Recently I read this article. It's well worth a read, even though it's pretty long. To sum up very quickly, and maybe not so well, it talks about a park in Europe. It's basically an overgrown, fenced in lot. It has adult supervision, but parents do not accompany their children to it. There kids can basically do anything they want. Whittling sticks, lighting fires in a fire pit, playing with old tires, and a lot of exploring. As I said, there is basic adult supervision, but that adult does not step in unless the child is doing something truly dangerous. Not "oh, you'll hurt yourself a bit" dangerous, but the "oh my goodness, you'll maim or kill yourself" dangerous. I am fascinated by this concept. It goes on to say that most children now are never more than an arms' length or two away from their parents. They rarely are allowed to explore outside on their own or are given the responsibility of taking care of themselves. Because of this the children are growing up without a concept of "Acceptable Risk." Growing up with out those valuable experiences they are not fully equipped to take acceptable risks as adults. Take that new job. Invest their money. Etc.
Looking back on my childhood a few things stand out in stark contrast to they way we are expected to raise our children now. My mother, in my memory, never played with me. At least not much. I was expected to amuse myself everyday. If I couldn't think of something to do, my mother would give me something to do. And I did NOT want the activity she would assign. I was also allowed, before I was in first or second grade, to go play at the park next door to my house by myself. As long as I was where I said I'd be and came when I was called, I was allowed to go. When we went camping I was allowed to explore on my own. Again, as long as I came when I was called and used good judgement, I could wander to my heart's content. I was even allowed to go play in the sand by the river. And I knew from a VERY young age not to do the things that would get me badly hurt or worse. I took risks and many of them paid off. (Minus the decision to walk barefoot across an old wooden bridge.) These were happy memories and I think it made me a much better adult.
Now, after reading this article I've decided that I want a little of this for my daughter. Not to say I'm going to bundle her up and send her off to the neighborhood park tomorrow, but I want her to have some freedom to explore and learn her limits for herself. This year it'll just be in our own backyard. I'll be out there with her, but either in a chair, gardening, or in our screen porch. And of course our 120lb dog will be with her, too. We'll be there, but letting her do her own thing.
This decision has had an impact on how we are getting our yard ready for the summer. Today we spent almost the whole afternoon outside raking out the garden and cleaning up old brush and cutting down bushes and saplings we don't want. All the while looking for places that could be dangerous for a wandering three-year-old. We've identified a couple places that'll need garden fencing, but for the most part it's good to go. And the whole time we did this? The three-year-old was playing happily on her own. With minimal supervision. As long as I could hear/see her I didn't bother her. And she was the happiest little kid in the world. A minor fall will most likely result in a black-eye. (She tripped while carrying her watering can.) Her knuckles are skinned pretty bad, but she hasn't even complained about those. But it is all worth it when she calls out to me, "Mommy this is my favorite tree. I love it. When I'm here I can just be me."
I think it's going to be a good summer.