Do We Really Need to Make EVERYTHING into a BIG DEAL…Including a SAND BOX? (via Free-Range Kids)

Thursday, August 16th, 2012

Hey Folk s– It’s Lenore from Free-Range Kids, who — reading  this story about a sandbox dispute in Seattle — just cannot understand how come a guy who makes a lovely sandbox for his kids and puts it in a place where the other children on the residential street immediately find it, love it and come together to play in it, is now being scrutinized from every possible angle: Is the sandbox in a safe place? (The dad would put his kids in jeopardy?) Is it in the way of drivers? (They get priority?) Is the owner liable if someone gets hurt, or is the city? (Why do we always think of the worst-case scenario first? Doesn’t that stop all innovation dead in its tracks?) And does the dad REALLY have to pay a $500 A DAY FINE???

Here’s a tiny update on the situation. But the larger issue for me is this: I really don’t know how to get back to an era when we don’t pick apart every aspect of childhood to the point where nothing seems safe enough and the usual conclusion is, “Oh, let’s just skip it. God knows that’s the easiest solution.” I mean: We are talking about kids and playing and sand. THEY get it. Why don’t WE? – L.

God knows, we don't want kids doing anything like THIS, do we?

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42 Responses to “Do We Really Need to Make EVERYTHING into a BIG DEAL…Including a SAND BOX? (via Free-Range Kids)”

  1. #1 |  jncc | 

    Yes, what could possibly go wrong with having “15-20” small children playing in the planting strip adjacent to a street.

    Seems like if we want to foster self-reliance and agility in future generations, we should encourage activity like this.

  2. #2 |  Eyewitness | 

    Wait a minute here!!. Playing next to the street is the same as playing in the street! All of us kids who played baseball and football in the streets were all killed in traffic. Every one of us. Thank god someone finally began to think of the children. If only it had happened a little sooner; I wouldn’t have to communicate through spirit writing (typing).

  3. #3 |  BamBam | 

    I played ball in the street all the time with neighbor kids and siblings. I’m glad I got reincarnated because I died from my street hooligan activities.

  4. #4 |  (B)oscoH, Yogurt Eater | 

    Digging in the sand might be illegal on your favorite beach.

  5. #5 |  el coronado | 

    “Why do we always think of the worst-case scenario first?”

    Simple: Because the country is run – and is being ruined by – the lawyers. (Along with their equally scummy brethren, the banksters.) Thanks to the lawyers, there’s no such thing as a mere ‘accident’ anymore. No, now it’s all always traceable back to someone at FAULT (and more importantly, someone to SUE): negligent this, irresponsible that, causation and liability the other thing.

    “Why does Dad have to pay a $500/day fine?!?”

    Simple: Because the bureaucrats, being largely owned/managed by lawyers, saw a chance to follow Bureaucracy Rule #1: ‘Maintain and expand our fiefdom by any means necessary.’

    Of course, Dad could always go to *court* to plead his case. A court run & staffed by lawyers and bureaucrats.

  6. #6 |  Stormy Dragon | 

    If the guy wants a sandbox, why not put it on his front lawn instead of in the street?

  7. #7 |  George | 

    #6 — Yeah. Put it in the front yard.

    At first reading, I’m thinking the city is nuts. Then when I read the newspaper account, the city’s position makes sense. Kids playing in sandboxes on the curb are younger than kids playing ball in the streets, kids playing ball see cars coming and either move away or glare and flip them off, kids playing on the curb are less visible to oncoming cars and are more apt to back into traffic. At least that has been my experience. And then there’s the parking. If I park beside the sandbox, the passenger cannot open the door.

    So just put the thing in the front yard. Big deal.

    As much as I appreciate libertarians, sometimes it would be nice if they’d just think first.

  8. #8 |  Paul | 


    I believe that the sandbox is on his property, with an easement in place for the sidewalk to be some feet in distance from the street. Otherwise, the issues of a driveway and walk to the street becomes problematic.

  9. #9 |  MingoV | 

    @#6: If you read the article, you would learn that the neighborhood has tiny front yards, and that the 4-foot wide, 8-foot long sandbox is in the area between the street and the sidewalk. There is a law against erecting “play structures” between the sidewalk and the street, but I believe that refers to swing-sets, monkey bars, slides, play forts, etc. A shallow box of sand isn’t a structure.

  10. #10 |  Ariel | 

    I have no idea how to take #1, because I read the first sentence as being opposed to the second.

    Me, I lived off Valley Blvd. (runs from Pomona to roughly LA, 2 , 4, and 6 lanes wide) from about 4 to 16, either on or one block off. Played stick ball and everything else imaginable on the streets right off it. Walked it alone or with friends at about 7 or 8. No big deal. Because…

    I will give an expansive qualification, one I see everyday when dropping off my HS daughter: I was taught to never expect a car to get out of my way; brake for me; even notice me; to never walk in front of a car trying to enter traffic, but behind; and finally to move smartly rather than entitled. It was my responsibility and that was drilled into me from the time I was 4 (earliest memory). Something about broken bones, ruptured organs, severed spinal cord, and possibly a lifetime of pain and limited movement.

    My daughter quizzed her friends, after one walked in front of my moving car and avoided injury only because I had an intuited moron alert (foot over brake). I asked her to quiz because her friend gave me a dirty look likely because my squealing brakes disturbed her moment, and my daughter gave me this the next morning: they think its your responsibility, after all, if you hit them they can sue (neglecting the obvious regarding whose fault). So, Lenore, while I agree with you every step of the way about free-range because I am a kid of the 50s and 60s, what the hell do you do with moron kids taught by moron parents?

  11. #11 |  Warren | 

    And if he had allowed his children to walk to the park and play in the sand…………CPS would have the kids in foster care, and the dad in custody.

    Or is the issue that Dad a man/predator built it to bait kids, to his house.

    Enough is enough………..this guy was cool enough to build something for the kids of the neighbourhood, not just his own. The city should be saying thank you, for caring.

    The politicians preach family values, community and such, and they pull a stunt like this.

    Dad dig up every grain of sand, and dump it on the Mayor’s desk.

  12. #12 |  Bones | 

    More likely this is about a neighbor who is overly paranoid about property values and feels this particular item hurts them.
    Most likely has nothing at all to do with kids.

  13. #13 |  mysticeye | 

    Granted that I don’t know the layout in question, or the laws in the US.

    But I, for one, wouldn’t be happy about a sandbox that bordered the street, to the point that an outstretched arm or a head thrown back would overhang the street. Granted cars tend to not be close to the curb, but you know what does ride right beside the curb? Cyclists.

    I’ve also trained my kids to be far more cautious if the sidewalk is right up against the curb rather than with a grass strip between them and the cars. The cyclists in my city are idiots, it’s completely nuts. And trust me, you do not want to be hit by a bike going traffic speed.

    Also, where I live, you don’t own the median between the sidewalk and the curb, it’s city property.

    It’s just common sense to me that you don’t play, goof off, and hang out where one half step to the left puts you in traffic, particularly on what sounds like a relatively busy street. Maybe the street shouldn’t be that busy, or cars shouldn’t be moving that quick, but I’d rather find some other way to slow them down first before letting kids play right beside it.

    For the record: I let my kids play in my front yard, and even cross the street alone, but they know if they cross a certain point in the yard they better wake up, slow down, and be cautious.

  14. #14 |  William Anderson | 

    Notice that the complaint was anonymous? America has become a place where the authorities encourage us to snitch on each other. Yeah, I remember East Germany, and I guess that the Progressives that run governments these days have Stasi envy.

  15. #15 |  Shakti | 

    The newspaper article says the sandbox is in the planting strip between the sidewalk and street. That is generally town property, not part of the homeowner’s lot. The city’s concern about liability seems well-founded to me, therefore.

  16. #16 |  Stormy Dragon | 

    I believe that the sandbox is on his property

    The article says it was located in the right of way for the street, which I believe means it isn’t part of his property, it’s part of the public property that the road is on.

  17. #17 |  Stormy Dragon | 

    More likely this is about a neighbor who is overly paranoid about property values and feels this particular item hurts them.

    My condo community doesn’t allow sandboxes either, for precisely that reason. Although since we actually own all our streets and sidewalks it’s a lot more clear that we have the power to pass such a restriction.

  18. #18 |  Bob | 

    I mean: We are talking about kids and playing and sand. THEY get it. Why don’t WE? – L.

    Actually, no. They don’t get it. Kids will play in traffic if they think it will be fun. Hell, kids would play in an active volcano if they thought it would be fun.

    When I was 13, I had a friend, Peter Lacey. He thought it would be a good idea to climb on one of the wheels of a Tractor Trailer that was parked. It turns out it was not… he was crushed under the wheels when the truck drove off.

    Now… Here’s the pickle: I don’t have a problem with kids getting killed for doing stupid shit. They’re just darwining themselves, like my friend Peter Lacey did. It’s not like humans are rare and need to be protected… there are 7 billion of us on the planet and rising! We’re not an endangered species in need of protection here.

    So… Let’s look at the story. Dude puts down an 8 by 4 foot sandbox right on the street… inches from parked cars and traffic. Kids want to play in it! Why wouldn’t they? It’s a sandbox!

    I say “No problem! Let them play!” If they get killed by cars, well, that’s their own fault. Or… perhaps, the fault of the parent that let their child play there. Either way… no harm to the human race.

    Unfortunately, that’s not how it works in the 21st century. The city (As the owner of the street and the little meridian strip the sandbox is on.) is financially liable.

  19. #19 |  Peter | 

    […] inches from parked cars and traffic.

    Whoops. Wait a second!

    Inches from parked cars and traffic? Last I knew, cars didn’t park in traffic.

    So I assume it’s right next to where cars are parked. Generally, children are not harmed by parked cars, despite what happened to young Master Lacey. Put up a couple of signs–sandbox ahead–and hopefully you won’t have people zooming into the parking area.

    Assuming that cars aren’t driving down the parking lane, then these “inches” you’re talking about number about 108 or about 9 feet, which is the width of your typical parallel parking space.

  20. #20 |  el coronado | 

    !9+ comments on this. On a ‘Libertarian’ blog, read by presumably like-minded, broad-shouldered, hairy-chested, two-fisted, hard-drivin’, good lovin’, Brawny Stallion Libertarian types……and about half are sticking up for the city/bureaucracy in question.

    And that’s why a dream of a Libertarian party; or a vote for Gary Johnson or Ron Paul or Vin Suprynowicz is just a waste. A childlike fantasy. Based on this admittedly rough sampling, about half the folks who *say* they believe….don’t. (or my personal fave, “I believe 1000% in absolute freedom for all, _except in the case of_…….”)

  21. #21 |  Norma Stits | 

    Wow, talk about a bunch of overlawyered killjoys. Try to do something nice for the kids in the neighborhood and all you get are a bunch of busy body parents getting in your way. And much like the geniuses in the Louisiana charter school who think it’s okay to discriminate against pregnant women, these parents seem to be lacking any sort of brains:

  22. #22 |  philly girl | 

    Watch the link. I don’t see a problem at all with the sandbox. Since it is at the end of his driveway (and not a parking spot), it does not impede passengers getting out of a parked car. As for speeding and accidents….it doesn’t look like a dangerous street to me.

  23. #23 |  W | 

    Playing next to the street is NOT the same thing as playing in the street. If you’re in the street, you’re aware of traffic. You watch for it and you move if you see someone coming. Kids know that as well as adults. And the kids that are too young to know that, well they aren’t allowed in the street.

    Playing next to the street… you’re not in the street so you don’t pay as much attention to what’s going on. You drop a toy on the wrong side of the sandbox and bend over to get it, or you step out of the sand box at the wrong time on the side facing the street…. And you want to try and keep a toddler who isn’t old enough to know he needs to avoid traffic away from a sandbox? Good luck.

    I support free range parenting or I wouldn’t be here. But the whole concept is about balancing risk versus reward and the risk is too high here. I’d bet money that the anonymous complaint is from what of his ‘supportive’ neighbors who doesn’t want their kid playing in it but knows it would be nearly impossible (and make the kid miserable) to try and forbid it when every other kid on the block was playing in it.

    Most of all… all the neighborhood kids can have just as much fun in it if they just put it on the other side of the sidewalk. 8’x4′ isn’t that big even in a postage stamp sized yard.

  24. #24 |  marco73 | 

    My takeaway from the article is that there are several city departments and quite a few bureaucrats burning up tax dollars over a sandbox.

    The $500 a day fine wouldn’t pay the coffee bill for all those desk jockeys.

    Kids are going to play somewhere – why not in a front yard sandbox?

  25. #25 |  marie | 

    Thanks for the link, philly girl. Looks like he doesn’t use his driveway to drive on?

    That guy has the coolest eyeglass frames, btw.

  26. #26 |  marie | 

    …and about half are sticking up for the city/bureaucracy in question.

    Well, no. What I hear is a bunch of people discussing whether the sandbox is in a good location or not.

  27. #27 |  Suzanne | 

    I understand that the front yards are “postage stamp” size. It still seems like they would be as big or bigger than the strip between the road and the sidewalk. I think it’s really great that this dad put the sandbox in the front so the neighborhood kids can play in it but I think it should be moved to the otherside of the sidewalk. I don’t think he should be fined unless he refuses to move it, assuming it could be placed in the small front yard. When my kids play in the front yard that strip is off limits for play, when we had that strip (now we actually have a line painted on the driveway maybe 10 foot back from the street because we don’t have a tree-lawn and our road is busy.) I try to be as free-range as possible but if it’s kid vs car the car is going to win every time.

  28. #28 |  Paul | 

    If there were no sandbox, the children could still play there, right? Nothing to stop them? Then, what is the difference? If the issue is children wandering into the street, the sandbox is not the problem. In the morning, put up a little – removable – fence. Just enough to make it difficult for the children to head straight into the street. In the evening, take it down.

  29. #29 |  Stormy Dragon | 

    and about half are sticking up for the city/bureaucracy in question.

    No one has actually defended the bureacracy; people have suggested that putting a sandbox right next to the street may not be a good idea or that neighbors could have legitimate reasons for not wanting it there. Lenore seems to keep making a false dilemma is that the only alternative to intrusive government is that people should do whatever they like regardless of the problems it creates for people around them.

  30. #30 |  philly girl | 

    W……I’m not sure where you are from, but I can show you neighborhood after neighborhood in Philadelphia where kids play right next to the street. A kid drops something in the street, they pick it up between the parked cars. If a ball gets tossed across the street, an older kid retrieves it for them. These are streets filled with row homes without yards, just sidewalks.
    As for the sandbox, I would bet the toddlers are being watched by the parents! With a little research, I found more than a couple people that live on the block talk about it being a gathering point for the adults, too.
    As for who called, my money is on a busybody! I have one on the next block, he refers to himself as the “Mayor of ______ Street”. He moans and bitchescabout everything and everybody and has used the authorities several times to “correct” things he doesn’t like.

  31. #31 |  ClubMedSux | 

    Two thoughts on the debate of where the sandbox is located… First, I don’t know how many of you live/lived in crowded cities, but there are plenty of urban settings where the “front yard” is basically taken up by the stairs/porch, and there may be no other place to put the sandbox than the strip between the sidewalk and the street. My guess is that, if there were a better place to put the sandbox away from traffic, the owner would have put it there.

    Second, and more importantly, kids from all over the neighborhood are playing in the sandbox. Do you really think that many parents would let their kids play there if it were dangerously close to traffic? This, in my opinion, is at the heart of what Lenore’s writing about, and it’s frustrating how many (including self-described libertarians here) are willing to dismiss it: parents are in the best position to decide what’s safe and unsafe for their children, NOT bureaucrats.

  32. #32 |  BamBam | 

    Watch the video. There is parking next to the curb. The kids are safe, the cars can enter/exit their cars without problem. F the bureaucrats.

  33. #33 |  Jen C | 

    Reading the original article I could see both sides of the thing, having something right on the curb of a fairly busy residential street would make me twitchy.

    But then I watched the video above and have no idea what the big deal is. The thing is at the end of his driveway which means, most likely, he’ll be parking right in front of it, blocking it from traffic. The street is also narrow with, apparently, two way traffic (the cars are parked in both direction). How fast can the cars be going? And there is a good foot of space from the end of the sandbox until the street starts so it’s not RIGHT on the curb.

    I grew up in Chicago, and minus the driveways, our streets looked a lot like this. It never stopped us from playing in the grass next to the curb (which is technically owned by the city). We played in the streets, too.

    I raised my kids in Chicago until 2010 (for the most part). They were babies there, toddlers, preschoolers and grade schoolers. They always played in the grassy median. I never thought twice about it. There were parked cars between them and the traffic.

    Growing up in a city like Chicago you learned real quick how to navigate traffic. Otherwise you ended up dead. My youngest daughter knew at 2 to not go near the curb. She would stop a foot from it even if her older siblings were closer. She also used to yell at any kid she saw in the street and tell them to get back on the grass.

  34. #34 |  Warren | 

    My money is on the snitch being someone with no kids, who bitches about the noise of kids playing. Now that they have a gathering spot, this idiot doesn’t like the look or sounds of children laughing.

    I say to the snitch, “Come forward and face the music. Instead of standing out there pretending like you didn’t call the city.”

  35. #35 |  el coronado | 

    “..but no one has actually defended the bureaucracy in question…”; “…what I hear is a bunch of people discussing whether the sandbox is in a good place or not.”

    Ergo, you’re (perhaps unknowingly) defending the bureaucracy in question. Refusal to attack/scorn/agitate against something as moronic as a Sandbox Safety Regulatory Agency and its soon-to-be-heavily-armed agents means you’re accepting the premise that it needs to, and *should*, exist at all.

    Silence implies consent.

  36. #36 |  demize! | 

    I used to play stickball IN THE STREET. PS. I am typing this comment now.

  37. #37 |  demize! | 

    Of course this is purely anecdotal. I’m not completely sure I’m here.

  38. #38 |  Bob | 

    #21 philly girl

    Watch the link. I don’t see a problem at all with the sandbox. Since it is at the end of his driveway (and not a parking spot), it does not impede passengers getting out of a parked car. As for speeding and accidents….it doesn’t look like a dangerous street to me.

    Saw the video! The guy is blocking his own driveway with the sandbox, not only that… but there is a car parked in front of the driveway as well. I assume it’s HIS car. Who else would be parking there?

    All he has to do is move the sandbox further up the driveway. But no. He’s taking the “I can do whatever the fuck I want” route and insisting that the sand box needs to be right there.

    In THIS case, it can be demonstrated that it’s generally safe for the kids because of the car parked right there.

    But let’s look at it from the point of view of the city.

    If this guy can put a sand box right at the curb, than anyone can put a sand box right at the curb. And without the guarantee of a car parked at the end of the driveway, it could be quite dangerous.

    Again.. I don’t have a problem with the danger. There are enough of us humans where we can handle a culling of the herd.

    But from a liability standpoint, the city would think otherwise. Idiot parents that let their kids play there could easily sue when their precious offspring is run over by a parking car.

  39. #39 |  philly girl | 

    Bob….I watched the video again and it looks as if the driveway and front yard are all on a slope. This would make it impossible to move the sandbox further up the driveway.
    I don’t see how this is a liability for the city. As I stated above Philadelphia has many, many old neighborhoods were the children play on the sidewalk right next to the street…..row homes with no front lawns or grassy strips. It’s the only place for them to play and unless you are on a major boulevard, it’s safe. This is about bureaucrats and zero tolerance, not the safety of the children.

  40. #40 |  a_random_guy | 

    Really, whether or not some bureaucrat thinks it’s safe is irrelevant. The guy who built the sandbox thinks it’s safe, he put it their for his kids, it’s his business. If the neighbors let their kids play in the sandbox, they apparently think it is safe, their business. What’s the problem?

    At most, their may be some legitimate ordinance about not building structures in the easement, because they might obstruct vision. A sandbox clearly does not, and anyway is hardly a permanent structure, so the ordinance really should not apply.

    For those who think this may be dangerous: it is just not your business to decide. It’s not the city’s business to decide either. His property, his kids, his sandbox, his judgement.

  41. #41 |  freedomfan | 

    Yeah, there is a lot of distraction here over whether it’s wise to place a sandbox where this guy did. Meh. I don’t know that we’re given enough information to make that determination (traffic on the street, amount of adult supervision, age of kids playing, etc.). And, ultimately, unless I hear otherwise, I will assume that no kid is forced to play in the sandbox against his parents’ wishes. IMO, the more relevant issue is whether it’s the city’s job to tell be people where on their property they can put a sandbox.

    Some here are assuming that the city owns the property the sandbox is on. There may be some cities where the side strip/parking strip/whatever is city property. There are cities where the homeowner owns the property to the street, often with a right-of-way for a sidewalk. I can’t be sure in this case, but I didn’t get impression the sandbox is on city property from the article. If it is city property, then I guess the city government gets to determine proper use for it.

    If the sandbox is on the sandbox owner’s property, then I would say the sandbox isn’t doing direct damage to an unwilling party’s person or property (and isn’t posing a clear and present threat of same). In that case, the city government should mind its own business and tell any complainers that they can speak to the sandbox owner themselves and convince him to do something else with it if they want to, but that the government won’t be pro bono hired muscle for every whiner with a phone.

    Then, if necessary, the city government should collaborate with other cities and get the state legislature to pass a law clarifying that the city isn’t liable for damages caused by someone’s non-city-related activity on non-city-owned property. If they were feeling magnanimous, they would extend that indemnity to the property owner, so long as the plaintiff against the property owner should reasonably have understood the risks of that activity and still undertook the activity. (In this case, it might be worth noting that those claiming they were unable to understand those risks may well be making a case against their suitability as parents.)

    Of course, pursuing that latter scenario (the one where people take responsibility for their own actions and the city government refuses to do it for them) may not be especially likely in a city as overrun with busybodies as Seattle seems to be.

  42. #42 |  Violet Kloke | 

    Thanks so much for an interesting article. I’ve been searching for this kind of info for for ages now.