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#1 of 33 Old 03-19-2013, 03:02 PM - Thread Starter
 
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My son, currently almost 8 1/2 has asked me if next year, when he is in 3rd grade (will turn 9 in November) he could be dismissed from school on his own an could walk to his ballet school alone. It involves crossing 3 streets (not terribly busy) and walking on a well populated sidewalk to Lincoln center (we live in manhattan), walking across Lincoln center and over a footbridge to ballet school, which is restricted entry to ID holders and has security guards (I/e pretty safe environment). He can eat and read and do homework in the cafeteria, and then would have to manage his time and belongings so that he can get ready and up to the 5th floor in time for class.

All my friends so far but one think this is crazy and dangerous. I am thinking-- is it? I went to ballet class with a friend after school in 4th grade, also in manhattan and NYC was much more dangerous (by objective measures) then it is now.

I know my son will not get lost. I am not entirely sure he can manage his time well but of course that is a good skill to learn. He won't have to carry cash (can have "points" on his ballet id to purchase food). It will be daylight, mid afternoon.

Thoughts?

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#2 of 33 Old 03-19-2013, 03:07 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Non free range opinions welcome too, of course. But I'm not looking for remote worst case scenario things. More like-- what age is this appropriate? What sorts of safety skills should we practice?

If it matters, DS is tall for his age (looks more like 10). I actually worry that could make him more a target for random bullying, which does happen to boys, as I recall.

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#3 of 33 Old 03-19-2013, 04:21 PM
 
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Personally, I think it's a great idea and I currently muster my courage to let my 8 y/o (will be 8 1/2 in September) stay home by himself for 1/2h after school, until I get home from work. I think it would be a great confidence-booster for my ds, and he's been asking me to do it for a while. I mostly worry about nosy neighbours.
 


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#4 of 33 Old 03-19-2013, 04:28 PM
 
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How long is the walk and is he able to take different routes, or is it the same time/route every day?

 

I don't think just what you said above would be too dangerous in itself, I'd just be worried someone would learn his routine making him easier to snatch in the insanely remote chance there is someone in the area that would do that. 

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#5 of 33 Old 03-19-2013, 04:37 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Well he would only do it once a week I imagine (ballet is 2 or 3x per week but at least to start we wouldn't have him do it often).

I was thinking we would look at the guard booths along the way and walk it together to see if there are crossing guards.

I really doubt he is a high risk for kidnapping and its not a remote or lonely route-- it would be hard to snatch him without getting noticed (9th ave in the upper 50s/low 60s). Though my husband said something similar-- so close to transpo, someone could take him anywhere. I worry more about traffic accidents, bullies/older kids/mugging type stuff (seems unlikely on this route), whether he would get scared by homeless/mentally ill people or otherwise unstable adults.

But we could walk out an alternate route (there is one with same number of streets to cross) and could remind him to vary his route.

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#6 of 33 Old 03-19-2013, 07:12 PM
 
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At that age my DD walked to and from school alone and to tutoring alone but she crossed only two streets and neither were very busy. She had several close calls with cars and decided on her own to go places she shouldn't have gone despite having only fifteen minutes of leeway before she was expected. She also got days mixed up.a few times and didn't show up to the correct location and that was a little scary, especially the first time it happened.

If the streets are very busy or there is a long gap of time between when he leaves and when he is expected by an adult i would suggest not allowing it yet. Kids are impulsive even when they seem responsible and they don't always watch as well as they can. The public transit thing would also put me off and it is also important to check with the school to see if they are okay with him arriving early.
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#7 of 33 Old 03-19-2013, 07:41 PM
 
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What is he doing indepedantly now?  Corner store? Friends House?  I grew up on LI and knew someone whose parents put her on the train and she got herself to Julliard almost every day as a tween in the 80's.  So I get that some city kids are way more savy than us suburbanites. 

 

I couldn't have done it with mine at that age (they've grown up in the 'burbs in CO) but my middle kid was riding his bike to soccer practice a couple times a week over a mile on a fairly busy street and he had to cross another to get to the field.  My dd had to take 3 busses to get home after band camp when she was 11. 

 

Does he have a cell phone?  Would he text you when he got there? Then an alarm could go off when he needed to leave the cafeteria. 

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#8 of 33 Old 03-20-2013, 02:42 AM - Thread Starter
 
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Good point, I'd like to start giving him some practice independence first in the city. This was his first time specifically asking to have this kind of independence! My impulse was to say no but I decided to tell him, "we will see" and think about it.

In the summer we spend 6 weeks in a very small town, there he is allowed to walk to the library/town center/PO in his own.

And I think we'd buy a "burner" phone so he could text upon arrival. Alarm is a good idea. I might even plan to meet him down there at first so he'd work in stages to being totally independent from school dismissal though the end of ballet class.

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#9 of 33 Old 03-20-2013, 06:21 AM
 
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Would it work for him to do this w/o you but following behind w/o him knowing where you are?  You follow him, he knows you're there, but you're no visible?  Not sure how well that'd work in Manhattan. winky.gif  If you did this, you would see mistakes he makes & then you could discuss them afterwards.  Could he start w/ a smaller task?  Like going somewhere else after school w/o so much distance and/or transitions?  Have you guys talked about how he'd handle the unstable adults you mentioned?  Have you talked about it as a part of conversations after the two of you have encountered them?  Has he said why he wants to do this?  

 

These are all questions I thought of as reading.  Hope you guys figure out what will work for you both safely!

 

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#10 of 33 Old 03-20-2013, 06:46 AM
 
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I would do it. My DDs started staying alone at around 4th grade, riding bike to school 5th grade, walking to school 6th grade. Crazy drivers/crossing the street are my main concern, although DD1s friends were approached by a car once (they knew what to do and did it).

 

Some points I thought of:

 

* Does he have a phone, say to call you in case ballet class is cancelled unexpectedly?

* Does he use electronics? Emphasize the importance of being aware of your surroundings in the city. Know who and what is around you and don't drown out sounds with headphones. This goes for both the traffic and people issues.

* I think a third grader might have issues with keeping their belongings together - maybe go over a list: do you have your phone, ballet ID/money, etc. each day until he gets used to it?

* Will it be daylight in the winter? I might rethink if it was going to be dark.


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#11 of 33 Old 03-20-2013, 06:54 AM
 
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I'll admit that the idea of a 9 y.o. on his own in Manhattan gave me pause but objectively I'm not sure I have any good reasons for my discomfort. My DS was walking a couple of blocks to school when he was 7 y.o. in a suburban area. Other parents disapproved greatly. Back around 2000-2001, "free range" kids weren't really a thing and the parenting pendulum was swinging heavily in the direction of  "helicopter" parenting. I'm pretty sure that the "Free Range Kids" mom who helped the movement along wrote about allowing her 9 y.o. to navigate the NYC subway system on his own, so it has been done in your city. 

 

I would consider a few factors such as whether he is generally responsible and careful, if he tends to be conscious and aware of his surroundings as opposed to an absent-minded daydreamer, and if he is gullible and too trusting. You mention bullying and unfortunately some children are more vulnerable to bullying. Please don't misunderstand - I am not blaming the victim. Sadly, some children are natural targets. They struggle to deflect bullies or other unwanted attention. Until such a child developed some greater confidence and coping abilities, I'd be less likely to send him out on his own.

 

Otherwise, I think pp have good advice about gradually increasing his independence with trial runs, coaching him through "what if" scenarios, and so on.  

 

One other thought that I admit is a little over the top in terms of being careful. I might check with social services or police services to find out if there is any general policy about minimum age for leaving children unsupervised outside the home. I cannot imagine that 9 years would be on the wrong side of a minimum age requirement but these days, you never know what some zealous social services agency might try to implement.

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#12 of 33 Old 03-20-2013, 08:06 AM
 
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Well he would only do it once a week I imagine (ballet is 2 or 3x per week but at least to start we wouldn't have him do it often).

I was thinking we would look at the guard booths along the way and walk it together to see if there are crossing guards.

I really doubt he is a high risk for kidnapping and its not a remote or lonely route-- it would be hard to snatch him without getting noticed (9th ave in the upper 50s/low 60s). Though my husband said something similar-- so close to transpo, someone could take him anywhere. I worry more about traffic accidents, bullies/older kids/mugging type stuff (seems unlikely on this route), whether he would get scared by homeless/mentally ill people or otherwise unstable adults.

But we could walk out an alternate route (there is one with same number of streets to cross) and could remind him to vary his route.

 

I don't mean to be a scare monger because I totally believe in free-range kids but I'd check with the local police also to see if there have been any incidents in the area. I live in the city also (an entirely different city in a different country, I know) but I was beyond shocked to find out that in my area and in the mall I frequent with my family, there have been several incidents of attempted snatchings with the parents right there and no one had said anything. It wasn't until a police officer friend shared something on their facebook that it was brought to my attention. 

You're right though, I'd be most concerned about the homeless or mentally ill. We have them in my area also since they put a shelter near my house... sometimes I feel compelled to keep an eye on neighborhood kids while they're around and make sure they move along...

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#13 of 33 Old 03-20-2013, 08:06 AM
 
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my experience with my dd has made me realise when they ask for it, give it a try. because neither of us know how it is going to go. its something for them to learn, to discover about themselves. as well us about them.

 

looking older will be an asset as he wont stand out that much - a little kid alone. 

 

i have discovered i actually prefer large busy streets to cross because they have traffic lights which are much safer to cross than stop signs. we live on a busy street and dd has been going places alone since she was 8 1/2. i have found if i let her go when she wants to (after of course i have assesed the safety features of her request) she sometimes decides she is not ready for it. it helps define her boundaries that one wouldnt know without having tried it themselves. 

 

i would definitely go over key features with him. the phone is an absolutely necessary idea that you had. and also another important one - emergencies. do trial runs and get into emergency situations and test him out what he does, how he reacts. let him stew in it a while and see what he does to cope. like say you get lost while you guys are walking on a trial run. 

 

the only times i have felt safe for dd to do things on her own is when she has had all the emergency information AND learnt what is appropriate information to give out. like telling that nice lady where she lives, which school she goes to, etc. she is allowed to chat with strangers but not discuss any personal information. 


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#14 of 33 Old 03-20-2013, 08:51 AM
 
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You are doing the responsible thing by thinking it through carefully, and as long as there are no legal issues in your area, it's probably best to "go with your gut." Your own comfort level takes into account all the variables like the specific route, your specific kid's competance, local crime etc.

 

Although you would hate yourself forever if someone snatched him, that's the kidnapper's fault, not your fault. Most kidnappings are by family and friends anyway, not strangers. It's cold comfort, but I wish the world would stop blaming parents for somehow allowing kidnapping to happen. I would call that blaming the victim (parents are the victims too). It shouldn't be unreasonable for kids to be by themselves occasionally, just like in the whole of human history...

 

I don't live in NYC so maybe I don't get the risk, but trust yourself.

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#15 of 33 Old 03-20-2013, 08:52 AM - Thread Starter
 
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thanks for all the thoughts and responses. these are good ideas. He is an aware and socially astute kid, who looks old for his age. He is an outgoing child but I don't think he'd get stuck talking to anyone who gave him the creeps. He is not generally a target of bullies, its just that this seems much more likely than stranger abduction. We have discussed on numerous occasions what to do if he is lost or separated from me (do not run- stay close to where you are, immediately approach a woman with children, any woman, uniformed police officer or bus or train driver, crossing guard, doorman and explain that you are separated from your adult). I've always said not to worry about being rude if someone is giving you a bad feeling or if an adult tells you to do something you know is wrong. My son can be really challenging but one great thing is that he doesn't really care what other people think about him.

 

Believe me I do have my moments of worry about stranger abduction, it actually is something that happened very tragically to a close friend of mine when I was a child, as he walked to the school bus alone. My parents had a terrible time letting go and allowing me to travel unaccompanied but by the time I was 9 or 10 they did allow it, at least occasionally, around NYC. And I rode public transpo alone to and from school starting in 6th grade. And crime is WAY down since then! Anyway, objectively I know that stranger abduction is extremely rare.

 

I would never allow my son to walk around listening to ipod or playing games, ugh. I expect when he's older he would do that anyway but at this age he will still listen to me on that one.

 

I am not sure if the city is more or less dangerous than the burbs... street crossings all have lights and crosswalks, obviously there are sidewalks everywhere, there are always plenty of people around, there are businesses open... but then, obviously, there are more cars, more people, some tiny portion of whom are-- is evildoers too dramatic of a word? I think we'll start with some shorter walks and I like this idea of me shadowing him at first to see how he handles himself.

 

For his belongings-- we could get a locker at ballet school and he could keep his ballet clothes there (we'd have to switch them out on a regular basis but we could come up with a system for that). Ballet ID, phone, and emergency cash and contact info would have to be in a wallet/bag in his bag, always in the same place. I do think that the time management and keeping track of his belongings will be a learning experience for him!


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#16 of 33 Old 03-20-2013, 08:54 AM - Thread Starter
 
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and its true that the free range kids founder was the mom of a 9yo in NYC when it all got started.


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#17 of 33 Old 03-20-2013, 08:59 AM - Thread Starter
 
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and thanks for letting me "think" this through here, its really helpful. The thing is- if not next fall, when? He is going to be independent pretty soon, so I do feel like this could potentially be a pretty safe and simple way for him to build confidence and skills. A short, routine walk between two safe, controlled environments. No riding any transpo, just walking. Very familiar route and area for him. So if 9 is too young... what about 10? what about 11?

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#18 of 33 Old 03-20-2013, 10:23 AM
 
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and thanks for letting me "think" this through here, its really helpful. The thing is- if not next fall, when? He is going to be independent pretty soon, so I do feel like this could potentially be a pretty safe and simple way for him to build confidence and skills. A short, routine walk between two safe, controlled environments. No riding any transpo, just walking. Very familiar route and area for him. So if 9 is too young... what about 10? what about 11?

 

In my earlier post, I mentioned that my first reaction was discomfort. I confess that my first reflex was that 9 is too young, but maybe 10 or 11. You are correct, though, the numbers are completely arbitrary. I'm sure that there are 9 y.o.'s who can manage well. You're very wise to be considering so carefully whether yours is one of them. 

 

I'll just say, as the mom of older, grown kids, it's something that will continue to confront you. My DD is 16 and traveling overseas without us this summer. It's a little easier for us because she's going with a school group so she will be accompanied. However, there was the possibility of independent travel and I'm just grateful we don't have to wrestle with that notion. DS has always been responsible and he's an adult now but he's living at home while he is in college. He goes away for the weekends and although I have no say I deeply appreciate it when he lets us know where he is, who he's with and what he's doing.

 

I think you are very wise to be preparing him now and encouraging him. It will pay off over and over again as he grows up.

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#19 of 33 Old 03-20-2013, 10:29 AM
 
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I don't think 9 is too young. This would fall within my comfort level. We are not in NYC but what be considered a small town, we did have a very high profile child disappearance last year that is still unsolved but personally, I lean towards it being a family member. DD1 is 10 now but has been walking around town since age 8. It hasn't been more then a few blocks, but she does have to cross some busy streets. 

 

We walk it together it together first, make sure she knows exactly what to do, talk over different events, and she carries a cell phone. I am actively training her to ride her bike from our house to gymnastics which is over a mile. She will be responsible for getting herself to and from summer practices most days. Most of the ride will be on a bike path but she will have to switch paths and cross 3 major streets. Next step is public transportation by herself. We have a trolley stop 2 blocks from our house that will get her many places around town, that is our summer goal, to get her comfortable with it. 

 

I think your plan is well thought out. thumb.gif


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#20 of 33 Old 03-20-2013, 10:54 AM
 
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I agree that it sounds totally fine.  While stranger abduction does happen, it is exceedingly rare-- I would be most worried about him knowing street/car safety and having a way to contact you if he needs you to come get him.

 

I started walking to and from school by myself when I was 8.  Looking it up on Google maps, my route was almost a mile long, and it ran past a railroad yard, several nasty dogs, a horse behind an electric fence, and over half of the path I took didn't have sidewalks.  And this was in a small town up in the mountains out west, where there were often mountain lions or (rarely) wolves that came all the way into town in the depths of winter, when I would be walking at dawn and dusk.  Nobody had cell phones yet, and the one friend I walked with met me a quarter mile into my walk and wouldn't think twice if I didn't show up that day.  IMO, what you're suggesting sounds a lot safer than that!

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#21 of 33 Old 03-20-2013, 11:10 AM
 
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If he is asking to do it, then let him do it.  I dont see a problem with it.  The only thing I would do is make sure he has a cell phone incase of emergencies.


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#22 of 33 Old 03-20-2013, 02:29 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Thanks again, this all makes me feel like I am correct to consider this and think about how to help him have the skills to be independent and safe.

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#23 of 33 Old 03-20-2013, 03:04 PM
 
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I think it is fine. You know your kid. And if you plan ahead, phone, backup... then your just being responsible and giving him the freedom to learn some responsibility in small steps. I think that is so much more valuable, and safe, then holding them under our wings until they are 18 and then letting them go all at once, like a time bomb.

 

Mine is 8.5 and he can go home from school by himself, which is 4 blocks, one on a busy street. But mine is really cautious, especially in traffic, so I am comfortable with it. He can also so this with a friend, if he has someone coming over. If he was a different kid, more day-dreamy like I was, then no, I wouldn't let him do it. It so depends on the kid, and imo arbitrary ages are useless.

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#24 of 33 Old 03-20-2013, 04:11 PM
 
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thanks for all the thoughts and responses. these are good ideas. He is an aware and socially astute kid, who looks old for his age. He is an outgoing child but I don't think he'd get stuck talking to anyone who gave him the creeps. He is not generally a target of bullies, its just that this seems much more likely than stranger abduction. We have discussed on numerous occasions what to do if he is lost or separated from me (do not run- stay close to where you are, immediately approach a woman with children, any woman, uniformed police officer or bus or train driver, crossing guard, doorman and explain that you are separated from your adult). I've always said not to worry about being rude if someone is giving you a bad feeling or if an adult tells you to do something you know is wrong. My son can be really challenging but one great thing is that he doesn't really care what other people think about him.

This is what I always learned too... just tonight on the news they actually said not to trust women anymore either lol (laughing at not trusting women, not abductions).... Evidently there was an attempted abduction here just today outside of a school and a woman was involved and they went on to mention all the other recent cases where women were involved. It made me think of this thread. 

 

Here is the story: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/toronto/10-year-old-ontario-girl-uses-code-word-to-thwart-attempted-abduction/article9989954/

 

....Shows teaching your kids to be streetsmart does work!

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#25 of 33 Old 03-20-2013, 05:32 PM
 
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Kids should be able to approach strangers (and know what strangers to approach) in order to ask for help if they need it. The chance that that particular stranger is a pervert looking for a prey are very, very, extremely slim. I've read in the news somewhere about a kid who got lost in the forest and while the police and other people were looking for him he heard them, but thought they were strangers wanting to kidnap him, so he continued to hide.

 

I teach my ds that talking with strangers is ok, if he feels comfortable with it, going with strangers is not ok.


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#26 of 33 Old 03-20-2013, 05:37 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Another mom told me the code word idea. She said her boys love it and make her give them the code before letting her back in when she leaves them alone at home.

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#27 of 33 Old 03-20-2013, 08:55 PM
 
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We do the code word as well. DD1 does stay home alone at times. 


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#28 of 33 Old 03-21-2013, 06:15 AM
 
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Another mom told me the code word idea. She said her boys love it and make her give them the code before letting her back in when she leaves them alone at home.

 

Ha! 

 

DH and I could never remember our code word. We had to ask the kids what it was. 

 

Thankfully, we never had to use it. 

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#29 of 33 Old 03-21-2013, 09:34 PM
 
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The code word idea is great. I am going to do that with my kids when they get a bit older.  OP I think your son will be fine :) 

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#30 of 33 Old 03-22-2013, 08:04 AM
 
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I think it depends where you live. I would highly suggest the children have buddies when walking. Free range is fine, but there are steps between complete dependence and free range capable. Where I live there are coyotes, snakes, and believe it or not there are also some gangs nearby though we live in a nice area. My children are still learning about NOT panicking when they see wildlife and how to respond should trouble arise so at 3, 8, and 10, we are still working on their free range capabilities. I will say that bc we moved recently it has taken longer to allow more free ranging and less parent supervision. Had we not moved, I would have allowed more free ranging bc they were better equipped to handle our former environment and area.

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