Summer Camp

Free-Range Children

By Stacie Hoppman January 7, 2019

It’s pretty common to hear adults lament over the loss of “free-range children,” children who head outside each morning, jump on their bikes, and play with the neighborhood kids until the street lights come on at night—the universal signal that it’s time to come home. Instead, today’s children sit with their tablets and phones, conversing via messaging apps and video games, playing at playgrounds with rubber floors, with mothers hovering watchfully nearby.

It can be lonely if you’re the only child on the block who heads out into the yard to play. We might believe in raising free-range, independent children, but when everyone else around is well-scheduled and supervised, those free-range children head right back inside to pick up their phones and tablets, seeking out friends online, because that’s where people seem to be.

Perhaps it’s no surprise that as children’s freedom and free play declines, anxiety and depression in our young people has begun to soar. As they lose their ability to make their own decisions and get lost in their own imaginations, as each moment of each day becomes scheduled, supervised, and planned, children experience a loss of control, leading to higher diagnoses of depression and generalized anxiety disorder. They feel trapped.

What happens when kids just play? What happens when we let our kids be free-range children? Play involves decision making. Children learn how to get along with others. Children try new things, experience new sensations, and even gain new skills. Play incorporates a variety of emotions, teaches coordination, and presents challenges. In play, children discover abilities they didn’t even know they had.

All of these things happen at summer camp, the ultimate environment for free-range children. Here, children test their independence in a safe and fun atmosphere. They play. They learn. They grow. They run. They try. They fail. They succeed. They laugh. And they do all of these things in an environment filled with other children who are also playing, who are also learning, trying, and growing. There are no screens to pull them back inside. There are no deadlines to meet, no agendas to fulfill.

This is the place where kids can be with other kids, figuring things out together, playing together, overcoming challenges together, conversing together. They sing beneath the glowing stars, run screaming across the meadow, learn to dive in the deep end of the swimming pool, and smear mud on each other in the creek. But it is more than that. They are growing socially, emotionally, spiritually, and relationally. And it happens without them even realizing it. It happens in their freedom, in their play, and in their songs. It happens when they are allowed to be free-range children.

Give the gift of confidence. Of independence. Of friendship. Of camp. Register today.

Register for Camp