Last year we added a small flock of chickens to our little tenth of an acre subdeveloped slice of the american dream. For several months, we’ve kept our chickens inside the coop and run I built for them – letting them out only when we were within sight of them for fear of some predator devouring them in a frenzy. Fearing a night attack by raccoons or foxes, I built the coop so securely that sometimes I’ve even had trouble getting in or out of it.
Inside the coop is an abundant supply of feed, an automatic waterer, nests, heat and lights on timers…pretty much everything a chicken needs for survival (and comfort).
What more could a chicken want or need?
Did you know that the humble little barnyard chickens that faithfully keep our fridges stocked with fresh supplies of eggs are descendants of the Red Junglefowl of Southern Asia? Red Junglefowl range freely across lush forests and oil palm estates foraging for insects, greens, fruits and seeds – doing exactly what they were made to do.
I like to think of my flock as jungle fowl.
And that’s helped me buy into the free-range concept. When I leave for work in the morning, I let the chickens out of the coop. Not that there aren’t limits – my yard is still fenced in – but they are free to roam within those bounds. Occasionally I’ll find one that has slipped away and I have to bring her back in, but I’ve had very few problems with them. In fact, allowing them to free range has been beneficial to me and the chickens. They are getting a wider variety of food and exercise and I’m spending less on feed and getting more eggs from them. It’s also a thrill to see them run to me when I come home from work (surely that couldn’t have anything to do with the handful of corn I throw out for them).
While googling information on free ranging chickens, I stumbled across the site “Free-Range Kids” and absolutely fell in love with the concept. Lenore Skenazy is the author of the website and wrote the book by the same name. You know who she is. She’s the awesome mom that let her 9 year old son make his way home by himself on the New York subway a couple of years ago. She wrote a column about it [Read it here] that received a lot of criticism and praise. The blog and book are a result of her sharing her style of parenting which differs so drastically with what we’re all being taught. It’s really nothing more than common sense – which her blog describes as treating a child “as a smart, young, capable individual, not an invalid who needs constant attention and help.” I like that. I haven’t gotten to pick up a copy of her book yet, but I’ve been reading her site and like what I’ve seen. Her book is on my Amazon wishlist. This recent entry really captured my attention: Calling All Teachers & Principals! Free-Range Kids in the Schools. It described a student who made an “independence cake” which involved walking to the grocery store alone, purchasing all the ingredients, making a cake and then making a presentation of her experiences. What an awesome idea! I couldn’t wait to try something similar with my kids.
My daughter is nine. She hasn’t gotten to roam very far from us in the past. We’re not helicopter parents by any means, but we’ve always kept a watch on our kids. She’s getting old enough for some free ranging. She’s ready for it, she needs it and I had a plan to start her out. Tonight I took her to a grocery store at the height of the after-work rush right before we’re expected to get some wintery precipitation (for those of you not from The South – that means that there is inevitably a brutal buying frenzy on milk and bread underway and normally polite Southern ladies will run you down for the last loaf of Bunny Bread). It wasn’t until we were in the parking lot that I filled her in on what she was about to do.
I gave her $10 in cash, our store discount card and a list of three items I wanted her to buy: 1 gallon of 2% milk, a pack of any size reduced fat American Cheese and a pack of any size of turkey bacon. She had the freedom to chose between brands and sizes but it had to total up to less than $10. I reminded her about sales tax and sent her on her way. With the $10 limit, I knew she was going to have to do some budgeting and decision making.
Everyone’s a Stranger in a Strange New World
I asked her what it was like shopping by herself. She said that it was scary because there were so many adults around. I asked if anyone in particular scared her. She described a man asking her if she needed help when she was trying to find the “reduced fat” cheese. She said that she was confused because she didn’t know what the word “reduced” meant. She eventually saw it written on some of the packs. I asked her how she answered the man. She said that she told him “no”, that she didn’t need any help. I asked her why she turned down help when she needed it. She answered with what we’ve all been taught…”I’m not supposed to talk to strangers.” I asked her how she decided what to buy. She said that she had to dig a crayon out of her purse and add up prices to figure out which cheese and bacon she could afford. When asked if she enjoyed it, I received an emphatic “Yes!” followed up with the question, “Am I responsible now?” Yes you are sweetie. You’re getting more responsible every day.
Later in the evening, I gave her a short writing assignment. I asked her to tell her story and gave her the following prompts:
- What did you do tonight?
- What decisions did you have to make?
- What was it like and how did it make you feel?
- What did you learn?
- Come up with a creative title for your story.
Here’s what she came up with:
My Life as an Adult
Tonight I went to the grocery store by myself. But I only had ten dollars. I had to decide what I was going to buy. Also I had to determine if I was getting cheap stuff. It was like I was surrounded by adults. It made me feel unsafe and scared. But I learned to count my money and do it for real. Also I learned it’s fun to shop by yourself.
I’m proud of her. She handled an unfamiliar situation extremely well. She learned some important lessons about life and developed more confidence in her own abilities. I learned some important lessons too – that the things we as parents say have a tremendous impact on the way our kids view the world around them and that we can be surprised by how capable our kids really are (I was shocked when she came out in less than 15 minutes – sometimes it takes me that long just to decide between two brands that are only 10 cents different in price). I encourage you to try it with your kids. Find something intentional that you can do to give you both a “free-range” experience. I promise you’ll both learn from it. If you do, I’d love to read about it in the comments.