Afterschool independence? At what age…

There’s an old D.H. Lawrence quote that often pops up in articles about empowering children that goes, “How to begin to educate a child: First rule: leave him alone. Second rule: leave him alone. Third rule: leave him alone.”

Indeed whenever I read the advice that children need more independence and control over their own time and behavior, I find myself nodding along, looking at our day for ways to give mine more.

Hudson is eight and in third grade, so the questions tend to be slightly more relevant (but also more high-stakes) with him. For example, is he ready to bike home by himself? In talking about the route with other parents, the general perspective tends to be “I trust my child, but I don’t trust the drivers.” Even just staying to play freely after-school feels like a fraught milestone.

When I was in elementary school, you could just stay and play after-school. There was a nice lady we called “Coachie” (Mary was her real name) who would open up a ball shed and we could check out items for four-square, jumping rope, or playing mancala if we weren’t too busy getting blisters on the high bars. I’m not sure what the school liability arrangement was—I imagine that would be much more formalized now. Our kids aren’t allowed on the playground after-school without a parent.

Certainly social norms have changed. Aron recounts being encouraged to walk the two blocks home from kindergarten on his own, whereas Skyler couldn’t leave the kinder yard without a formal handoff.

I realize there are innumerable variables, from the child’s personality to the community setting, but I’m curious:

When did you (or might you) start letting your children hang out alone afterschool? Do you let them walk home or bike home on their own? When did that start and did you have any tools (from rules to devices) or tips that helped you feel comfortable making the decision?

How have you eased toward more independence? 

P.S. Best ages to travel, favorite foods for kids’ breakfasts, and Favorite family games. Also, questions to ask a new babysitter.

[Photo: JUNGLE GYM, 1942. Central Park playground, New York City. Photographed by Marjory Collins, October 1942.]


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