My mother didn’t work outside our home until I was 12. But whether it was a weekend or one of our seemingly endless summers, she would kick my brothers and I outside so she could get stuff done. I really don’t know what she was doing but I’m assuming she was cooking, decluttering or writing endless grocery lists, since those seem to be my chief tasks at home now that I have kids. What I do know was that we went outside and weren’t supposed to come back until we heard her ringing the big brass ship’s bell attached to the side of our house.
I started thinking about my childhood rambles after reading “How Your Mother Affects Your Creative Thinking”. While my mom was emotionally involved with us, she was no helicopter parent. I wonder how it affected me? And how can parents give kids the same freedom today, in a world where we no longer know our neighbors and we fear things like Lyme disease and “bad guys”? (I have no answers apart from: Do get to know your neighbors. It helps.)
After reading a bit more, I starting thinking that a parenting style that creates creative kids probably gives parents the freedom to still lead a creative life; time not for housework and grocery lists (sorry Mom!), but for creative projects that may not pay the bills but allow the soul to feast. Raising so-called free range kids gives both child and parent permission to build lives filled with creative potential, even if that’s just 15 minutes a day. And maybe the response at the dinner table to “What did you do today?” would be more exciting than “Dunno, stuff” as a result. (As John Long, Group Creative Director at Ogilvy, wrote in Campaign, by endlessly entertaining, screens suck the creativity right out of us—parents and kids.)
What do unsupervised kids do? Oh we played badminton, biked or made up games. But mostly we played in the woods, which was just a small natural area between our house and the nearest farmer’s field. We had grand adventures, from finding an abandoned treehouse to discovering an old well that was deeper than the longest branch we submerged. We rescued baby squirrels and found litters of 'wild' kittens. Leeches and crayfish were caught with elaborately engineered traps. Tadpoles in big glass jars on our front porch slowly transformed into frogs. We went into the woods wearing rubber boots and, armed only with our imaginations, wooden swords, cap guns and butterfly nets, became whatever we wanted to be.