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Free range parenting, NZ style

When Hattie and Joe were ten months old I wrote a blog post in which I mentioned the book Duct Tape Parenting. I really enjoyed it at the time, and I’d like to read it again: in summary, it was all about encouraging parents to sit back a bit and give their children the freedom to try things, and also to fail, and learn from the failure.

It was interesting for me to realise that I was thinking about those issues so early on, particularly as Hattie and Joe are now firmly in the stage where they are capable of actually enjoying any freedom that is granted to them. My greatest joy in life right now is the sight of the two of them playing some game of their own devising, either just at home together, or with some of their little twin friends. It’s brilliant for them because the ideas that they have for play are light years more fun than anything that I, or any other grown-up, could devise – like their Room on the Broom re-enactments that I mentioned in my last post. Here’s a photo of the two of them in action:

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Similarly, when we go to the beach or the park now we really don’t need to actively engage with the kids for every minute, because they’re having far too good a time playing with each other and their friends to have more than an occasional need for us. Today we went to Castor Bay, which is our favourite local beach: it’s got lovely, calm water, a little playground, and a really nice grassed area that includes a hill and lots of trees, and it’s at the end of a cul-de-sac, so it’s very safe. We’ve had some great times there recently with friends, and today was no exception. Hattie and Joe and their friends Ethan and Milly tramped around on a ‘treasure hunt’ with little plastic buckets, and then they climbed a tree together (and actually got impressively high without our assistance). And when we went down onto the sand the four kids took off. The tide was well and truly out, leaving a huge expanse of beach to explore. Ethan and Milly’s lovely mother, my friend Emma, and I spread out a blanket and had a good chat, and the kids played for at least 20 minutes without coming back to see us at all. Can you spot them in this photo (taken from where I was sitting, with my phone)?

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No? Hang on, I zoomed in as much as my phone would allow me:

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They splashed through puddles, looked at shells, ran around like crazy people, and then ended up 100 metres away from us, looking for crabs in the rock pools. And what was absolutely brilliant – aside, of course, from the fact that our kids were hooning around and having a fantastic, child-led experience – was the fact that nobody else on the beach turned a hair at four three year olds being given the liberty to have a wee adventure. And that is why I always knew that I’d be best off raising my children in New Zealand: here, it is still considered normal for kids to play and enjoy themselves. You see primary school-aged children walking to school unaccompanied. You see young teenagers walking down to the beach with their friends for an unsupervised swim. And the sight of preschoolers gallivanting around actually makes people smile, rather than resulting in pursed lips and a call to Child Services. Obviously, I know that there will be plenty of other countries in the world where kids can still actually play, explore, and be kids without a hovering parental presence (I hope there are, anyway), but the only other place that I would have been likely to have kids was England, and there’s NO way this wouldn’t raise eyebrows there. There’s no way that the Famous Five would have been sailing off to Kirrin Island for adventures in modern Britain.

So we’re really lucky to have ended up raising our family in a country that still supports the kind of free range parenting philosophy with which I was raised, and which I’d argue that most New Zealanders would still see as the ideal for kids. Long may that continue!

(And hey, let’s not pretend otherwise: it’s also BLOODY AWESOME to be able to sit and read my book or whatever while the kids play together at home, or to sit and chat with Emma and my other fab friends while the kids are having fun. With two babies each, and then two toddlers each, the chance to even speak an uninterrupted sentence feels like something that we can all only vaguely remember, so it’s such a delight to spend proper time with my friends. Everybody’s happy!)

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