At what age should kids play outside unsupervised?

If my childhood played out today instead of the 1980s, my parents would be charged with child endangerment and gross negligence.

Not because they were abusive parents – far from it. I grew up in a loving home with doting parents, but they weren’t exactly hands on.

During school holidays when I was 9 or 10, I can remember meeting my neighbourhood friends and disappearing for the entire day. We would explore local streets, create mud pies in the dirt, climb trees, and do all that other cliché stuff that people talk about when referring to “the good old days”.


We would return home when we were cold or hungry. I definitely didn’t leave the house with a lunchbox full of cut sandwiches and sliced fruit, and for those hours, my mum had no clue where I was.

And yet, despite the fact that I enjoyed those fun-filled, free-wheeling days, my children (currently aged 4 and 7) have the opposite upbringing.

They’re allowed to play in the backyard… but only if we’re outside with them.

They’re allowed to ride their bikes in our street… but only if they stay within our eyesight (no turning the corner!).

They’re allowed to jump in puddles if it starts raining… but only if they’re wearing gumboots and a raincoat.

Comparing my childhood to theirs recently, I’ve wondered: how young is too young for kids to be allowed outside to play, without supervision?

I look to two of my friends, who have completely different stances on this.

One has a great big backyard, with a grassy lawn, a trampoline, a swing set and loads of bikes and scooters. It’s fully fenced, safe and flat. But the kids are hardly out there, because she feels like she has to sit out there and watch them while they play. Her kids are 5 and 7 – surely that’s old enough to play in a safe, secure, fenced backyard unsupervised?

At the opposite end of the scale, my other friend has a similar set-up outside, minus the trampoline. She allows her son to play out there unsupervised every day. And he’s 2!

“I usually hover around in the kitchen so I can see him through the window, most of the time,” she says. “People judging me doesn’t bother me, but you should see some of the horrified and shocked looks I’ve received when I say my 2-year-old plays alone outside!”

I must admit, I fall somewhere in between. So, over to you: at what age do you think we should stop cotton-woolling our kids, and let them explore the outdoors without our constant hovering?