For the past five years, the movement that I founded, Free-Range Kids, has been promoting Take Our Children to the Park ... And Leave Them There Day. This year, in honor of the Meitivs of Maryland — the parents being investigated by Child Protective Services for letting their kids walk home from the park — we are encouraging kids to walk home on their own, too.
The way the day works is this: At 10 in the morning on Saturday, May 9, we take our kids to the local park — or they go by themselves. Specifying a date and time means that with any luck, lots of kids in the neighborhood who may not even know one another — different schools, different ages, different soccer programs — finally meet. When the adults wave goodbye, it's the kids' job to come up with something to do. We used to have a name for this activity.
Of course, Free-Range Kids doesn't want any parents getting arrested or even investigated. So if you would like to participate but worry that your local authorities could harass you, please call your local police department and make sure that this would not be an actionable offense. (How sad if it would be! Kids playing outside on a Saturday in May!) If you get a straight answer, please post it on whatever local social media you've got — a town Facebook or Meetup page or whatever. Spread the word!
If, however, you can't get a straight answer, try to find some other parents who are all for the decriminalization of childhood and arrange to have your kids walk home together in a group. If the cops insist that no children are allowed to walk in the community, even in groups, then go to the park with your kids and signs demanding: "Why is this town discriminating against children in public?" "Who wants empty parks?" "What kind of community criminalizes kids outside?" And: "Free-range kid communities have higher home values!" (I'm not sure that last one is true, but The Sunday Times in Britain just ran a huge article saying that free-range neighborhoods are hot.)
Also, please remind your local officials that according to The Washington Post, "there's never been a safer time to be a kid in America." So why act — and arrest — as if kids are in constant danger?
The rest of the globe sends kids off to school on their own — walking, riding bikes, taking public transit — at age 7. That seems about the right age to let kids play in the park unsupervised. But if you want to wait till they are 8 or 9 or 10, that's fine; there's no magic age to free-range. And if your kids are too young to play unsupervised, stay with them. That way, there are even more people in the park. We used to have a word for this, too.
If you'd like to find other local folks eager to participate in this day, which I hope just breaks the ice for a whole summer of fun for kids outside, you can go to http://freerangefriend.com. It's a free site I started. You put in your ZIP code and can find nearby free-rangers. It's anonymous, so no one knows your name, address or email. But like a dating site, it's a way to connect.
Meantime, Russell Max Simon of Empower Kids Maryland is organizing a Take Your Kids to the Park ... And Let Them Walk Home By Themselves Day at the very park the Meitiv kids were playing at before they were detained by the police: Ellsworth Urban Park in downtown Silver Spring.
Kids — like women, African-Americans, the disabled and everyone else — have the right to be part of the life of a town. Claiming they must stay indoors or be constantly supervised for "safety" reasons is just a way to deny them the freedom we all enjoyed when we were young.
Take back childhood. Take back freedom. Take your kid to the park May 9.