Boy Playing by Dock

Children learn by exploring.

Walking to and from school in the 1950s and ‘60s yielded exercise, adventure, learning and fond memories.

Rich walked or bicycled about a mile to and from school down one road, along a woodsy path, across the Rockaway River, and around a wetland to school.  Along the way were frogs to catch, stones to toss in the river, and little melted snow streams to dam with rocks and watch the water flow. The trek to school may have been as educational as the classroom topics and lots more fun.

On her way to a friend’s house in Florida, Marion balanced along logs and stopped to talk with the friendly horse in a pasture. In New Hampshire she and friend, Pete Martell, opted for the hypotenuse route to school. They had just learned that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line! Instead of following the road through the village and down School Street, they crossed the Piscataquog River on a large pipe above the dam and jagged rocks connecting two factories.  Half way across the pipe, the consequences of a fall dawned on her.  This  one-time “adventure” became a lifelong lesson in thinking through actions.

At a recent conference Blue Zones Director of Innovation and Inspiration, Dan Burden, told us the odds of a child being abducted by strangers has been dropping for years and is lower today than in the 50’s. Ironically, modern parents fear abduction and drive their kids to school, robbing them of exercise, fun, and learning.

Cedar Rapids Community School administrator, Steve Graham, told us that most school districts built schools in residential neighborhoods so children could walk.  Nearby streets were never designed for the heavy traffic that now occurs each morning and afternoon when parents drop off or pick up kids, even when they live just a block or two away.

We were free range kids. Mom and Dad expected us to get to and from destinations and to exercise good judgment. We made mistakes, got skinned knees and mosquito bites, but we learned. In those delicious  walks after school and on weekend rambles we  invented games played in vacant lots with other kids, chased butterflies, stomped in the snow, climbed trees and experienced the world first hand.  We learned.

We’re thankful our parents raised us as free range kids. Mom and Dad set some limits, but we were free to explore our world.  We raised our two children the same way and were delighted when they returned from the woods tired and dirty but full of tales of their afternoon adventure shared around the dinner table.

We’re concerned that few of today’s kids have the freedom to explore that we had. Too many of today’s yards are boring, sprayed monocultures that don’t inspire kids to go outside and play.  Keep visiting our Winding Pathways Website and we’ll share tips on how to make your yard a magical place for kids…..and their parents…….to play.

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