Archive for 'free range kids'

katerinanj cropYesterday I posted a photo and description on Facebook of a one-time convicted pedophile, whom I witnessed grooming a potential 11 year-old victim at our neighborhood pool. When I first saw this guy in the pool inappropriately engaging with children he didn’t know, I didn’t know he was a registered sex offender. But I knew in my gut that something wasn’t right. Afterwards I talked to the little girl. The next day I found out from a neighbor who had searched the sex offender list that he had been convicted of lewd behavior with a 9 year-old girl twenty years ago.

This incident has sparked a big conversation about what we can do to help keep our children and our communities safe.  I’m not an expert but here are 10 things I think we can do and tell our kids to help keep them safe*…

  1. This is an isolated incident. This is what we can tell our kids. This is not the norm, this is the exception. Be aware but don’t live scared. Most people our kids will encounter are good people. Tell our kids, THIS GUY IS A CREEP. MOST PEOPLE ARE GOOD.
  2. Let our kids know that adult authority does not ever, must not ever, be unqualified. They need to know that as children, they have rights. And those rights aren’t superseded simply because the other person is an adult. Many pedophiles are not strangers. Kids don’t always have to be nice. Yes, it’s embarrassing when our kid isn’t nice to the stranger in the grocery store or to Uncle Billy but if that person is making them uncomfortable, let them have their feelings.
  3. Tell our kids that they don’t need an excuse to end a conversation that is making them uncomfortable. Especially a conversation with a stranger!! I think even as adults we can be held captive by someone’s conversation when it is clearly making us uncomfortable. Think of a drunk at a party. All we need to say is, “Okay, I’m walking away now.” Then walk away.
  4. Teach our kids that anyone that touches them should have consent first. How can we teach this? By asking for consent before we touch a kid. “Oh, I want to hug you! Can I hug you?” Eventually they will realize that anyone that DOESN’T get consent is doing the wrong thing.
  5. Give our kids appropriate freedom. Appropriate freedom varies from kid to kid. There is no magic age, this is a personal decision. Several people have said to me that now they’re afraid to let their kid go out alone. Please don’t stop doing this. Please continue to let your kids wander the neighborhood or bike to a friend’s or go to the pool. If this still feels difficult have them go out in pairs or in groups. Just because there is one guy doing the absolute wrong thing, it doesn’t mean our children have to be prisoners to this.
  6. Be a part of the village. Care about the people around you and make sure our kids have someone in their life to care about also: friends, teachers, other parents. Say hello to the people walking by. And if you see someone in need of help, teach your kids to help out by helping out. I talked to that little girl I saw at the pool after this guy gave me a bad vibe. I didn’t know then he was a convicted pedophile. I just knew something was off. My daughter watched me do this. She actually helped me do it. She now knows if she sees something off she can say something. Or ask someone nearby to help out.
  7. Make sure our kids know they did nothing wrong. Tell them this again and again. Because a pedophile will make a kid feel they are guilty of something. The more they know this to be true, the more they will share any stories they have/hear.
  8. Allow all conversations. In my house I like to think that every topic is allowed on the table. I want my kids to bring anything to me they need to bring without worrying about getting in trouble. All conversations on the table.
  9. Ask your kid to name 5 or more adults that they could trust to talk to if they need to and a couple of friends too. Not just about sexual abuse but about anything. If they can’t come up with 5, that might be a good family goal.
  10. Finally, and perhaps foremost as well, teach our kids to tune into their guts. From small decisions to big ones, pause and check in with your gut. It’s rare that your gut is wrong. And if it is, there’s no harm in being wrong.
  11. This one was submitted by a reader and is a great addition: Tell your kids that no strange adult is going to ask them for help doing anything. They will not ask for help finding keys or an address or a puppy or ANYTHING!!! So they should know that if a stranger in adult form asks them to help with ANYTHING, they can know to walk away.

When our kids know all these things, they can be even more free to roam on their own. Safe, strong and free. That’s the goal. With the emphasis on free.

*If anyone has any other ideas of what we could do, I’d love it if you posted them in the comments.

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TAG! You’re it.

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Let’s take this outside

Almost since the beginning of my parenting days I have realized that parenting is easier outside. It’s easier for me as a mom, and easier for my children too, to be in big open spaces, on the water, in the woods, under the sky, or even in a tree in the yard. When we are outside we are happier, we get along better and our most creative selves show up with new ideas, new projects, new creations. Outside there is space for all of us, we can make as much noise as we want, we can get messy, move around as much as we want, all without worrying about the fact that we might be too loud, too noisy, or too wild for anyone’s tolerance level. Especially if that anyone is a sibling.

For us, as a family, life truly is easier, more creative, more relaxing, more true and just way, way better outside.

Last week I attended the Children in Nature Collaborative of Austin’s (CINCA) annual award dinner and fundraiser at the Four Seasons Hotel downtown. The event honors those in the community whose mission is to help more children feel connected to the outdoors – with the idea being that by exposing and connecting kids to nature now, we are fostering future stewards of the land so that we can be assured that our natural spaces will stay protected and revered for generations to come. A lofty goal for sure, but one made so much easier and so obvious by the work this group is doing. 

I am always so inpsired at this event as they show the short films of the honorees and the clever and creative ways they have of luring children and families into spending more time outside. The images are always  of children climbing, learning, playing, exploring and I realized I want MORE of that in our day to day. Since school had begun, we had gotten into a pattern of coming home, coming inside, doing homework and settling in for the night. Sure, sometimes we played in the alley or in the yard, but after seeing this footage I wanted more!

I realized that in my head, a trip to nature had become a day trip. It wasn’t always like that but with the school calendar the way it was, and the varying schedules of each family member being so much more hectic than in years past, we had gotten in the habit of reserving nature for weekends only. Oh there was the yard of course, but beyond that, we needed more; more nature, more exploration, more playing and even more just laying and staring up at the sky. Everyday if we could! Or at least a few days a week.

Since this event, I’ve shifted my view to thinking of getting in nature as more of a pop-in, than an all day stay. Though technically we live in the city, Austin has lots of green and natural spaces to explore. We could stop somewhere on our way home from school and stay for just a short visit. We could walk a few blocks to the creek or a park or even go under the bridge and play in the rocks right underneath the busy-ish street we live on, looking for fossils or searching for toads.  And if I can’t think of someplace to go nearby, there’s a Nature Rocks website that serves up suggestions based on our location and the amount of time we have.

I like my nature fix. And I like what it does for our family. All of us. Even when it is just for a short stay.

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Remember as a kid when you’d say “I’m bored” to your mom.  My mom’s response was always, “Read a book. Write a letter. Write a book. Read a letter.” And we’d sigh a big annoyed sigh, kick the floor then be on our way.

To my own kids I say this same thing or “bored is as bored does” or I offer up a list of serving suggestions.

Yesterday, I was working. My husband was home and offered an outing to the resident 6 and 10 year olds. The 6 year old went. The 10 year old declined. As my husband left he uttered the words that I’m sure the 10 year old didn’t want to hear but the words I would have uttered also, “No screen time!” Ah, foiled again.

She stayed home anyway. For a lazy summer morning at home with her 13 year old brother still sleeping. No screen time. Now what? She called me at work. “What am I gonna do? I’m bored. There’s nothing to do.”

I of course offered a list of ideas, all of them rejected without even the slightest consideration. When will I learn that the statement of “I’m bored” isn’t exactly looking for solutions of the D.I.Y variety. Rather it usually wants some sort of action. Like a trip to the cold springs or a friend’s or anywhere that wasn’t home.  After a couple of minutes of rejected suggestions I reminded her to check her list of “boredom busters” she had made at the end of the school year, said goodbye and hung up, leaving her to her boredom.

When I got home there the most colorful paper dolls on the kitchen table that I had ever seen. In her bored state she sat down with markers and blank paper and just started coloring wildly – filling the paper in completely. Then she folded it up and cut it into the classic paper dolls. She made a few. They were lovely.


Had I been there to intercept her boredom, or had my husband allowed her verboten mid-day screen time,  this project would never had come to fruition. It wouldn’t even have popped into her head. But instead, her bored state opened the gate to her own creativity. She didn’t need me. Or my suggestions. Or to be whisked away to something else. She just needed to be allowed to get bored.

It’s hard to remember when our kids are bored that we don’t need to rescue them, rather we can just let them be bored. And see what beautiful place their boredom will take them.



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Is that your fear this summer? That the words in this blog post’s title will echo around your house day after day?

Well, I’ve got just the tool for you…

A few summer’s ago, Kathie Sever and I created this Summer Inspirations and Intentions banner as a way to help families find some focus on those hot summer days. It’s a place to set your intentions as a family, a place to put your inspirations and even a place to appreciate your accomplishments. It’s got places to list the projects you want to do, the books you want to read and the people you want to see. It’s the perfect tool to access on those summer days when your kids AND you are whining, “There’s nothing to do!!!”

And whether you do the full on craft like the one we created here. Or just write it all out on a big piece of poster board, it’s got what you need to make sure your summer stays fun, adventurous and satisfying to one and all.


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My kids made up a new game last week. Partly inspired by ultimate Frisbee, partly by rugby and partly by the fact that we took a ball to a big giant field that just beckoned some kind of big, giant game.

All week they’ve been playing – in the yard, in the alley, on the beach and then back to that same big, giant field. I’ve played a few times. Everyone can play. It’s a game for all ages and abilities.

All week it’s evolved, with a few rules being added here and there and a few ideas dismissed after consideration by the group or after realizing it just didn’t work. Over time, the size of the goal has changed, where and how the game begins has been established (after one rather Hunger Games beginning ended up in a head crashing) and a few other dictates determining fairness, point tallies and strategy. One rule that I especially love is that each person on the team has to touch the ball before a goal can be made. The little sister in me always appreciates any rules that help. The rules are made by various kids playing and there is no time that isn’t an okay time for adding or changing or eliminating a rule.

I have loved watching this game come to life and we can already see this game will have a long term place in our family’s game repertoire. What I love more than the game itself is watching the game unfold from the depths of my kids’ imaginations. With each idea presented and rule established I can see their brains working out problems and creating solutions.  They are determining excitement, fairness, fun, duration, etc.

It is just this sort of thing that many experts are saying is eliminated from the childhood experience whenever there are too many dictates from adults or structured play or no play at all. It is the kind of game playing I remember from my own childhood – the creation of any game being part of the actual game itself. Like watching little kids play house where more than half the time they are planning and plotting the roles and rules – and that IS the play.

And I realize this is kind of how I view the whole idea of Slow Family too. There are no dictates or structures from others – there are only the rules that you as a family establish. You can beg, borrow or steal rules from other families you see and love, then interpret them on your own. Or you can make them all up completely, brand new family, brand new game.

It is what I mean when I ask families to ask of themselves, “Is this working for us?” Do you like how the game is being played? Does it seem fun? Fair? Exciting? If it does, keep the rules you currently have. If it doesn’t, make up your own rules. Add in new ones or eliminate old ones. It’s your game! And you can change the rules as you go along.

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photo by Lucy Noll Anderson Lucy Willow Photographs

What better place to spend the last day on earth than in the park? Who better to spend it with than a bunch of other families who are interested in slowing down, connecting and having more fun??!! Come join us for the End of the World Slow Family Park Day! And if you’re out of Austin, might we recommend you plan your very own End of the World Day at the Park!!??

Here’s the deets….

  • Butler Park the park formerly known as Town Lake Park which has aliases such as Fountain Park, That Park near Palmer, The Park with the Big Hill
  • 12/21/2012
  • Starting at 12:21 pm
  • Bring your bicycles, skateboards, roller skates, blankets, a picnic lunch, whatever!
  • We’ll be near the docks under the Willow Tree on the West side of the pond.


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Children in Nature

I’ve always thought that parenting outdoors was way easier than parenting indoors. There’s more room, there’s more tolerance for loudness and rambunctiousness and space to run and climb and play and space for all members of the family to have the space they need to dream, explore, rest, run, and create. It almost inevitably brings our family to its best self. Even times when we enter cranky, we come out feeling recharged and a little nicer too.

In our house we are lucky to have a little bit of nature in our own backyard and to have access to so many amazing natural places just outside our gate.

But not all kids or families have the same access to the outdoors. Or the same faith that nature is a good place to be.

The Children and Nature Network is a national organization started by Richard Louv and prompted by his book Last Child in the Woods.  The organization emphasizes the importance of nature in the lives of children. It works hard to offer families and communities access to the outdoors and to make nature a part of children’s education.

There are branches of this network all over the country and here in Austin we are lucky to have a very active branch; The Children in Nature Collaborative which is a collaboration of organizations in Austin working hard to expose kids to nature. This organization provides education, tools, ideas,  inspiration and a great website to help clubs, communities and families all over Austin to GET OUTSIDE and play.  (On it you can even do a search for the nature nearest you!)

This time of year the Collaboration pays tribute to the folks who are working hard to expose kids to nature – kids who might otherwise have no connection to it all. Kids who are learning how to be future stewards for our earth while also learning some very amazing things about their own abilities.

The Celebration of Children in Nature, on Thursday, September 20th, held at the most amazing Four Seasons Hotel on Ladybird Lake is a night of great tribute and beauty and  is one of my favorite events of the  year!  It is lovely and inspiring and is always so incredibly decorated to truly match its mission.  (butterfly pupa as the centerpiece? That you can then take home and watch hatch in your very own yard? are you kidding me??!!)

This year’s award winners are: Camp Fire USA Balcones chapter, Candlelight Ranch, Explore Austin and Perez Elementary School – all of whom are doing incredible work to help families and kids discover nature and thereby discover themselves.

If you’d like to attend this gorgeous event on Ladybird Lake, or provide sponsorship and help support this amazing collaboration, and cheer on the award winners who are literally changing the face of childhood, not to mention the face of our earth for years to come, you can contact Westcave preserve via email or call 830-825-3442.

Or, if you’d just like to find out more about ways that folks are working to help get kids outside, or discover ways to get out there yourself, visit Nature Rocks Austin.

Now go outside and play!

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Homework. Making it work.

This time of year, the discussion of homework of course seems to come up everywhere you go.  In the grocery stores, school events, and even in the Wall Street Journal – Too much, too early, too long, too inane, too disconnected, too confusing, and on and on go the complaints from parents and kids everywhere. A kindergarten parent I know was shocked to learn they had an hour of sit down work each evening. A 6th grade parent I know stated 2-3 hours was the norm. Nightly.

We are lucky this year, across the board, we seem to be in situations where the teachers agree with us that busy-work homework doesn’t do anything and that learning takes place everywhere.

Our 4th grade teacher told the kids the goal this year was not to worry. She wants them to actually learn NOT to worry. It’s a brilliant message to send to a room full of 9 and 10 year olds. She told the parents at back to school night that family life takes priority. That’s a brilliant message to send to a room full of parents in the second week of school.

Our 6th grader has homework each night but it seems to make sense. Each night he is assigned reading and then he’s to write a paragraph about what he read. It’s lovely. Sure he has some math work too but that seems pertinent and he seems to be able to get most of it done during school hours – with only a tiny bit left by the time he gets home.

Our kindergarten team has decided on monthly family projects which I love and which we had once before with a second grade teacher. They are to be completed over the course of a month – together. Not by the parents only or by the child only but all together – siblings too if they want to help. The result with our first family project was the fourth grader stepping in as mentor and helper to the kindergartner. Family time created. Sibling connection fostered. Project completed with more beauty than could be imagined.

Even our high schooler seems unaffected by homework this year what with a study hall each day and a long bus ride during which she catches up on all her required reading.

The teachers seem to get it this year. They seem to understand what the whole child needs – that playtime and downtime and fresh air time and family time are crucial to the child for integration of all they learned that day.

If your teachers don’t get it and your child and family seem overwhelmed with work, perhaps its time for parents to take it into their own hands. When you see that busy work is just that, when you see that a child can’t possibly learn anything more when they are hitting the wall and crashing hard, when you see that sleep would be the best learning tool they could possibly have at that moment in time or fresh air or just laying on the front porch staring up at the sky, say enough.

  • Write a note to the teacher explaining the situation.
  • Work with the teacher and have a discussion about the goals behind homework. They may be doing it because it’s all they know. Share your views.
  • Talk to your school about shifting to a school wide homework policy.
  • If your teacher insists on pages being completed, do the homework for them. Make sure they know the material then send your child out to play, to bed or wherever you think they need to be.
  • Remember that you are the parent and you actually know what is best for your child.
  • Ask for homework packets that can be completed over the course of a week and more likely to be done with the ebb and flow of family life.
  • Make all homework a family project. Sit together and work cooperatively. We work cooperatively all the time as a society – do it with homework too.
  • Forward articles to your teacher about how homework hasn’t actually been proven to be effective.
  • Start a revolution in your school. Ban together with other parents. Write the principal. Involve the PTA
  • Choose a different kind of schooling if you can. Homeschool. Co-op school. Start a charter. Look around and see that you have options.
  • Accept a lower grade. So what if your 4th grader gets a B instead of an A. Does it really matter at that point? College won’t be looking at your early elementary grades. Allow the wholeness of the child to take precedence over a grade on a piece of paper. I know this isn’t easy but think about it, if we teach our child that grades are the priority, what are we teaching them about intrinsic value?

What are some things your family has done to make homework easier? More family friendly? I’d love to know.

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The Last Monday

We are 25 minutes away from finishing the last Monday of the 2011/2012 school year. As always, it seems that the first day of school was simultaneously eons ago and yesterday. Our children have learned a lot, grown a lot, met new people, discovered new talents, and explored new ideas. It is a bittersweet time for most people I talk to – especially for my 5th grader leaving behind his elementary school and his king of the hill status and some of his friends who are scattering to different middle school this year. It’s definitely a sunrise, sunset kind of moment. Bittersweet for our homeschooled daughter too as the siblings are about to be around a lot more than before!

But here we are. Ready for one last week of school. Ready for the piles of half-filled notebooks and boxes of broken crayons and other detritus from the classrooms. And ready for summer and it’s long stretching days filled with long stretching shadows.

The kids can sleep in. Fill their time with activities of their own creation. Play. Read. Swim. Craft. Skate. Play. And sleep in some more. It is a time they all look forward to. Us too. Although admittedly there is a bit of a learning curve to filling all that time.

I’ve started what I call a “summer fun box”. It’s got random things in it that can be accessed when they’re seeking something to do. There are some craft books. Some word games. A wood burning kit and lots of little wood scraps. Cook books. A bag of marbles. That’s it so far. As I find other things that I think might spark the creativity I’ll throw them in there too.

Of course I’ll encourage a little idle downtime too. But too much of that only works for some of the members in our household.

How do you spark imaginations in your house? How do you let the days fall and fill? Do you have some tools of inspiring your kids onto creativity and exploration? Does idle time work for you and your kids?

I love summer. Even here in Texas. And I love the possibilities it presents for dreaming, creating and slowing down too. And I’m curious to hear how others walk this walk.

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