I ran across this website the other day, Free Range Kids, which espouses the virtues of letting your kids have a little more autonomy and the ability to run free. without parents monitoring their every move. Basically, have the same sort of childhood we had growing up.
I must admit, I love the idea, but it makes me nervous. Let's just say that my kids don't have nearly the same freedom I had growing up. I guess my justification is that I grew up in a very suburban area with lots of kids around and lots of stay at home parents and the only people in the neighborhood lived there. So, the risk of anything happening to us (aside from accidents) was small.
My husband grew up in rural Missouri so his experience was far more wild than mine, one that I can't really comprehend because, while I mostly ran around the neighborhood, hiding in the bushes and shrubbery and occasionally heading down to the wooded areas, he and his two brothers were romping through open fields, sampling every plant and weed around them. To this day they still joke about "eating bananas" and trying to defend themselves that they hadn't been out eating weeds. The whole while standing there with a large ring of green matter stained on their mouths.
I must also admit, that when we first moved to our new house I was appalled, aghast!, that the neighborhood kids all walked to school by themselves. Now, the school is about 2 blocks away and any child over 4 is more than capable of walking there themselves, but these were 2nd graders. But, they also had older siblings and neighbor friends they walked with so, really, how bad can it be?
I have improved slightly, and it helps that my kids are older (5 and 6), so I did let them play outside in the snow last month alone, out of sight, in the front yard. I told them to stay close, which they more or less did, although there were a number of times they wandered out of sight and needed to be corralled up. I just don't trust them yet to not run off somewhere. My mom, on the other hand, was concerned they'd be snatched up when she heard of our errant parenting. I assured her that if they did get snatched, they wouldn't make it around the block before they were dropped off right back where they started.
I think it's very important that kids spend a lot of time outdoors, in any weather. It doesn't also mean that they have to have a parent with them. Sure, they will get into trouble, just like we did, but how else will they learn about the natural world and their abilities in it?
Some might argue that the world is a different place and is more dangerous, scary, etc. but is it really? Do your kids have the same amount of freedom that you did growing up? Why or why not?
Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder
Anxious Parents: A History of Modern Childrearing in America
I Love Dirt!: 52 Activities to Help Your Kids Discover the Wonders of Nature