunities, yet for some this has come with the dawning realization that many children are overcoddled, over-directed, and robbed of down time, free play, exploration, and the confidence and mastery that can come with making ones own discoveries and mistakes. In short, it’s the realization that, for all the attention, we are not doing our kids any favors.

Gibbs quotes Slow Movement pioneers Carl Honore and the Slow Family Living workshop folks, whom I have blogged about at length, as well as Lenore Skenazy, whose book, Free-Range Kids, is a tome of common-sense parenting in an often hysterical age.

Last weekend, I attended a lecture by Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg, author of A Parent’s Guide to Building Resilience in Children and Teens, which I highly recommend, as it walks parents through the set of tools children need to grow and prosper. Ginsburg cautioned against the perfectionistic streak in many parents who unwittingly add stress to their children’s lives by trying to professionalize their activities, and by being involved in harmful, rather than fruitful, guiding ways — including attempting to eliminate stress, rather than teach children ways to cope with inevitable stress.

I was struck, too, when Ginsburg said that creativity was a component many young adults now lacked. This was exhibiting itself in an inflexibility in the workplace and in relationships, no matter the field. How to foster creativity in the young? Play with them, encourage them to play on their own or direct the play (if you’re involved). In short, have fun and get out of the way.

For more Slow Family Online pieces about children, slow (joyful) parenting and play, see:

Gopnick: Babies Learn by Playing

Why Can’t She Walk to School?

An End to Overparenting?

Huffington Post Book Club Pick: In Praise of Slowness

About Slow Family Online

Photos: Miika Silfverberg, Susan Sachs Lipman

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