How far to roam?

I had a childhood of endless suburban summers in Palmerston North. For those that don’t know, Palmerston North was originally a massive swamp and this meant that it is criss-crossed with a series of drainage creeks and storm water drains. I remember hopping into the creek at the back of my friends house and walking for miles along the creek bed investigating anything and everything on our journey.

I also remember my father completely freaking out upon our return later in the day – not about how far we had travelled but over the fact that as storm water drains they could flood very quickly and we’d all be drowned in the “hut” we had built ourselves in one of the tunnels.

My point is that only very recently (for I’m not that old #coughcough) we roamed kilometres of asphalt on our bikes, investigated abandoned buildings and journeyed up creeks. And lately – we’ve been thinking a lot about safety.  Why do we now, as teachers and adults, suddenly consider everything to be so damned dangerous.

A recent New Zealand survey found that while in the mid-90s 28% of kids biked to school and over the last 20 years, despite constant hand wringing over childhood obesity, traffic congestion and wrapping our kids in cotton wool that number has dropped to 0.6%.

No I didn’t put the decimal point in the wrong place.

At School Kit we’ve been wondering what kids think about our cotton wool wrapping.  Do they yearn for the childhood adventures we had?  How would we go about explaining this freedom to our students and better still how would we go about investigating the issue with them?

Investigate change over generations: Have students investigate either family members or local community members from a series of different generations.  Map their experiences and the “safe” boundaries set by their parents.

Ask if parents and students think the same thing: Use a basic survey tool (such as Formstack or Google Forms) and ask parents and kids to give their ideas about what is safe and what is dangerous. Analyse the feedback to see if you can find common themes or trends.

Uncover your secret community: Often power is knowledge – create a collaborative map of your area and trace safe routes, interesting routes, good stories, recommendations of places, non traffic routes around your neighbourhood. Be inspired by Keri Smith and help your students rediscover their community.

Use pedometers to see how far students walk on average: Ask students if they think we should walk more. Turn this into a health and well-being investigation and use pedometers to see how far the class walks collectively.  Research to find recommendations about activity.  Conduct professionals for their opinion.  Organise a whole of class ‘Big Walk Home’ and see what that does to your class pedometer count.

Work on the definition between perceived and actual:  What we’ve learned recently is that there are two types of risks to our safety – perceived and actual.  It’s an important definition and one that is relevant for our students as they grow. Critically analyse articles like this one on parents being arrested for letting their kids walk home alone. Investigate the law in New Zealand. Use Free Range Kids as a starting point for investigating other case studies. Debate.