Free-range refugee

Susan
Susan Flanagan
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I have always been a free-range sort of parent - letting my children wander and learn things for themselves. I'm not saying this method is any better than a more controlled style. But I did get a bit of a shock when we first moved to British Columbia in the summer of 2004 and my neighbour told me not to let the children play alone in our cul de sac.
In St. John's, starting in kindergarten, my children all walked to and from school on their own or with friends. In Surrey, I walked the children to and from school. In St. John's, my boys were used to going off on their bikes, coming home when their bellies told them to. In Surrey, when Marie had dancing I hired a sitter to go skateboarding with the boys at a skate park nearby. I did this until Conor was old enough to take care of the others. Even then, my sister insisted on sending me an all-paid cellphone to leave with him in case anything happened.
I spent so much time with my first four children in B.C. I felt like I was missing an appendage if I ever went anywhere without one. That was rare. Generally we were always together. Maybe that's why our cross-continental road trip was such a success, we were so used to travelling everywhere as a package that it was no shock to spend six hours in the van every day.
Now that we're back home, I've reverted back to free-range parenting. It took some getting used to but now it's normal for them to be scattered to the four winds just like before we lived in BC. In fact, the other day when all seven of us loaded in the Montana to go cut our Christmas tree, my husband noted how long it had been since we were all in the van together. He also noted how far the van sank down when all five children were on board.
Now that I'm back to the toddler stage, I sometimes question my free-range style. Like the day I drove in the driveway only to notice my third son, Ryan, and his friend, who I'll call Liam to protect his identity, ducking behind the chimney on the roof. In the time it took for me to break free of my seatbelt and hurry out of the van, they had already clambered down a side tree and were nonchalantly striding, hands in pockets, towards me.
"Us? On the roof?" they said.
Unbelievable. Gazing into the eyes of these artful dodgers, I decided that I would try out some organized activities for the surprise baby so he doesn't end up following in delinquent footsteps.

The first place Declan and I checked out was The Little Gym at Coaker's Meadow, owned by Stella and Mike McGuire. Much to my delight I found that The Little Gym is definitely worth straying from the free-range recipe. Robin Wes, a gymnast and phys ed teacher, opened the first Little Gym in Seattle in 1976. With more than 200 franchises in 19 countries, Wes has realized his dream of helping children between the ages of four months and 12 years develop motor skills while having fun. They offer everything from gymnastics to dance to karate in a spacious bright padded room. What more could a parent ask for?
My son is in the birds' class (10-19 month olds). While Jen sings the welcome song, Declan jingles his wrist bells with the rest of the toddlers. The first class he howled when the bells went back in their bin, but they were soon replaced with balls, sticks or bubbles so he got over it.
If you'd like your child to flip on crash mats, balance on high beams and kick balls, The Little Gym is the place for you. Mostly Declan just runs around like a maniac until the good-bye song. After his first session, my little non-napping free-range chicken slept over three hours. If you've never been to The Little Gym, you're invited to an introductory session free of charge. Chances are you'll be so impressed, you'll sign up for a full term. They even do birthday parties.

Another thing my husband and I tried for the first time with Declan is the Parents and Tots Programme at the Aquarena. We choose a time that overlaps with lane swimming and take turns huffing out our lengths while Declan flops around in the kiddy pool. The singing is not quite as animated as at The Little Gym but that's OK, because free-range Declan is not yet the sing-a-long type. Cost is $5 for a parent and tot or you can buy a book of 12 passes for $50.

It's hard to believe it took five children to get me to check out a baby movie at Empire Cinemas in the Avalon Mall. I'm not talking Winnie the Pooh or Walt Disney. I'm talking a full-fledge grown-up movie with reduced volume and increased lighting that you enjoy with your baby.
If you've never been, don't worry about your baby disturbing anyone else in the theatre because everyone else present is equally blessed with a swaddled bundle. Imagine a regular cinema chock-a-block full with infants. They cry, they fill their pants, they goo and wail. They demand constant attention. The change tables and playpens set up down front are in constant use - as are the microwaves and bottle warmers to heat milk. There are even play mats to crawl around on. The most impressive thing about the movie for me was the sheer number of strollers parked outside the cinema door. Over 100 prams lined up in several rows like some toddler parking lot.
Best of all, you get a say in what movie will be shown. When you sign on to the Empire Studios website, they send you an e-mail asking you to vote on your favourite. If the movie happens to be one you're really interested in, you might have to watch it again when it comes out on video. Not to worry, the Reel Baby experience is still worth it.
One thing to take note of is if you have older preschoolers, the subject matter is not always suitable. The last three choices were "The Day the Earth Stood Still," "Nothing Like the Holidays" and "Delgo."

Winter can be long for parents and babies. One place I bring Declan to beat the winter blues is a place I started bringing my four other children 15 years ago. It's one of the best places on earth for a toddler. Wide open spaces where he can truck around and not bother anyone. The Arts and Culture Centre has ramps and steps where little ones can forget the hassle of tramping through snow and toddle around to their heart's content.
The best part of the Arts and Culture centre is the children's library. The librarians Kim and Susan are so friendly. Mind you, they were a little shocked to see me back with a toddler after nine years. Declan loves the big fish in the tank and the toddler-sized book cases perfect for choosing his own board books. In January, Declan will be signing up for Tots Time - a once-a-week story time for babies and toddlers and their parents or caregivers.

The last time I was at the library, I met some parents from away who had recently moved to St. John's and weren't aware of all the services this place has to offer for young children. So I decided to compile a list, by no means exhaustive, with some suggestions for parents, caregivers and young children to beat the winter blues. Most activities break for Christmas but start up again in January 2009. I hope you enjoy them as much as Declan and I do.
1. The Little Gym, Coaker's Meadow Plaza, 286 Torbay Road, 754-ROLL (7655), Next sessions start in January. www.thelittlegym.com
2. Reel Babies, Studio 12 Avalon Mall- Enjoy a $9 grown-up movie with your little one every second Thursday morning (11 am) at the Avalon Mall. Check out their website reelbabies@empiretheatres.com
3. Arts and Culture Centre Children's Library
Family Story time for children aged 0-5 and their caregivers, Wed OR Thurs morning for 20-30 minutes, duration seven weeks
Preschool Story time for children aged 3-5, caregivers wait outside the room, Thurs OR Fri morning for 30 minutes, duration seven weeks
Tots Time for children aged 0-2, caregivers wait outside the room, Thurs OR Fri morning for 20-30 minutes, duration seven weeks
These programs are offered in three separate sessions each year in fall, winter and spring. Sign-up for the next session is January 14 and 15 from 10 am to 5:30 pm. Sessions run from Jan 26 - Mar 13. To register drop by the children's library or call 737-3953.
3. The Works Tiny Tot Swimming Program at the Aquarena, Mondays 10:30-11:00, Tuesdays and Thursdays 9:15 - 10:00, Wednesdays 10:30-11:00 and 11:30-12:00, Fridays 9:15 - 10. 11:30-12:00, The toddler pool is also open Monday to Friday from 12:00 - 1:15 pm. Lane swimming runs Monday to Friday from 9:30 -12:00. The pool reopens January 12, 2009. For more information, check out www.theworksonline.ca
4. The Y drop-in play groups, New Cove Road, 754-2960, Mon, Wed, Fri 10-12, Sat, Sun 9-12, 0-2 years free, older than two years pay drop-in fee $10, Call 754-2960.
5. Cygnus Gymnastics, Memorial Stadium Dominion, 739 8197, Drop-in Gymnastics for children walking to kindergarten, Tuesdays 9:15-10:15. First-time registration fee of $20, $10 drop-in fee for any other session, maximum 20 children per session so it is possible to arrive and have the programme full. Next session starts January 6, 2009.
6. CUPW Drop-in Playgroup (Family and Childcare Connection), 50 Pippy Place, Drop-in playgroup for parents/care givers and children aged 0-6. Tuesdays, Thursdays 9:30 - 11:00. Wednesday playgroup is for child care providers and the children in their care only 9:30-11:00. Maximum 20 children, after that a FULL sign is hung on the door. www.familyandchildcareconnections.com
7. Brighter Futures - staff-led learning through play drop-in playgroups for parents and caregivers and children aged 0-6 years. Seven locations in St. John's, Mount Pearl and Torbay. Call Deborah Capps at 739-8096 for more information.
1. Holy Cross Elementary at top of St. Clare Ave.
2. St. John Bosco, Shea Heights
3. Holy Trinity, Torbay
4. Kenmount Park Community Centre (also known as Mount Pearl Y)
5. Reid Centre, Mount Pearl
6. St. Thomas' Line Community Centre, Paradise
Brighter Futures also offer physical activity and prenatal programmes as well as a book-lending library. And if you have breastfeeding questions or want your baby weighed, head to Daybreak on The Boulevard Tuesday afternoons 2 - 3:30 pm.
8. Children's Movement Programme, Memorial University Physical Education Building, 737-3479, there are two drop-in sessions Saturday mornings: 9:30 - 10:30 or 10:30 - 11:30, small drop-in fee
Next session runs from January 17 until April 4. Maximum 30 children per session.
8. Mother Goose Programme, George Street United Church, Wednesday 10:00-11:00, for babies birth to 21/2 years; Holy Cross Elementary, Tuesday 10:00 -11:00 for toddlers 21/2 - 5 years, oral language play, stories and rhymes. Sessions are in ten week blocks. Next session is from January to Easter. Call Lori Fritz at 754-9509 if you have questions.
9. Salvation Army - Grow with Me , Mount Pearl Citadel, 106 Ashford Dr. (off Smallwood Dr.), Mondays and Wednesdays 9:30-11:30, Drop-in play group for young children with story and music times and a lending library of books and teaching materials. Call 364-3700 and leave a message. Next sessions start in January.
The Salvation Army also runs play groups at the St. John's Temple on Torbay Road near Mary Queen of Peace Church and at the St. John's Citadel, 25 Adam's Avenue.
- Susan Flanagan

Organizations: Aquarena, Empire Cinemas, Walt Disney Empire Studios The Salvation Army Reid Centre George Street United Church Peace Church

Geographic location: St. John's, British Columbia, Surrey Montana Torbay Road Seattle Mount Pearl New Cove Road Holy Trinity St. Thomas

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Recent comments

  • Mommy as well
    July 02, 2010 - 13:25

    While this is a nice article why not check out www.nlmoms.com where you will see a calender full of active events happening in NL, as well as a forum to meet other moms from NL and discuss what is happening.
    This paper did an article on this two years ago perhaps another one is on order :)

  • Ferne
    July 02, 2010 - 13:24

    I raised my children free range also. But that was years ago when there were no people to be afraid of for the little ones. As a matter of fact, most residents knew the weird ones and so did the kids and knew who to stay away from. Kids roamed where they liked and came home when their stomachs told them; to the parks and as far away as Topsail Beach from St. John's. Parents on the street kept an eye on everybody so we knew where they were. I now live in an outport and it is definitely free range.
    This list you have is great only make it a separate item. I think parents will like the ideas.

  • Mommy as well
    July 01, 2010 - 20:11

    While this is a nice article why not check out www.nlmoms.com where you will see a calender full of active events happening in NL, as well as a forum to meet other moms from NL and discuss what is happening.
    This paper did an article on this two years ago perhaps another one is on order :)

  • Ferne
    July 01, 2010 - 20:10

    I raised my children free range also. But that was years ago when there were no people to be afraid of for the little ones. As a matter of fact, most residents knew the weird ones and so did the kids and knew who to stay away from. Kids roamed where they liked and came home when their stomachs told them; to the parks and as far away as Topsail Beach from St. John's. Parents on the street kept an eye on everybody so we knew where they were. I now live in an outport and it is definitely free range.
    This list you have is great only make it a separate item. I think parents will like the ideas.