Free Range Children and Pioneers

They look okay to me . . . (courtesy DailyMail
They look okay to me . . . (courtesy DailyMail

What would Pa Ingalls think of the Free Range children controversy? For those of you out of the loop there is a controversy about letting kids learn outside of school (not sure that can be done since school is the only place kids can go where social engineering and boring textbooks are found–haha–I know not all teachers are bad–it’s the system, I say!).

In the old days kids went to school when they could and the parents in the community decided who would teach and what they’d teach. Parents had final say–they weren’t dragged from school board meetings for asking questions. Sometimes, just like today there were parents who beat their kids or neglected them. That’s not what this is about.

In Kentucky a couple had their ten kids taken away from them because they lived in a makeshift tent. One of the big things mentioned by the child services organization was that the family’s goats and chickens got to live in the more substantial shed on the property.

Oh, the joy!
Oh, the joy!

This made me think of pioneers and homesteaders of the 19th century. Basically all of them would have had their children taken from them. Laura Ingalls Wilder had harrowing and fond memories of brushing up against wild Indians, fording rivers, almost starving in the long winter and living in a dirt shack (dugout home). One time a cow strolled across the roof and almost fell through! Laura rode a horse without a helmet and without shoes!

Here’s the thing about animals when you live free range: they are extremely important to your survival. Back in the 1870’s Pa Ingalls couldn’t take Ma to Walmart. Often times people set about building animal shelter first. Not because they hated their kids, but because they realized the connection between live, healthy animals and food.

And what would Pa Ingalls say about tools and dirt? Hand sanitizer and child safety locks didn’t exist. Kids ate dirt. Some learned the hard way not to hit themselves with hammers. Once I went down by a river alone and almost drowned. I came home dirty, but smarter (and happier for the adventure).

We live in a time of zero risk, but this is an illusion. Kids die of cancer and grow fat on video games. But we worry about the dirty free range kids who look healthy, happy and yeah, a little dirty. This is not the same as neglect. The story in Kentucky seems suspect. I worry that the reporters aren’t just looking through the lens of class. What do you think?

courtesy Pinterest
courtesy Pinterest

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22 thoughts on “Free Range Children and Pioneers

    • Me too. If you voice concern in some circles you’re considered crazy. I thought that freedom of speech also meant freedom of thought.

      I didn’t know until yesterday that you have 2 military kids! Do you come from a military family?

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  1. Yes, you did come back from the river a little smarter. You also realized, perhaps unconsciously, but still… that you are largely responsible for your own safety. The experience made you smarter because it made you more alert. Dangers are there, they’re everywhere. Children need to know that, and they need to be allowed to face and deal with age-appropriate dangers.

    I suppose that is the question – what is age appropriate? I know I had a wide range of freedom as a child. That was the norm back then. We learned by experience to take care of ourselves and our experiences made us smarter. Overprotection makes children into hot-house flowers who do fine so long as they are in a precisely controlled environment, but life is not like that. It’s nowhere near like that.

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  2. This is the first I’ve heard about this, how horrid! After reading this I figure my daughter would be considered ‘free range’ as well. We don’t get shots, don’t go to the doctor, we home school, we live on a farm, she has tadpoles in her room (until last week when they finally grew legs, thank God), she gathers eggs, reads in her fort outside and is healthy, happy, smart, well-rounded and beautiful, even if her faced stays a bit smudged. The government needs to get a grip and get out of peoples lives!

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  3. Love this, Ms. M! I hated school and I hate that I might have to send my kids there. We’re trying the homeschool thing but with my wife’s health issues we may not be able to do it for long.

    Anyway, so much of what was normal when I was a kid is now illegal. It’s just bizarre. I wonder how many of these laws are proposed and debated and promoted by actual parents.

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    • I think most parents feel intimidated by the educational establishment, are too busy with work or see every accident as an opportunity to sue.

      Keep your kids from school as long as you can! My kids were home-schooled for a few years and were streets ahead of their peers on so many levels. In two hours a day kids learn more than public school kids learn in a week. I’d rather indoctrinate my kids than have a government of corrupt politicians and unions do it!

      I don’t hate teachers. I always have to make that clear.

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      • I am in no hurry to send the tykes to school. And I know so many homeschoolers to fall for all the propaganda about public schools. I went to an amazing public school and it was still awful.

        I love teachers. That is one thing I am sort of ambivalent about with regards to homeschooling. I met some wonderful teachers…. That being said, we are planning to join a coop of sorts and maybe that will give my kids the same experience I had of meeting wonderful adults who can come alongside them.

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      • I went to public and private schools growing up. As a perfectionist kid I did really well, but beneath the quiet, compliant exterior was a seething anger at having to be imprisoned. My mother always said I was like a little thoroughbred–too high strung and rebellious. A few teachers saw the real me and like good teachers do, they encouraged me and everyone else not to conform but to shine.

        The students were the problem for me. Having to sit and wait for all the annoying kids to shut up or listen to the kids who didn’t do their work complain that life was unfair. I loved learning, just not in a group setting. remember “group projects”? As a teacher I realized these were unfair to the hard working students, but sometimes I assigned them anyway as an excuse for slacking off as a teacher!

        The biggest problem with public ed is the fiction that with the right teaching method all kids will be rocket scientists.

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      • Seething anger… That kind of captures how I felt.

        I hated group projects. Ugh…

        Yes, the educational methods fiction… Ugh and double ugh…

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  4. The information here reminds me of a story I used to teach by Mary Eleanor Wilkins Freeman called “The Revolt of Mother,” in which the mother, Sarah Penn, after being frustrated year after year when her husband keeps improving the barn but not the home, takes the children and moves into the newly refurbished barn. 🙂

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