Wakefield, Quebec raises “free range” kids

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by Trevor Greenway on August 27, 2009

Dario Gines Hunt is what you might call “free-range kid”. He pretty much roams the Wakefield, Quebec village as he pleases, and his dad wants it that way.

“I have no problem letting him cruise through the village on his own,” said his father, Patrik Hunt.

“I think (Wakefield) is amazing that way.”

Aug. 26 front page

Aug. 26 front page

Hunt feels that his little village is safe enough to let his 14-year-old boy roam around without supervision.

Dario can walk into the village from his home just off of Mill Rd. to pick up a movie at the Wakefield Express and grab some snacks at the Wakefield General Store, all within an hour. In the city, he could do the same, but his dad would have more to worry about.

“It’s big and it’s busy,” said Dario, referring to Ottawa.

“I like it out here better.”

Wakefield also offers a kid a lot in terms of physical activity. In summer Dario rides his bike to the covered bridge to go for a dip in the Gatineau River, he plays soccer, track and field and although he does own video games, he “barely plays them.” In the winter, Dario plays his favourite game of hockey almost non-stop. When he is not playing organized hockey in an arena, he can jump in on a game of shinny at the Wakefield rink.

“I can just walk up and there is usually a game going on,” said Dario.

When he’s not cutting through the ice, you can usually find Dario on a snowboard at Vorlage ski hill, another activity that Patrik lets him do on his own.

“You could go away and they are fine,” said Patrik, referring to many kids who spend entire days on their own on the village ski hill.

“Vorlage is amazing that way. It’s safe.”

Patrik has been living in Wakefield since 1993. He was “on the verge of moving to Chelsea,” and although it would have had its advantages, he “thanks god” it never happened.

“I think it would have been nice being closer to the city,” he said.

“But the problem for Dario is crossing the highway. You got enough to worry about as a parent.”

But besides safety issues, Patrik likes Wakefield because it means he doesn’t have to put his kid on the “hamster wheel” of scheduled, organized activities that so many parents find themselves on. Constant driving from this class, to that practice, to the friend’s house was not something Patrik wanted for either himself or his son.

Avoiding the trap of constant supervision and a rigourous schedule, Patrick figures his son has a better shot at finding out what life is about on his own.

Chris Jarman would agree. He is another single dad who moved to Chelsea in search of a “community oriented village,” but he didn’t find it there. He said although there were a lot of community oriented individuals in Chelsea, the village didn’t lend itself to that kind of atmosphere. So he packed up and moved to Edelweiss in 2000 and later moved into Wakefield on Manse Rd. so that his two kids, aged four and five, could start “free ranging.”

“There were some really fantastic people,” said Jarman, referring to his neighbours on Larrimac Rd.

“But if we wanted to take part in Chelsea events, we had to use our car; but you can walk to anywhere in Wakefield.”

Jarman’s kids aren’t quite old enough to start free ranging quite yet, but his move to Wakefield puts it into the plans.

“In a community like Wakefield, you can put a longer leash on your kids,” said Jarman.

“It gives them a lot more freedom to discover who they are on their own.”

Susan Prosser is a psychotherapist, registered nurse and relationship counsellor, who writes the “Forest for the Trees” advice column in the Low Down. She said that there has recently been a growing fear among parents, especially those in the city, who “will barely let their children out of their sight.”

She feels that trusting your children in “age-appropriate and personality-appropriate ways,” is the best way to give your children independence.

“Once we teach our children how to manage their world and make decisions for themselves, we need to trust them to explore, make mistakes, learn from their mistakes and thus gain experience and build self-confidence,” she said.

“In this information age we can either live in fear and pass those fears on to our children or we can inform ourselves and teach our children how to think for themselves.”

How do you raise your children in the Gatineau Hills? Give us your feedback .