When Are Kids Old Enough to Play Outside by Themselves?

Updated on August 31, 2011
P.D. asks from Santa Fe, NM
23 answers

My kids turn 4 in November and I know they're too young to go outside unsupervised. I see 5 and 6 year olds outside unsupervised playing. I think it's something to look forward to later down the road. What do you suggest (based on your experiences) is old enough to play outside unaccompanied by a parent?


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answers from Dallas on

I DO NOT agree that it depends on the neighborhood and that the nicer neighborhoods have less kidnapping activity.

There was an incodent in a very very nice, quiet and higher-priced neighborhood in my area where a little girl was sitting on the walkway going up to her house (literally in front of her house) waiting for her Mommy to come outside with her when a man walked up to her and tried to grab her and force her with him. She screamed for her Mother who then rushed outside to get her. The man took off and was never caught.

So IMO the neighborhood has NOTHING to do with anything. There are crazy people EVERYWHERE!

I don't think I would let my children hang outside by themselves at all. You can never be too careful.

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answers from Washington DC on

Never. My kids are 8, 6, and 4 and I am always outside with them. I have just started to let them go outside to take the dogs out and I'll watch from the back door, but that is the closest they get to alone. I trust my kids and they know the rules and consequences, but I do not trust other people. We live in the back of a large development near a cul-de-sac with not a lot of traffic, but that won't stop the crazies from taking one of my babies. I know I am overly worried, but I'd rather be that and not have anything happen to my kids....

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answers from St. Louis on

we live in a great neighborhood.....my sons had "some" independence at age 4. Full freedom when they started KG...for our yard only. Could ride their bikes on 1/2 the block until about 7.....& then the whole block by age 10.

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answers from Boston on

We moved into our current home when my older kids were 8 and the younger ones were an infant and two. The older ones have been playing outside since we moved in. During that first year, they were allowed free reign of our fenced-in back yard and out front, I would pull my car across the bottom of the driveway and could see and hear them out the window in front of my desk.

My younger guys are now 5 & 7 and they have been playing outside for years. In the back yard, since age 4 at the oldest (but the older kids are usually there too and I can see them from my kitchen window) and in the front yard, just for the past year and really only to bike and play basketball and hockey in the driveway.

It's too bad that perceptions that the world is a scary place are causing people undue alarm about their children's safety. It's really not worse than when we were kids. Every neighborhood is different, of course, but I'd be more worried about safety from a traffic and injury standpoint than "stranger danger."

To the moms who answer never...you do realize that your kids are going to drive and leave home one day, right? I have a friend who won't let her 13-year-old daughter (almost 14!) walk 2 blocks to my house in the middle of the afternoon on a well-populated but not heavy-traffic street filled with parents walking their kids home from school. I have no idea what her mom thinks will happen in a little over two years when she gets her learner's permit or how she expects her to be able to earn money baby-sitting when she isn't allowed even the smallest bit of freedom and responsibility. You HAVE TO let them have some freedom and responsibility as kids. In the absence of extremely unsafe circumstance, pre-teens and young teens should be able to walk and bike places. Tweens should be able to go outside without a parent literally watching them every second. This is how they practice judgment, test boundaries, and prove that they are worthy of ever more independence. Seriously, re-think the "never" comments as they're just not based in reality.

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answers from Savannah on

Are you talking out front or back? It makes a difference because most back yards are fenced in and many houses have large sliding glass doors that you can supervise easily. Of course if there is a pool involved then that is a whole other story. My niece was 5 almost 6 and had never played out back unattended before, but that is because they had a pool without a fence. I took her with me to visit my husbands side of the family, and the 4 year old wanted to go outside and play (a very small yard with windows the entire length) and she ran up and asked if it was ok. I told her sure, but the adults kept an eye on them the entire time. It really depends on your yard as well as the neighborhood. Also, it depends on the maturity level of the child. Will he or she follow the rules of staying in the driveway/yard/half block etc?

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answers from Philadelphia on

Depends on the yard and child.

Each child is different. No one child is completely trust worthy but some are more trusting than others, or vice versa.

With a fence and locked gate with door for easy access and vision to the yard, 3, for small yard of a fortress. I'd have to be watching for a nearby window with the door open and talking back and forth to the child. As the fortress becomes less reliable the age of going out on their own goes up.

We've lived in many homes while in the military with 5 kids. Each house was set up different so while one child was gone alone at one house the next they were not allowed out alone.

Safety is always the issue so when in doubt, keep them in.

K. B
mom to 5 including triplets

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answers from Bakersfield on

I think its different for boys and girls and it depends on the area where you live. I barely let my almost 11 yr old go out front and he's a big kid. I think there are a lot of crazy people out there and it scares me to see little ones outside unsupervised. Another thing is to never let them out alone. Kids should be with a group of other kids. Hope that helps!

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answers from Spokane on

I let my 3 and 5 year olds play in our fenced backyard while I'm in the house....but not the front yard. I live on a safe, quiet street near the end of a cul-de-sac but they *must* be with a parent in the front yard.

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answers from Phoenix on

Now a days...'never'. I would recommend a parent be out there with their children at all times. I know I will always be, or my husband or both of us. Even out in the backyard, one of us or both my husband and I are out with our kids while they play. I think my boys will probably be in their teens before I let go 'a little'. :-)
I read an article that a little girl, around 7 years old I believe, was walking from a neighbors house (in the trailer park that they lived in), and in a blink of an eye, a strange man grabbed her and shoved her into his truck and sped off. Another neighbor man saw this, jumped in his truck and chased after that man, knowing that was 'not' right. Something was very wrong with how he grabbed that little girl and shoved her in his truck. The stranger ended up crashing his vehicle, the nice man got out, while the other stranger ran off, and the nice man went to that little girl and told her he was taking her home. Of course the police was called. I'm providing the link to this story. It is a scary story....and the thought of what could have happened to that little girl, had that good samaritan not have reacted the way he did. This, and other true events that are similar, are the reason why I will never leave my children unattended.

Read this story. It will give you chill bumps. I hope this helps you to decide.

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answers from Honolulu on


What do you mean outside?
Outside your home?

Kids have been abducted right from their curb. Young children and older children.
Takes a few seconds.
That is what I think about.

If in MY yard, which is enclosed with a fence... then my kids do play outside when I am inside.
My kids are 5 and 8.

And of course, I have taught them about rules and safety.
And they are mature kids.

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answers from Missoula on

My son will also be 4 in November, and I allow him to play outside without me all the time. We live in a very rural area, know our neighbors, and live on a dead end road, so there really isn't traffic other than the people who live here. Between my frequent checks and our 3 German shepherds I feel comfortable with him playing outside alone.

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answers from Chicago on

I imagine once my oldest is about 6 I will allow him to play outside by himself, but ONLY in our back yard (8' tall privacy fence) and I will first make sure that the gate is locked (and that he can't unlock it.) I would stay in the kitchen where I can see him out the window.

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answers from Orlando on

I think it depends on the type of neighborhood you live in. I live on a culdesac. No traffic unless people live here (there are only about 6 houses) - my daughter started playing outside around age 5. I was literally either sitting on the front porch or checking on her every 5 minutes. She is 9 now. Rules are still the same - stay in the court, no going inside anyones house (or backyard), stay where I can see you. I go a little longer (but she is constantly in front of my front window) so I am pretty much supervising her the same. Other kids ... I NEVER see their parents outside! OR they all come in MY house (which I'm find with) but their parents never check on them. Don't know how they do that. Even with my 9 year old if I don't see her for about 10 minutes I'm walking outside to check on her.

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answers from St. Louis on

It depends on the child and the area. My older two were very responsible and we live in a safe area so they were younger than five when they were allowed to go to friends houses and play in the subdivision. My younger two, not so much, they didn't seem to use the good sense god gave them so there were closer to 9 before they could go to friends houses.

In the backyard they were two. It is fenced and I have eyes, ya know?

Okay reading some of the other posts, am I the only one who teaches my kids? Why on earth would you have to lock your fence? If my child left the backyard they would be in a world of trouble and they knew it. If they were too young to know rules they were too young to be outside.

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answers from Denver on

my oldest just turned 10 and this summer was the first one that I didn't harp on him to have the dog that barks like a crazy thing with him when he was out front.....I still have the front door wide open when they're out front so I can hear them. in today's world there's just not enough neighbors home to provide the safety net we had. I thought we were running unsupervised from 1st grade on - in reality, there was a mom every other house or so that was watching us (I just figured this out in the last couple years - little slow sometimes !)!
it really depends on the kid and the neighbors. we live in a great neighborhood but had HORRID next door neighbors for a while - short story was they had to leave due to a restraining order and being arrested for assaulting the 80-yr old on the other side....while they were next door, my kids couldn't even go in the backyard without the dog. once they left (my oldest was about 6), I relaxed quite a bit but still had the rule that there had to be at least four kids playing together to not have the dog with them.if they were out front. by 7 or so they were allowed to play in the street (not just the front yard) without an adult out front because they had proved they were good about paying attention to cars (live on a cul-de-sac so its not that many cars or that fast).
we did a gradual relaxing of the rules - that's the best way to learn and earn responsibility. its been a gradual thing on how far up the street they can go as well. also, as they gradually got too big for the backyard, we had to relax the rules on playing out front. our backyard is just not that big and to play kickball, play catch, play soccer, etc, they have to be out front because the ball sails over the fence otherwise. plus, you just can't ride a two wheeler, scooter, or skateboard in the backyard!
that was us....the neighbors on the other hand (2 different families) were about 4 when they started wandering the street by themselves. to each his own I guess......
so, you start w/sidewalk chalk on the front porch or up by the garage when you're ready and see how they are about following the rules and move on from there.

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answers from Washington DC on

For me it's a "depends on" situation.

My kids have been playing outside by themselves since they were 5...however, has I've stated before we live at the end of a cul-de-sac and my kids are red and black belts in Tae Kwon Do.

My kids have been taught NOT to "fall" for the "i've lost my puppy" or "what does this smell like to you" - basically NOT to talk to ANYONE...They are NOT allowed to play outside ALONE...strength in numbers...

I would not let them play ALONE...they ALWAYS have to have a mate with them...

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answers from Milwaukee on

I let my 2 year old come in and out of the backyard/deck area that is all enclosed. I peek out the window or check on him on the deck often. He just plays with the rabbit and the swingset/slide. My 7 year old can hang out on driveway by himself and my 4 year old can go on the driveway by herself if she wants to do sidewalk chalk. They are usually all outside together though. They certainly are not allowed to roam the neighborhood.

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answers from New York on

I answered to the "followup" posted, but want to answer here too. I think it depends on the neighborhood, not how nice or expensive, but how many people are around, and what people. We live in a real 'old fashioned' neighborhood, and there are PACKS of kids out and about, and often their parents or other known adults. So "alone" is relative. If we lived somewhere there were no kids around, I don't know how I'd feel about letting my daughter out to play, but even if I'm not in immediate eye contact, there's likely a known person around (she's three, so not yet, but I too am looking forward.) If there was a pack of kids, say age 11 to age 5, that is very different than a lone 5 year old. If you often see known adults around, and you have an older kid on a bike, I think our neighborhood is around age 7 to go to a close neighbors house by themselves, based on what I see going on.



answers from Detroit on

My daughter was seven when I started letting her play outside unattended with her friends. Up until that point, my husband or I would have to be outside with her. She has been taught to be very aware of her surroundings. I still do not let her ride her bike in the street unless an adult is outside watching her and if she wants to play down the street at a friends house--she takes a walkie talkie with her so I can check in on her and vice versa.


answers from Detroit on

wow, i guess i'm way to easy going when it comes to my kids. dd4 ds almost 2 get to play outside by themselves in our fenced backyard. dd gets to go 3 doors ,left and right, down to play w/neighborhood kids. i live in a great neighborhood where there is someone always sitting on their porch and i know all of them. i'm a social butterfly...lol. i do have to say that when she walks down to nb house, i peek out the windows to make sure she makes it. now if ds is outfront...i'm right there w/him. but i have huge windows out front, huge slideing glass door in the back and i can see them all the time.


answers from Redding on

It completely depends on how well your children mind and how well you know your neighbors. If they stay in the yard to play that shouldnt be a problem.



answers from Miami on

I've been thinking about this recently. My daughter is 5.5 and my son is 3. We just moved to a new neighborhood. In our old neighborhood, we knew all of the neighbors and lived on a cul de sac, but I was ALWAYS with the kids when they were out front playing (unless I had to run inside for something, but I would make them come in if there wasn't a neighbor outside to watch them for a minute). All of the kids were around the age of my kids, so there really wasn't anyone out there playing alone. Now, we just moved to a new neighborhood and all of the kids are older (around 3rd-5th grade). Again, we live on a cul de sac and now we also live in a gated community. I still am not comfortable with my kids being outside alone. This past weekend, the neighbor girl (5th grader....VERY sweet!) came over to invite my daughter out to play. So, I let her go out, but I setup a chair in the driveway and went out with her. The neighbor wanted to show her the lake (there is a lake across the street behind some other homes), so I let her walk there with the other girl and just kept an eye on her. They were back in 5 minutes. This still made me uncomfortable. I used to let both of the kids play in the back yard (fenced) at our old house by themselves. I would open the windows so that I could hear and see them at all times. But, now we have a pool. Even though it has a baby gate around it, I'm still not comfortable with them being out there by themselves. My daughter can swim, but my son can't and even though she can swim...at 5 years old, there is no way I trust her around a pool alone. So, I'm not sure what the right age is to let my daughter go and play with the other girls on our street, but I'm not ready yet. My son, obviously, isn't ready, but I know my daughter was frustrated that the older girl was riding her bike to the other cul de sac next to ours and I wouldn't let her go. I just explained that her friend is older and that she isn't quite old enough for that yet. I'll be interested to see the other responses. I don't want to live in complete fear, but I also don't want to do someting stupid and unnecessary and regret it later if something happened.



answers from Lincoln on

As many have stated I think it depends on the where you are. Where I live (population 250,000) and next to a very busy road, no way. But when we are at my mom's (population 300) my 6 year old is free to go out with the yellow lab and roam the yard. He knows to not leave the yard, don't go in the street, stranger danger, etc. He also knows to keep the dog in check, although she follows him everywhere. My mom's in the village I grew up in and everyone knows everyone and I feel safe letting him go out there and play. She also has a swing set and toys where my apartment yard there is nothing to do anyway.

I agree that kidnapping can happen any time, any where, but I guess I figured I played free in that town and I feel comfortable letting him. I think it's a go w/your gut situation. If it worries you, no. If you feel like it'll be fine, yes.

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