It’s the 6th January 2013 and it’s a glorious warm sunny day here in the south of France. We took the dogs out to a nearby field we’ve named The Big Meadow, for a run. After the Christmas holidays we all needed a good run.
From the meadow you can cross a fallow field and go down to a stream that comes down off Canigou. In summer it is teeming with water boatmen, tadpoles, dragonflies and pond skaters, but at this time of year the water is low and you have to look harder for waterlife. There are also lots of games to be played with pebbles, fallen branches, shadows and reflections and the nearby cows in the adjacent pasture.
My smallest daughter is just 5, and as she crosses the rocks I stand back, because I know she wants to do it, and she wants to do it by herself.
My instinct is to go with her, hold her hand, tell her ‘Be careful!’ But I don’t. I stand back and wait.
“Please don’t slip, please don’t slip, please don’t slip and hit your head.” (What I think).
“You’re doing brilliantly! You’ve got great balance.” (What I actually say.)
She does fine. She gains a little more confidence in the process and I gain a little more confidence in her abilities.
I’ve been following the early reader reviews of The Night Rainbow recently, and one of the discussion topics is about Pea, who is 5 1/2, and the fact her adventures in the meadows and down by the stream are unsupervised.
‘Is that realistic?’ readers ask.
The truth is I don’t know, because I don’t let my own children go wandering off down in the meadows and by the water on their own. When they get to a certain age then of course I will; I just don’t know what that age is yet. I’m hoping I know it when I see it.
But once upon a time young children, some as young as my daughter, were allowed to go tadpoling, or hunting for sticklebacks without adult supervision. It used to seem normal. It doesn’t any more, does it?
**UPDATE**: I’ve been directed to a couple of interesting websites that talk about this topic.
Here is an article called ‘Please don’t help my kids‘ : “I don’t want my daughters to learn that they can’t overcome obstacles without help. I don’t want them to learn that they can reach great heights without effort.”
Here’s Free Range Kids : “Fighting the belief that our children are in constant danger from creeps, kidnapping, germs, grades, flashers, frustration, baby snatchers, bugs, bullies, men, sleepovers, Ivy League rejection letters and/or the perils of a non-organic grape.”