When I think about how times have changed, I get sad that my kids won’t experience many of the freedoms that I had growing up. My childhood was awesome, largely thanks to a neighbourhood bike gang. We had the best time – riding our bikes around the block and picnicking down at the canal; asking neighbours with seemingly suitable big trees if we could build a treehouse in their garden (they politely declined); selling bunches of daisies to polite neighbours (who had their own daisy bushes out front) so that we could buy a packet of chips from Sportsmans Warehouse to share. My favourite memory, though, was cycling down the street on Peace Day with Michael Jackson’s ‘Heal the World’ blasting from a battery operated tape player travelling in the front basket of one of our bikes and then ringing neighbour’s doorbells and playing them the chorus of the song over the intercom when they answered. Those were the days, but gone are those days. 

I’d love our kids to grow up with the same sense of freedom although it’s not quite as safe to set the kids free to roam the streets in 2018. Things have changed, but a child’s need for space and independent adventuring and exploring has not, so here’s how I’m trying to loosen the reigns a little for my six year old and two four year olds:

  1. We have a Kirstenbosch family card which means that we can take the kids to a large, safe beautiful garden with lots of lovely green grass. I usually try and plonk myself down near the top of a hill so that I can watch the kids run free below me but still see where they are. I am also consciously trying to let them out of my sight for short periods of time. Yes, it’s scary so you might want to do it with a friend, but it’s important. My kids are learning to run off and then run back to check in with me and are learning to follow instructions about boundaries and talking to strangers when I’m not around. It won’t always be perfect, but if you can find a ‘safe’ place to let your kids explore under your distant watchful eye then that’s a great start.
  2. We live in a townhouse complex and our garden isn’t very big but I’ve started letting the kids play outside while I’m working in my room. I used to run out every time I heard tears because I felt sorry for our neighbours but now I’m just letting these little sibling fights play out and the kids are learning how to problem solve and apologise to each other and play well together.
  3. Our kids have befriended a granny who lives at number two and it is very sweet watching them interact. I have started allowing them to unlock the door and walk across the courtyard to visit her on their own. They like to draw her cards and slip them under her door if she’s not home, but usually they are rewarded with a wine gum each when they knock on her door.
  4. Ryan doesn’t always play touch on Sundays, but when he does then I grab the kids and we go along too. It’s the perfect place for the kids to run wild – the field is fenced off so the worst that can happen is that they run onto the touch field and get in the way or a friendly dog may get a little too close for comfort.

I’m determined to continue gifting the kids with large chunks of free, unsupervised play – it’s good for them, but it’s also really good for me.

Do you have any other ideas that I could add to this list?

10 comments on “How Kids Can Still Run Free Like We Did In The ’90s”

  1. Jules I love this post so much. Unsupervised play is so difficult for me. I am always hovering, When I read that sentence: ” I am also consciously trying to let them out of my sight for short periods of time.” I literally got a mild panic stricken heart flutter. These are such great tips, and you’re so right, it is so important that they are allowed to live and experience this world in a safe way, but on their own terms. I am definitely going to try to give Sophie more freedom. Although I am quite proud to say that I have slowly started letting them in the backyard alone – it’s totally enclosed, tiny and there’s no where for them to go lol.

    • Oh Nikki, I missed this comment. Ja it’s not easy and often it means more mess when they kids are unsupervised but my sanity has been demanding some space!

  2. Love this! Both my girls are outdoorsy people. We live in a block of flats with a HUGE garden in the back. The kids are not allowed in the house after school until about 5. I need them outside with their friends, we are lucky that most units in our complex have kids of the same age and they all go to the same school. The kids play outside on most days. The all bike ride, skate board, roller blade etc. On the days where they indoors, my house is filled with 10 kids all up to something. We are fortunate enough to have this set up

    • Oh that’s amazing! I love community living like that, so so cool for your kids to grow up with neighbours as friends.

  3. So I don’t have children but hope to. But we camp a lot and I see an opportunity for that kind of freedom in campsites. Just a thought (and obviously depending on the size, river situation and guest list at said campsite)

    • We went camping recently and that’s a little scary as the kids can just run off, but it’s a good place to teach boundaries and luckily the Cape Town rivers are all dry at the moment…!

    • Your time will come, two is still little – my youngest is now 4 and he always has his big brother around.

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