In the Netherlands, they drop kids off in the middle of the night in the middle of the woods and make them find their way back to camp. For real. Sometimes the adults even blindfold the kids on the car ride to this adventure, or drive around in circles, to throw off the kids' sense of direction even more. The whole thing is a rite of passage so common that when a New York Times writer Ellen Barry interviewed Dutch folk about their "droppings," they were shocked to learn people in other countries don't do the same thing.
Uh...no we don't. Not much. Like...no.
The Times piece follows three kids:
Shortly after 10 p.m. on a recent night, a car came to a stop at the edge of the woods. The door opened to release three children: towheaded boys of 12 and 15, and a 12-year-old girl with dark pigtails and an emoji-covered backpack. Then the driver threw the car into gear and sped away, gravel crunching under its tires.
They were tiny figures at the foot of the forest, miles from the summer camp they were attending, with only a primitive GPS to indicate the right direction. Darkness was falling. And they were alone.
Of course, a truly "primitive GPS" is called a compass. Before that it was called moss on the side of a tree. (That's north, my friends!) (Except when it's not.) In any event, it seems that the GPS device the Dutch kids get is a real GPS, but still! It is hard -- impossible -- to imagine this being a normal part of childhood in the United States. Consider that Rhode Island once proposed a law that would make it illegal to drop kids off at their own bus stop unless there was an adult there to walk them home -- through sixth grade.
The same age as the kids getting dropped off in the woods at night by themselves.
The idea, of course, is to give kids a sense of their own competence, bravery, independence. The article follow one boy on his first dropping -- which suggests that kids do this more than once:
That night was the first dropping for Stijn Jongewaard, an 11-year-old boy with jutting ears, who claimed to have learned English from Minecraft video games and “Hawaii Five-O.” At home, he spends much of his leisure time planted in front of his PlayStation. This is one reason his parents have sent him to camp. He has never been lost in the woods before.
His mother, Tamara, said that the time had come for him to take on greater responsibility, and that the dropping was one step in that direction.
“Stijn is 11,” she said. “The time window in which we can teach him is closing. He is going into adolescence, and then he will make decisions for himself.”
It's hard to say if this rite of passage is the key to the fact that Holland has the happiest kids in the world, according to UNICEF. Theirs is a culture that also teaches kids bike safety from near infancy on up, with the expectation that kids will get themselves around even at a young age. And the whole race to college seems less pressing there, too. And they don't skip breakfast (often enjoyed with chocolate sprinkles on their bread).
The dropping-kids-in-the-forest just seems like the cherry on the top of an entire culture that has determined to trust kids -- and adults. How trusting? One scout leader on his way to a dropping was pulled over by the cops for a traffic issue:
The officers pulled up beside him and asked him to roll down his window. They peered into the back seat of his car, where there were four children in blindfolds, which, Mr. Oudega said, “is not really allowed either.”
Mr. Oudega tried to look wholesome. “I’m here on a dropping,” he told them, hoping for the best.
“They looked at each other, then they smiled at me and said: ‘Have a good evening..."
And yet, this is still the modern era. Most Dutch kids are not growing up all My Side of the Mountain. Stijn admits that he normally spends a lot of time on his PlayStation. So perhaps it's all the more amazing that the parents are game to let their 2019 kids go forth in in the middle of the night.
And here's the result. By 1 a.m. -- more than three hours into their adventure:
They were bone-tired, all of them, but also adamant on finishing. One boy had asked to be picked up at the halfway mark, and that seemed to make the rest of them more determined. At that halfway mark, the children were given snacks and water, but in exchange, their GPS was taken away, and they had to follow their instincts. But no one complained, since there was no one to complain to.
“I’m going,” Stijn observed. “I don’t know why I’m going, but I’m going.”
It was nearly 2 a.m. when they stumbled into camp. There was a crackling fire, and boiled sausages tucked into soft rolls. Owls were on the hunt, and their shrieks could be heard in the tree canopy high above.
"Boiled sausages in soft rolls" is the kind of detail that might make any kid eager to stumble around in the woods. It's the kind of detail that might make a blog reader (or writer) hungry for lunch. Like, starving. But the idea of truly trusting kids -- and trusting the woods -- might make us all a little hungrier for a childhood that still holds some adventure. - L
Photo from Unsplash by Vladimir Agafonkin @mourner.
It is the ultimate Letting Grow experience,
This New York Times story