What Does the Free Range Parenting Movement Have to do with the Tiny House Movement?

Hanging on the wall directly across from my desk in the Belle Writer’s Studio is a framed copy of my first published article.

The essay, which was published in my hometown paper, The Kansas City Star, is about my childhood and what a great place my neighborhood was for growing up.

In my childhood, the kids on my block rode bicycles, played spy games in the alley, played unorganized sports such as Red Rover, Hide-n-Seek and baseball games in which we were in control of enforcing the rules.

The only two admonishments from my mother was 1). Do not leave our block without asking. 2). Either listen for her to step out onto the porch and call me home for dinner, or come back to the yard by the time the street light came on.

We were allowed to walk up to the store – an early century brick building that was once the township’s general store – for penny candy and a .25 cent (glass) bottle of pop. We jumped in mud puddles in the rain and had unsupervised snowball fights in the snow.

It was a time when kids were allowed to be kids, we were given more responsibility if we learned to follow the rules, which taught us about independence. We learned to use our imagination and develop social skills with our friends. We solved problems amongst ourselves.

It’s those memories that make me so sad every time I read a story such as the one about the parents in suburban D.C. who are being put under the microscope for allowing their two children, ages 6 & 10 to (GASP!) walk to a park by themselves and play.

Twice, these parents have been put under investigation by Child Protective Services. At least once, the children were held for hours before their parents were even notified. The children sat alone in a police station without even being offered anything to eat at dinner time.

BUT, you say, children are at risk, anything could happen to them out there, right?

Actually, according to statistics on crime and childhood accidents, there has never been a safer time to be a child. Risks exists, just as they do throughout life.

But consider this: There is only a 1 in 1.5 million chance of your child being abducted. That is less than the risk of being stuck by lightning, which is about 1 in 500,000!

Apparently, just as it has with the risk of a pit bull bite, the media has created a mass hysteria that there is a boogey man behind every streetlight.

What does this have to do with tiny/small house living?

Apparently, like the Tiny and Small House Movement, which was just called “living within your means” by our parents and grandparents, allowing your children to actually have a childhood without being scrutinized under the surveillance of their parent’s eyes 24/7 is a movement as well.

It is now called Free Range Parenting. The website describes the movement as “How to raise safe, self-reliant children without going nuts with worry.”

I don’t think it’s any secret that oftentimes, the reason we were outside playing was that our parents needed a little break when we became too restless in the house.

I recently interviewed Hari Berzins, one of the bloggers at Tiny House Family about her kids’ childhoods in their tiny home that is parked on their three acres.

She told me that up to now, having two children in a tiny home hasn’t been an issue, because when her kids become a bit too rowdy inside, she sends them outdoors to play. “They play with sticks and rocks and build forts in the woods,” she said.

How refreshing it was to hear of children who could tell you if it was a hard winter or not by how hard the creek froze and who could identify different plants and flowers in the spring.

She said she sends the kids out to play, even in the winter, when the tiny house is feeling a little too cozy with four people.

I’ve written before about the benefits of living in a tiny/small home with a family. When inside, the family has no choice but to be closer because they are within close physical proximity of one another.

Apparently, another benefit is that today’s tiny/small house parents like to send their kids out to engage in actual play, just like our parents did.

Perhaps if children weren’t so caught up playing video games in another wing of their parent’s McMansions, they might actually be sent out to play by their parents, too.

What do you think?

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3 Responses

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  2. Mary says:

    Agree, agree. We lived in the country and as kids (after chores were done) had somewhat free range of the neighborhood. Either on bicycles or horseback we did lots of exploring. We even camped out in yards or pastures and had small campfires to roast hotdogs. Sure we had a few scraped knees and such but no real injuries. I am pretty sure our parents weren’t worried about us but were happy to have us out from under foot.

  3. Kathleen Winn says:

    We were fortunate to have raised our kids in a safe suburban neighborhood, where they were free to ride their bikes to local shops, explore the creek at the end of our street, and go to the park to play as long as they were with friends and kept me advised of their whereabouts. And of course, our trusty Labrador mix usually accompanied them on their adventures through the neighborhood, and he was a big, black intimidating dog that would never have let a stranger put a hand on them.

    I feel sad that so many kids do not have that freedom and ability to explore the natural world. We also did a lot of camping and canoeing when they were growing up, so they spent hours building stick forts, learning to skip rocks and basically considered the outdoors to be one big giant playground.

    I do understand the fears and concern of some parents, and I believe in common sense rules and restrictions on the activity of kids. But- I wonder sometimes if over-protective parents consider that the computer that sits right in their own home, can present even greater danger from strangers, than the local park or playground. I worry not only about the experiences and fun that over-protected kids are denied, but also wonder how important environmental issues and protection of our beautiful natural areas will be, to a generation that never learned appreciation for the wonders and thrills of the natural world.