50 things I did outside as a kid that didn’t kill me

Kids are pretty darn sheltered these days. On Facebook I once posed the question to some parents, “At what age is it safe to let kids play alone outside?” The answers I got freaked me out. Parents posted stuff like, “14, 18 years of age” or “Never.” Very few parents said they allowed their kids outside time without a parent at all, at any age. Even fewer parents said they allowed kids under the age of 12 alone time outside.

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It’s shocking. Not only do kids get almost no time outside they seem to get literally no time away from their parents. In fact, research shows that just 6% of kids ages 9-13 play outside alone. This is almost cruel in my opinion. Kids need nature. Kids need to be outside. Kids need to explore. Kids really, really need free play sans adults.

In some cases parents halt free play in favor of academics. In other cases parents halt free play because it’s easier to say yes to video games and TV. In a majority of cases though, I’ve seen parents halt free play because they’re scared to let their kids out of their sight. It’s a disservice to kids to be so scared of the world that outside play becomes a hazard. The world isn’t perfectly safe, but it’s not a big fat danger either. Not if you talk to your kids about basic safety rules.

My mom was far from perfect. However, she did give me outdoor freedom. She told me about stranger danger and advised me to look both ways before crossing a street. She liked when I was playing with friends, but also understood that sometimes I needed alone time. Because my mom was good in this respect I had a childhood full of normal healthy outdoor risks and adventures.

In fact, here are 50 things I did as a kid, before the age of 16 (WITHOUT an adult present) that didn’t get me killed, kidnapped or otherwise scarred for life…

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  1. Planned to build a clubhouse and sort of followed through using nails and (gasp) hammers.
  2. Play acted movies out with my friends.
  3. Kissed a neighbor boy.
  4. Ran in the rain without a coat.
  5. Climbed a million trees.
  6. Walked 20 blocks to a corner store for soda and candy.
  7. Rode my bike on very busy streets all over town.
  8. Built stuff out of rocks, mud and other nature items.
  9. Swam at my neighborhood pool without parents present – before 12 with a lifeguard, after 12 no lifeguard.
  10. Jumped out of trees from way up high.
  11. Biked without a helmet – not just in my neighborhood either. I used to sneak out and ride on the rural highway.
  12. Tied a bunch of bikes and wagons together to make a parade.
  13. Climbed on my friend’s roof (second story).
  14. Played street football and baseball.
  15. Jumped on a trampoline.
  16. Sat in my friend’s hot tub sans adults.
  17. Picked up stray cats.
  18. Did cartwheels off a pool diving board.
  19. Jumped off a pool diving board while sitting in a patio chair.
  20. Got inside a pillowcase or old box and went stair sledding.
  21. Played hide and seek at night.
  22. Walked around a big city, shopping, looking, etc. with young friends.
  23. Explored my neighborhood and other places.
  24. Jumped in the rain and in puddles.
  25. Went hiking, got lost. Got found.
  26. Dangled into a sewer to get my Barbie doll who fell in.
  27. Played monster – a tag game where the “IT” kid had to hit other kids with a plastic bat.
  28. Rolled around in pink insulation in the outdoor playhouse my friend’s dad was building.
  29. Did somersaults on concrete.
  30. Used tire swings with way too many friends.
  31. Stayed outside too long in snowy weather.
  32. Stayed outside too long in hot weather – didn’t drink water.
  33. Went downtown on the bus to go to a music concert.
  34. Cooked over a campfire.
  35. Went to visit neighbor friends, starting at the age of four, who lived houses and houses away.
  36. Climbed rocks.
  37. Threw rocks and had some thrown at me.
  38. Ran off alone at city parks, sometimes with friends, sometimes not.
  39. Ran near the ocean.
  40. Rode horses.
  41. Got in fights and roughed it up with other kids.
  42. Went swimming in rivers and lakes.
  43. Picked and ate berries off of neighborhood bushes.
  44. Played on splintery old playground equipment.
  45. Slept outside with other kids, no adults. Suburban camping!
  46. Slipped on a Slip & Slide.
  47. Rode public transportation alone, no parents. Often at night.
  48. Went on long night walks.
  49. Had snowball fights.
  50. Walked to and from school alone – I lived about 10 blocks away.

Do I recommend your kid jump into a pool while sitting on a patio chair, throw rocks or dangle into sewers? No, these are stupid things to do. I could have been really, seriously hurt. Yet, I wasn’t.

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Keep in mind:

I didn’t always live in safe neighborhoods as a kid. Sometimes we lived in pretty sketchy areas. I never, not once in my childhood, required doctor’s care due to an accident from playing outside. I’ve never had a broken bone, or even stitches. Even so, if I had experienced accidents, I’d still be glad I had all that outdoor time. Kids need to make mistakes and sometimes fall down. That’s life.

The new depressing version of childhood

It’s incredibly depressing to me to think about all the kids in this generation who will look back on their childhood as a time when they sat and sat and sat, safe and secure in front of computers and the TV. These are kids who won’t get the chance to learn how to be alone or how to be free to explore their world. Plus, a sedentary childhood can lead to all kinds of health and mental problems. It’s very depressing.

If you’re having trouble wrapping your head around this issue, I highly suggest you read Free-Range Kids, How to Raise Safe, Self-Reliant Children (Without Going Nuts with Worry). This is one of my favorite books and can really help if you’re too worried to let your child be an explorer.

What did you do as a kid that didn’t kill you? What are you allowing your kid to do now, alone, outside that also won’t likely kill him? Share in the comments.

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  1. arantxa says

    I agree. Perhaps world is more dangerous now, but not enough to grow up our children in bubles. They need discover, they need mistakes…
    Things I did as a Kid and didn´t kill me…
    – secret excursions with my brothers to the river, including hunting baby frogs and other little animals
    – grow up silk bugs (sorry, no sure about the English name), and consenquetly climb to the morera trees to get their food
    – get lost in the beach ( more than once)
    – get lost in the city
    – cousins pijama parties with theatre, chocolate, fanta ( orange artificial juice) and music (we were more than thirty and have a floor for us) while adults faked that we were sleeping
    – kiss boys
    – fall in love and share romantic afternoons around terrific ice creams
    -being an excuse for elder cousins to go out with boyfriends (eating terrific ice creams while they kiss each other in a corner)
    – go shopping and lost the money back of it in the way home
    -enter to explore in a building in construction ( one of our brothers team more stupid and great adventure)
    – conquer a medieval tower with a misterious legend with a handsome classmate (and after get the top of that misterios, dangerous, unexplored place… find a bottle of cocacola on the floor, what disappointed;D
    – kayaking on the sunrise with my kayaking group ( 30 years after, I dream with this magic moment)
    – get in troubles and learn how to solution them without your mum behind you
    – lost the school bus and walk the city trying to remember the way of the bus to come back home

  2. Beck says

    Nice post, my childhood was similar to yours but w/o public transportation, lol. However, it pained me to read “Even so, if I had of had…..seriously? why are so many people using ‘of’ when they mean “have” or some tense of? It’s “Even so, if I had had..” which isn’t great English either but please, not “of”-a preposition, when what you’re looking for is a verb-denotes action…..another example, but not in your piece “I would of came over”, this is omg ridiculous…it’s “I would have come over”….there should not be an “of” there, lol.

  3. Amity says

    I wandered pretty far in my urban neighborhood, at 8 and 9 years old. I also rode my bike down the middle of the street, downhill, no hands….I figured I was safe since I could see the cars coming (it was a one-way street). I played in the cemetery at the end of the street. I played with kids who my mom didn’t know. I walked a mile to the candy store. I only ever rode my bike without a helmet. I climbed trees. Later when I was 10 and older I explored the woods and fields and pond around my suburban home. I have a little brother who was often with me during those times. It was good to get away from the adults and explore, and think! It’s scary to let my kids go though. Especially all alone. But I try. My kids are home-schooled so they really are with me most of the time!


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