We live in a city. A city with traffic, unknown dangers; of the real kind and the scaremongering kind. We ferry our kids about in cars and on the back of bikes but we don’t leave them off on their own without several phone calls to parents and prearranged pick up and drop off times. Things are different all over the country of course, I know lots of kids rural or otherwise have more freedom.
This year, we’ve taken our holidays in Sweden staying with friends. Sweden: land of long maternity and paternity leave, massively subsidised childcare, an outdoors lifestyle and lots of freedom for kids. Schooling starts comparatively late (aged seven) and is holistic in nature. Discipline isn’t an oft heard word.
Our two are younger than our friends’ children but they’ve been learning fast – they’re spending a lot of time naked. There’s a lake near by; we’ve all been swimming in it and our drinking water (unflouridated) comes from there too. The eight year old and his friend cycled down to the swimming area themselves, with tractors and Volvo estates passing them by carefully. The kids wear bike helmets, their natural freedom is complemented by a respect for the realistic dangers. (In their parents cars they sit rear facing until age four or five). We’ve seen six year olds don their life jackets and go to fish off the pier in a different part of the same lake. The eight year old caught a pike the day before we arrived, he’s told me in excellent enthusiastic childish English at least ten times how he saw the pike and BASHED its head with the handle of his fishing rod. He also showed me photos of the fish him and his father have caught and named them all in Swedish and English.
On Sundays a refurbished steam boat takes people for pleasure cruises around the lakes. In the winter the lake freezes up to two metres thick and people light campfires right out on the ice. They skate on it, they drill holes and fish on it, they live with and on and in and around this lake.
The local community have an informal rota of keeping the common areas mown and tidy. It makes it a pleasant place to be and keeping the long grass down lessens the chance of being bitten by an adder. For even though the land is verdant green it’s not like Ireland – there’s huge insects, snakes, moose and wolves and wild boar in the surrounding forest. They don’t litter, they take care of their amenities, nature-given or man-made.
Kids are taught to embrace the freedom of summer in the same way grown ups do because it’s not all idyllic weather-wise; in contrast to the 6-8 weeks of proper summer weather where the sky barely darkens you’ll find yourself penned in by snow and ice and darkness from December to April.