I know I'm jumping in here a bit late (and I haven't read the whole thread, but I did read the first couple and the last couple, so maybe half of it?
), but anyhow... My DS1 is 3 and I'm pretty hands-off. I let him run around and climb up ladders, go down slides, push the merry-go-round, climb on jungle gyms, etc pretty much by himself. I don't think I've 'spotted' him in, oh, probably a solid year or so now. I will intervene if he's throwing sand/dirt/rocks/etc and tell him not to, and if he takes a toy from another kid I'll ask/tell him to give it back (unless of course, they took it first
, and if he pushes/hits another kid I'll tell him that wasn't nice and we'll have a little chat... if he does any of these things repeatedly (or just plain isn't listening) we leave. He gets a warning first, don't worry, but we have left playgrounds and other fun places before and I'm sure we'll do it again.
Personally, I can't stand when other moms give me the evil eye cause' I'm not standing their spotting him and hovering over him constantly. And I've gotten it more than a handful of times. Thanks, I know my kid and I know he's OK and I'm comfy w/ him playing pretty much on his own. I absolutely *HATE* it when other moms/kids tell him he can't do something (like climb up the slide) or that he's too little to do X. He often stops looks back at me, and I shrug and he goes ahead and keeps trying to do it (this is often when other mom/older kid gives me a really truely nasty look like "WTF - your such an awful parent!").
Theres definetly a balance that needs to be met between intervening/spotting/hovering constantly and yet still keeping a watchful eye on them. I do (generally
know where ds1 is when we're at the playground/park, but it often takes me a moment to find him if I've been chatting or playing w/ ds2. And I'm OK with that, though I realize lots of moms aren't.
Just different comfort levels, I guess