Monday, 31 May 2010

Free Range?

When we were kids, in the far-distant past, we lived out in the fens of Lincolnshire. Our village was small and everybody knew everybody. When we were not in school we were out and about.
We used to build dens in the hedge and cadge bits of 'furniture' like old orange boxes to make our dens habitable. We used to climb trees - there was one
particular tree which had a flat top and we would sit up there surveying the scene for hours. At a certain time of the year we would go to the old railway embankment and pick violets - hundreds of them - tie them with thread and take them to various old ladies in the village. We would go down to the river (although we could not necessarily swim) at the time of year when little frogs were everywhere - or we would collect them as tadpoles and take them back to their stamping ground when they developed into frogs.
We would pick bluebells by the thousand and carry them home on our bike carriers, put them in jars where they would droop about for a day or two.
Once I read in a book that cowslip 'juice' (got by boiling the cowslips) was good for eliminating freckles (the bane of my life) so I picked loads of cowslips and tried it (it didn't work).
We knew what time dinner was and we would be there - all that activity made us hungry. If we weren't there dinner would go ahead without us and we would go hungry until tea time. Oh goodness me, those were the days - although maybe they are more exciting in the telling than they were in fact - although I doubt it.
Recently I saw where a group of mums in the U S had got together to form a society urging parents to let children go to the park on their own rather than accompanied - and to let them roam a bit - and to let them walk to school alone. Why have things changed so much in our society that this is necessary?
Sir David Attenborough argued last week that the law stopping people picking up fossils or even common wild flowers was wrong. He argued that it would breed a nation of adults not interested in natural history.
The farmer, who has lived in this house for the whole of his life, had a free-range childhood but of course it was on his own land. I am not sure what other land-owners would have thought if he had gone damming up their streams and climbing their trees, but I suspect they would have tolerated it and said 'boys will be boys' which seemed to be a popular saying when I was young.
Today in The Times Libby Purves speaks up for the generation of children who sit at home playing video games, who have their whole playing time arranged for them, who are ferried everywhere and who rarely go out alone or with their friends.
So, readers, where do you stand on this? Has our society and our way of life changed so much that we cannot/dare not let our children out of our sight? Purves says that we are in danger of losing the powers of creative thinking in our children if we don't allow them that freedom. An example she quotes is of making your own bow and arrow from a piece of wood - doing that she says teaches you about the 'qualities of flexibility, straightness, texture and weight.
I would like to think that if I were a young mum today I would allow my child freedom to roam - but then I remember that when we moved in the city when our child was five, we kept a much tighter rein on where he went. And then I wonder if the village children here where I now live rambled freely across our fields and dammed up our beck and climbed our trees - would the farmer tolerate that - and what about the dangers of the cattle in the fields?
What has changed? Why are things so different? I would like to hear your views on it.

On a fun note, and speaking of 'free range' - at breakfast this morning the farmer and I were talking about our favourite foods and what we would choose if we had to limit our choices of food to only three items. I chose free range eggs (hard boiled); bananas and cheese. I hardly dare to tell you what the farmer chose - Yorkshire pudding, bread and jam and cake!!! Need I say more?


Elisabeth said...

It's sad and true, we here in Australia, at least in the cities tend to cosset our children more than my parents did when I was a child, but then maybe things were too lax when I was young, at least in my family.

As for the food we'd choose if it were the last available, I'm right there with you. I'd go for hard boiled eggs, cheese and bananas, along with a good drop of wine.

LA said...

You brought back lots of great memories for me this morning! My siblings and I spent long summer days playing by and in the creek near our home. I especially remember bringing home salamanders and crayfish...only to have our Mom make us take them back! We would be out in the fields until we heard her high pitched whistle, which was the signal to come home. When my kids were growing up, they bicycled all over our neighborhood with the understanding to stay off the main road, which was heavily traveled. I only remember hearing about one child that went missing...and that was in the Great Smoky Mountains. Sadly he was never found.

Bonnie, Original Art Studio said...

Oh Pat - what beautiful insights you offer here. Most of my favourite moments of discovery and growth as a child were when I was off exploring on my own - riding my bike, climbing trees, skating down a bumpy creek. It is scary to think that children today do not have as much of this.

Winnicott, the great child psychiatrist says a good parent will not abandon and not interfere. So much 'interference' in the inner lives of our children takes place based on our need to introduce them to opportunities we make and/or to keep them safe.

As you suggest, we would all do well to think closely about how much our lifestyle 'interferes' with a child's normal, inner, private exploration and development.

thousandflower said...

I grew up wandering in the woods and so did my children here on the island. My granddaughters are all being raised in cities but their parents bring them to the island regularly to get a chance to wander the woods a bit.

thousandflower said...

Oh, I forgot to list the food. Let's see potatoes, chocolate, cheese.

Crafty Green Poet said...

I grew up with parents who kept me on a very tight rein, a friend of mine has commented that we had 'progressive parents' ie ones who reflected the way of bringing up children that has become prevalent. I think its shocking how much todays children are wrapped up in cotton wool, but as my own upbringing demonstrates its possible to be overprotective yet to also rear children with a genuine interest in the natural world. (I was taken on lots of days trips to the woods etc and encouraged to explore nature in the garden, under close supervision of course!)

Dave King said...

By today's standards I, too, had a free range childhood. Although it was in the London suburbs there were parks and commons and - yes - streams to be damned. We had bikes and we built a dirt track. There was also the Vicarage and apples to be scrumped. I do think today's kids miss out.

Mac n' Janet said...

There are no more free range children here, school is out but you would never know it. The children are all inside playing on their computers and video games. We have a lagoon out back that is just crying out for children to boat down it and fish it and play pirates in it, but in the 7 years we've lived here we've only seen children on it a couple of times. It's so sad.

Heather said...

I think that consumer goods and technology came in, and common sense went out, at about the same time. So it was no longer considered fun to climb trees and make dens, etc. My childhood was very similar to yours and inspite of it being during the war years, it was very happy. I don't think today's children could make their own amusement as we did, and I feel that they are missing a lot of fun. Free range eggs - soft boiled with soldiers for me please. Home made bread and home made raspberry jam - luxury. (Not all at the same time!)

Kristi in the Western Reserve said...

I am old enough to remember that wonderful childhood when my friends and I only had to be at home for meals and when it got dark! My children still had some freedom, though less. They were growing up just as the "stranger danger" ideas hit the streets. But they were just before the era of so much of computers and video games keeping the kids at home. I agree that kids need freedom on their own. They learn so much they cannot learn any other way. I think there is a bit of a return to these ideas underway, and I hope it continues!

Robin Mac said...

Oh, the memories your post has brought back. I grew up in a small country town and we used to get on our bikes in the summer with a couple of sausages, some bread and a potato and (horror, horror) a box of matches tnen ride 5 miles out of town to a sandy bank on the river where we would build a fire and cook our food. We had to be home by dark. Imagine six to eight year olds being told that today!!! Workplace, health and safety is breeding a very fearful society here it seems to me. Not sure about the foods, will have to think more about that one. Cheers, Robin

Titus said...

Two boys, 7 tomorrow, fields behind us, den by the river (over the hill and out of my sight), inveterate tree and wall climbers and bow makers. In fact, everything makers. I blame Grandpa and his 35 foot high treehouse.
Part of me wonders if it's smaller families - no big ones to watch the smaller ones.
As to the city/village difference -I grew up in the heart of Romford, walked the dogs round the "block" at six years old, spent all day after school (which I walked to on my own) in the health and safety nightmare of the slaughterhouse and the rendering plant. My Mum was busy!
This is a big part of it for me - in those days, parents were people first, and had lives, and as children we fitted around them. Today, an awful lot of parent's lives (especially in the hallowed middle-classes where I sit) is fitted around the children.
But if I was living in the middle of a London estate where street gangs fight and stab and sadly kill each other every month - well, then I'd have to think again.
So all in all, not an easy question to answer and a lot to do with socio-economics, I think.

And we read the same paper...

dinesh chandra said...

good post

dinesh chandra

Rachel Fox said...

I think it's dangerous to generalise too much about past/present, this family vs that family.

I had a very free, wandering about the place on my own childhood but our daughter just doesn't want to do that! I've nudged her to walk home from school alone (it's pretty close) but she's a Mummy's girl and wants me to collect her so we can talk about her day and what-not before we get home. She is very unlike me! True she's an only child and I was not but it isn't just about that. She's just very careful and I've always been quite careless...

I see some kids in the village here out exploring on their own and some ferried everywhere, almost living in the takes all sorts...

Plus I think cars/busy roads have changed our world more than (or at least as much as) TV/video games. It's because of the danger of the roads (as much as any stranger danger) that people are more cautious with their children now quite often. Huge trucks go through our village all the time....and sometimes at crazy speeds.


Derrick said...

Hello Weaver,

I enjoyed reading this. I think the simplicity of life had a lot to do with why our childhoods were different. When toys only come at birthdays and christmas (and sparingly at that) it seems natural to make one's own entertainment. And because cars were a luxury we walked and travelled by bus most of the time and everyone else did the same. We lived in closer communities; friends lived within a few streets of one another, weren't ferried across town to school. And, because they knew you, grownups would likely give you a clip round the ear for misbehaving! It wasn't idyllic but it was life as we lived it.

Cloudia said...

so glad i ran thu the fields & woods!

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

I think I would love to eat at your house!

Golden West said...

I still live in the town where I grew up, but the population has swollen from 5,000 to 60,000. Most folks knew one another back in the day but now I rarely see a familiar face as I go about my errands. There was a sense of safety in the familiar that no longer exists.

We loved to capture tadpoles, too, but we called them guppies. After school, we had the run of the neighborhood (and beach). One of the big difference then was almost every house had a mother at home.

BT said...

I have read all the comments and can see sense in most of them. I had a relatively care free childhood in London. We did a lot in the garden but also rode our bikes out and about and played in the square around which our house sat. We didn't have a tv for years and I really do think children now rely too much on tv and games and mobile phones.

It's the amount of presents and toys children get that saddens me, as they really do not appreciate them or look after them. If you only have a few you do take more care of them.

We were lucky to spend most of our 6 week summer holiday in and around a caravan our parents owned on the Isle of Sheppey. It was the bottom half of an old double decker bus and had a cab to play in and 2 sets of bunk beds for us and our Mum - Daddy was usually working. We walked miles and damned creeks, climbed cliffs and trees and had a marvellous time. I treasure those memories.