Ithaca Is First to Declare Itself a 'Free Range Kid City'

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CC BY 2.0. Georgie Pauwels

Welcome to a place in the U.S. where kids are officially allowed to be kids.

Parents in Ithaca, New York, can now let their kids play freely without fear of being punished for it. The city has just declared itself a "free range kid city, where kids have a right to unsupervised time and parents have the right to grant it to them."

This is a big step forward in a country where seeing an unaccompanied child can lead to calls to police, disturbing investigations by Child and Family Services, and well-meaning parents facing charges of negligence for letting their kids walk down the street alone.

Mayor Svante Myrick issued the city's new, non-binding proclamation on November 7. From The Ithaca Voice,

"We believe in the power of play. Given the choice between living here, where your kids can run outside and find a bunch of friends to play with, and another city where just allowing your kids to walk home from the park could get you arrested, we know that families will joyfully choose Ithaca."

Ithaca's statement follows on the heels of Utah's adoption of a Free Range Kids bill earlier this year. The bill explicitly states what child neglect is not, e.g. traveling to and from school independently, playing outdoors, and remaining unattended for a reasonable amount of time. Although neither Utah nor Ithaca has a history of parents being investigated for such normal behaviors, both are eager to ensure it never does, hence the new official efforts to prevent it.

Myrick's statement recognizes the tremendous benefit of allowing children to play freely and apart from constant supervision. He said,

"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."

As a parent who embraces the free-range parenting mindset and believes that children's rights to independence deserve serious consideration, even sometimes at the cost of parental discomfort, this is very happy news. There are times when I feel nervous about the freedom I grant my children, not because I fear for their safety, but because I worry about how the overly-paranoid legal system might construe it, and what repercussions that could have for my family. I'd love to see similar legislation passed in my province of Ontario that respects my choice to parent as I do.

The Ithaca Voice says the push was led by two groups, the Community Life Commission and the Just Play Project, a non-profit organization that works to support free play. The Just Play Project's cofounder, Rusty Keeler, who's also the co-creator of Ithaca's famous Anarchy Zone playground, is quoted in the Voice:

"Ithaca is already taking the lead in supporting unstructured play and getting children out and about."

Way to go, Ithaca! You're setting a great example for how kids should be allowed to live and be raised. Let's hope more cities and states follow your lead.