NYC Mom Charging Parents $350 To Let Kids Play in Unsupervised Park

PHOTO: Lenore Skenazy, seen here in this undated handout photo, is facing criticism for her after-school program which promotes unsupervised play in Central Park for $350.
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Parents in New York are raising their eyebrows at the latest after-school activity offered for their children: unsupervised play time in Central Park for $350.

Lenore Skenazy, a former journalist who has championed the "free play" movement, cheekily launched the after-school program to try and encourage parents to let their children to play without structure or supervision.

"I'm always trying to figure out ways to get kids back outside playing with each other," the mother of two told ABC News. "It's a great thing that has sort of evaporated from the American landscape."

"And New York City is used to paying money for things so that's the money thing," she added.

Skenazy, who authored the book "Free Range Kids" and writes a blog of the same name, said that she noticed when her two sons, who are now 14 and 16, were growing up that children were never just outside playing. Fears of kidnappings and other dangers have led parents to keep their children indoors or enroll them in structured after-school activities, she said.

"I'd say go downstairs and play and they'd look out and say no one's there. Even on sunny days. It distressed me so much because I was positive there were kids looking out windows in buildings opposite ours telling their moms that there is no one out there to play," Skenazy said.

Free-play, as Skenazy calls it, allow children to learn how to negotiate social situations on their own.

"In a child's case, it's how you learn to cooperate, to pay attention. Is the ball coming to your square in Four Square?" she said. "What is lost if we don't give our kids freedom to play, to be on their own, to believe that they're okay on their own without constant supervision? There's the confidence, the focus, and the joy. Versus diabetes and obesity."

Skenazy has a history of pushing parents' perceptions of what freedoms should be allowed for their children. In 2008 she attracted scorn and ridicule for allowing her son, then age 9, to ride the New York City subway by himself. Since then, she's organized one day each year when parents are instructed to take their children to the park and leave them there.

"People thought that was crazy too, but it's been running for three years now and I hear from parents who say, 'I did let my kids go to the park today.' It takes something to start breaking up the ice, this thick layer of ice over childhood, and if I'm giving a little tap with an ice pick to crack, than I'm happy to. "

Skenazy said she knows the facts about crime and dangers to children, and the world is much safer than most parents think it is.

"I don't think I'm a crazy mom. I think I'm a mom who was a reporter for 14 years. I'm a fact finder at heart. I've done my research, and right now is pretty much the safest time in human history to be a child. The crime rate was higher in the 1970s and 1980s, and here in New York City there's been an unprecendented crime drop."

"A lot of people say, 'I loved playing outside as a kid, those were my happiest times, but I can't let my kid because times have changed.' I say, well, times have changed. Crime is lower."

Skenazy said that she's had no takers for her new after school program yet, but if any children ages 8 through 18 were to sign up, she would sit at a coffee shop a block or so away from the park with a cell phone, in case of emergency.

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