Would you let your children get lost at night and let them find their own way back home?

Recently, an interesting article appeared in the New York Times, and so many of my friends and followers reached out to me about it. Is it true? Do you really do it?

The topic of the article is about a particular ‘game’ we play in the Netherlands which is called ‘dropping’. In a nutshell, children are blindfolded and taken (by car) to an undisclosed location, and the group then has to find their way back home. Yes! It is true, it happens. Yes, I did it, my children have done it, and we loved it!


Funnily enough (as the article states) I never realised this activity is something typically and solely Dutch. Apparently, it doesn’t happen anywhere else in the world! (This is the reason I love to travel, read international newspapers and know and listen to people from different backgrounds and from all over the world. The things we take for granted are not always the norm elsewhere!)

So yes, droppings. A few years ago we were having dinner at friends, and the topic of a dropping came up. Before I knew it, two groups were formed and my children plus those of our friends were blindfolded and dropped in the early twilight. The smaller ones (7 to 9 year old) were taken to a street in our neighbourhood, about 4 blocks away (vaguely familiar territory because one of their friends lives there). The group of older children (10 to 12) were taken a bit further, to an adjacent neighbourhood they wouldn’t immediately recognise. Obviously, they were not given any mobile phones!

Within 40 minutes all of them were back, super happy and super disappointed that the dropping had been way too easy! They had LOVED the experience! Obviously, this was not the kind of hardcore dropping the article is talking about. (I don’t think I would like my children to walk around the forest for hours and hours in the middle of the night.) But a ‘miniature’ dropping like this is just so much fun!

I have never been a scout, but I have been dropped as a teenager as well. Again, not as hardcore as the article states — in the twilight and not so far away from home. I remember it as exciting, exhilarating, and SUCH FUN!

Dutch parenting is interesting in this way — we let our children cycle to school and sports by themselves from around the age of 11. They are used to navigate the way by themselves and deal with traffic. Yes, they get lost! But they always find their way back home. With this in mind, perhaps the idea of a dropping is less daunting to us?

I would love to hear your thoughts on this!

xxx Esther

(Image from the New York Times)


Comments (15)

August 22, 2019

I haven’t read the article but I would think that games like these can help kids get back home, without panicking, if they ever do get lost.

August 22, 2019

How super interesting!! I thought it was also a Scouts thing. It’s good to wander around and find your way back. It sounds as something traumatic but it’s absolutely not, it’s a team building, coordinating and most of all super fun social thing to do. It’s also something highly competitive as I have amazingly good geographic skills for a woman so my team always found their way back quite quickly 🤣🤣🤣 We get so judged about cultural things it’s insane.

August 22, 2019

I think this is smart for children to be comfortable with finding their way in an emergency. I do however wonder if your ability to do this is helped by how relatively safe your country is compared to others. I can imagine certain cities, or neighbourhoods are not so safe to do this in but I’m not sure! I think many neighbourhoods in my city would be safe enough to do this on, but I could see the concern elsewhere

Celia Snowdon
August 22, 2019

Hello there, I’m married to a dutch man, and coming from Brazil myself, I have to say that dutch people have a unique way of raising children. I guess because we dont live in Holland, we dont do the dutch way, we try to follow the norms off where we live, and for me the dropping would be too much, I believe that even for my kids. Yes, my husband always say that he used to go to school by himself from 10 maybe, even when was snowing and very cold. I guess the dutch are not very over protective. But I guess it depends the city you are. We have lived in England, and now in the States,and having friends from all over the world, I can see the difference between the cultures 😊

Eduarda Alcantara
August 22, 2019

I was raised this way. No droppings in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. But going to the bakers and to school on my own was normal back then. Until my city got extremely violent. No child would have this type of freedom or independence now a days there. And being honest I know my four year old son is not the average child as he has mild autism but I wouldn’t feel comfortable allowing him the same amount of independence in London where we lived before or NYC where we live now. Although the violence in these cities are not even close to my city levels they can present other big city problems…..

August 22, 2019

When I read The NY Times article when it came out, I found the idea of droppings a bit too intense. But, I also love the idea of doing droppings at home like you described. My children are still too young (5 and 3) and I’m not sure I’d feel comfortable doing it where we live (in San Francisco) but I can imagine doing it where we spend summers (in Maine) once the kids are older. Thanks for this idea and for encouraging us all to think about how parenting norms vary around the world.

August 22, 2019

I laughed so hard at the article, because it sounds so different from the way I know ‘droppings’ in reality. Yes I did them too as a teenager with a youth-group, camp, etc. There was always an adult present (who would not point the way but just be with us in case). And what a Dutch reader on Cup of Jo mentioned and is VERY true: the woods in Holland are tiny compared to most countries. There’s always a road, a bikepath or a village nearby. Getting really lost is just not possible the way in the way it is elsewhere. (Also in most woods it’s forbidden to enter after sunset so the animals are not disturbed.)

I love the idea of the mini-dropping you did with the kids, Esther! It probably gave them so much confidence, finding their own way. We did that once with my oldest daughter and her friend when they were 9-ish, dropped them in a big park. In about ten minutes they figured out where they were and the rest is just walking. 🙂

In the village where we live (11.000 inhabitants) kids from the age of 8 of 9 cycle alone to school or to get some groceries. The really independent ones start at 6 of 7. I can imagine that’s different in a city. They know every fifth person (or something) they meet on the street.

Thanks for an interesting post!

August 22, 2019

Yes! We live in the countryside of the Netherlands, surounded with forests and as a child we had lots of scavenger hunts in the dark and also droppings but i guess there was always some sort of leader with us, and adult or teenager.

August 23, 2019

This was a popular game in my small US town when my daughter was in high school (just a few years ago). Because so much of our town is farm and wood and field, they WOULD get dropped in the woods or on dirt roads in the middle of nowhere and have to find their way back. It’s all good, folks (unless you live in a dangerous area)! Kids go in groups and they learn to think and work together … and have an adventure! What’s not to like? I had no idea this game was Dutch in origin – I’m glad to know.(Though I wonder how it ended up in OUR neck of the woods)?

August 23, 2019

It sounds fun and charming, from an innocent bygone age, but I can’t imagine anything more terrifying for myself or my kids than to be dropped somewhere in London to make their way home! But it might be fun if an adult was accompanying them just for safeguarding. That sounds quite a laugh 🙂

August 23, 2019

Wow, I never knew this was a thing, but find it super interesting. I think it gives children valuable life skills to know what to do in an emergency, allowing them space and time to figure it out for themselves rather than relying on an adult to solve the problem for them. It would also build up skills of resilience and confidence in themselves.
That being said, I think it completely depends upon where you live- you’d have to factor in the safety/risk factor. It’s definitely something I will consider further- thank you for a very thought provoking article!

August 23, 2019

😳 I have to say I read the first paragraph and I don’t know if I’ve lived in America too long but there’s no way I would ever blindfold my kids and drop them off somewhere

August 23, 2019

I am from Germany and was a scout when I was a child. At the scouts we had to pass an exam like dropping to get a higher grade. This means we were dropped somewhere on a path in the woods and had to find our way back to the camp. It was intended to sleep one night somewhere on your way – it was one of the best experiences I made at a scout camp. We got a map, some money to get us food on our way and of course had to carry laundry, sleeping bag, simple cooking equipment and tarpaulins on our own. I remember sleeping in the woods close to a lake where we boiled water for breakfast the next morning. After finding out where on the given map we were dropped it was a nice hike and an incredible team building event to make our way back to the camp. Everybody was back safely the next evening. I would definitely let my children experience this as well!

October 6, 2019

I’m from South Africa and we did this on a school outing when I was about 11. We were staying at a game reserve (with no dangerous animals, although there were rhino) and we were driven out to the middle of nowhere on the reserve. We’re shown the Southern Cross and had to find our way back to camp by figuring our way using the stars. We were split up into groups. I guess this is safe as we weren’t at risk of people (just animals 😅) but a fun experience. Definitely wouldn’t be able to do this in a town these days however!

Esther in Amsterdam
October 8, 2019

What an amazing experience and memory!! Thank you fo sharing! x

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