ITHACA, N.Y. — On Wednesday, Nov. 7, the mayor proclaimed the city of Ithaca a “free range kid city”. The city is signaling their support of the common sense and developmentally appropriate practice of allowing children freedom to learn and grow. The Child Development Council supports the City’s efforts to empower parents to trust their own judgment when determining what are developmentally-appropriate independence building experiences for their children. The alternative is a fearful, anxious parenting culture that does not benefit children’s development.
Children of all ages do learn from self-directed play without adult interference, but not all children are safe to be left unsupervised. Age and maturity are factors, as well as the neighborhoods, the adults around them and safety considerations like traffic. Each child is different. Parents must make an individual assessment on whether their child is ready to handle a new situation.
The proclamation that states “unstructured outdoor free play has been shown to improve children’s creativity, social skills, communication skills, conflict resolution skills, socio-emotional learning, behavior self-regulation skills, (and) ability to assess and manage risk.” Unstructured outdoor free play can be accomplished under appropriate adult supervision. Even the youngest children benefit from free play and access to the outdoors. Children learn to be confident and independent by taking small risks. They learn their own limits and their own capabilities.
Decisions on when and how long a child can be left unsupervised can be tricky. How will you know if your child is ready for a new challenge?
Questions to ask before leaving a child unsupervised:
- Is your child comfortable with this?
- Do they demonstrate good judgment?
- Do they understand and follow rules?
- What are your rules and expectations for this situation?
- Does your child have an awareness of his or her surroundings and the ability to be alert to potential dangers?
- Does your child know what to do in an emergency?
- How do they handle unexpected situations?
Unsupervised play should not come all at once. Children benefit from a gradual increased responsibility over time.
Child care providers including daycare centers, home-based programs, and after-school programs cannot leave children unsupervised. Regulations prohibit it.
If you have questions regarding child development, you can contact the Child Development Council’s “Warm Line” at 607-273-0259.
Featured image: File photo of children playing during International Mud Day at the Ithaca Children’s Garden.