How Far Did You Roam As A Child?

John Larkin links to Bill Kerr along with an article in the Guardian, Kids need the adventure of risky play and an article in the Mail online, How children lost the right to roam in four generations.

The premise is that children today have lost their right to roam, and that this sort of protective attitude is harming them.

Maybe. I ranged far and wide as a child: below is a map of the places I visited on my bicycle between the ages 10-14:

After I was 14, I got a part time job in Ottawa, and my attention was focused on the city. Between the ages of 14 and 16 I wandered in and out of the city pretty much at will, and my range included the entire city. At 16 I got a motocycle, which gave me a range of about 300 miles in diameter. I also traveled to Britain with a school group (which I ditched once we hit London, giving me that entire city to roam).


Here is my range at age 78, in Candiac, on the south shore of Montreal.


  1. It's important that in that last article about roaming, they focus on eight-year-olds. There's a huge difference in confidence and independence between eight and say, 12 (in the middle of your 10-14 range). I would suspect that most kids would (and did in the past) triple their range between eight and 12.

    I'd like to see your map redone for you at eight. With the year, you could compare it to the mapped areas for the other eight-year-olds from 1919, 1950, 1979 and 2007. Even if it would have been a slightly larger area than the kid who was eight in 1950, I bet your range wouldn't be too out of place in that sequence.

    Obviously the sample is way too small, but it would be fascinating to see a larger study of those trends. The study referenced in the article focuses on kids having less exposure to the natural world...related, perhaps, but kind of a separate issue. My childhood experience was entirely rural (eight in 1981), which wouldn't really be fair to compare to a kid in the early '80s who lived in the middle of the city.

  2. danah boyd actually refers to this phenomenon as another reason for increased social networking. Kids (everyone pretty much) prefers face to face but partly due to parental fear and societal changes, kids are forced to socialize in these ways.

  3. Another memory triggered -- in one of his books, Howard James Kunstler wrote about growing up in New York City in the late '50s and riding the subway by himself at 10 years old. By the time he was 12 or 13, his roaming range included anywhere that incredible system of trains ran, and as long as he could scrape together the change, he could spend a Saturday visiting the Museum of Natural History on his own. Hard to envision that scenario now.

  4. I've posted the map for age 8 as an update to the post. Obviously the range is much smaller. It's also in a different location, since we moved in 1968.

  5. That's still pretty huge, considering the age and the fact that it's in the city. I can't imagine giving my 7-year-old daughter that kind of roaming range next year.

    Cool how yours includes parks, a creek, railway tracks...lots of ingredients for creative play and exploration. That secondary node across the highway looks pretty far, but perhaps those roads weren't major arteries at that time?

  6. Hi Stephen,

    Thank you for the reference to my blog post. Yesterday there was a talk back session on our regional radio station on this issue in reaction to the blog post. I am hoping to get a copy of the exchanges between the radio journalist and the general public.

    A far ranging study, as suggested by Jeremy, would be interesting.

    The radio interview covered such issues as institutionalised fear, cultures of fear, the role of the media and whether or not the world is a more dangerous place.

    Age 78?

    Cheers, John.


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