There was a segment on Good Morning America today, 9/12/12, about a new parenting concept called “Free Range Parenting.” It sparked my curiosity. Apparently a New York mom, Lenore Skenazy, grew concerned about the lack of unstructured playtime for children and has launched an after school program for kids to gather unsupervised for play in Central Park. So far she has no takers, but when she does she plans to be nearby at a coffee shop should help be needed.
As a mom of two young sons I see pros and cons to this parenting concept. In terms of the cons, I don’t feel safe leaving my children unsupervised anywhere, given worries about someone trying to harm them. I talk to them about stranger danger, but they still like to hug everyone they encounter. In regard to the pros, I am a firm believer in the power of unstructured play to allow for a child’s imagination and creativity to be expressed. Play is an essential part of a child’s daily life. While play dates and structured activities serve a purpose, I think we need to remember as parents that unstructured play does as well, hence Skenazy’s point.
I was personally moved when I read “The Gift of an Ordinary Day” by Katrina Kenison, as she wrote about learning the importance of staying home and just allowing time to be in the moment, to play, rest, and enjoy life more. She found this was very healthy for her family. I have since found myself looking for ways to slow down our pace as a family and to allow my boys time for unstructured play. Although we did a lot of activities outside our home this summer, we did have some great days at home. We camped out in the backyard, they played Lego’s, ran through the sprinkler and caught fireflies, and ate popsicles in our tree. Over time I began to see them playing more and more with each other, and looking less for mommy to entertain them. I am hopeful we can continue this. In fact this fall we have purposefully not signed up for any of our usual soccer teams or music lessons, so our oldest son can adjust to being in kindergarten and come home to play. I have felt a little pull to do otherwise, but we have stayed true to this choice and as a result we are all adapting to the pace and the creative energies are flowing.
So, where do you stand? Are you a “free ranger?”