Reevaluating Our Prohibition of Fire

“Don’t play with fire!” is such a common warning in the U.S. we take for granted that it is true. We believe that the best way to deal with kids’ fascination with fire is to prohibit it entirely. But this is not universal to all cultures.

I wrote about how Germans teach kids how to use fire rather than forbid it for the New York Times  and in my book Achtung Baby, but it is perhaps more compelling to see it in practice:

Check out my full post on why we might want to reevaluate our prohibition on fire for Psychology Today, including another video of kids making fire from Kain Karawahn’s fire workshops at a Berlin Kita. Check it out!


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My son’s sign for the March for Our Lives


My son’s sign for March for Our Lives got some attention today. He told me after the march that his school does not always tell him when a lockdown is a drill, and it scares him. I wrote about the unnecessary terror of having real lockdown drills in a post for Psychology Today. Read it here.

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Conquering a Dragon in Psychology Today

My first post for Psychology Today is about bringing some reasonable risk and more creativity to American playgrounds — so our children have the chance to learn how to manage risk and face their fears. German kids enjoy playing on structures with greater height, faster speeds, and more risk. Our kids deserve this advantage too.  Read about it here.



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Talking at Google

A little while back, I had the opportunity to visit the Google campus in Seattle to talk about how Germans raise self-reliant kids. And here’s the video!


Couple highlights:
About 12 min: there’s a comparison of US vs. German playgrounds
About 16:10 mins: a video of real kids making fire at a German kita (day care center). Yes those kids are ages 4 to 6!)

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Rebuilding the American Community — First: Stop Calling the Police on Parents

police_photoCCPhoto by Matty Ring

When I heard that Americans were calling the cops on parents, I hoped that maybe a few incidents would make people see reason and stop. Then, it happened to one of my friends.

Recently, my friend May Cobb, a novelist who lives in Texas, wrote in the Washington Post about how someone called the police because her son’s hair was messy. It was particularly devastating because her son is autistic. The stranger who called assumed he wasn’t well taken care of when in reality May and her husband have spent countless hours and resources attending to his needs.

This problem could have been solved in about five minutes if the concerned stranger had taken the time to talk to them. But no, the first step was to call the police.

And it’s not an isolated incident. Another friend on the East Coast commented this had happened to his son who was riding a bike by himself in front of his house. Yet another friend, this time on the West Coast, told me about a seven-year-old girl who was walking two blocks to her grandmother’s house — again the cops were called.

What has happened to our sense of community in the US? Why do we suspect only evil and nothing good of our fellow citizens? 

Many Americans hear one horrible story and assume that is the norm. It isn’t. Kids are not kidnapped on a regular basis. They have more of a chance of getting hit by lightning. Yes, parental abuse and neglect happens, but please gather more evidence than a kid having a bad hair day.

Calling the police or CPS brings an enormous amount of stress into a family’s life, even if it’s a mistake.

It is dangerous to normalize calling the cops on regular people in your community–just ask the Germans, especially those who grew up in the GDR. They know what it’s like to live in a culture where neighbors report each other to the police.

In Achtung Baby, I write about how today’s modern Germans have a greater trust of their community – despite their history, or perhaps in reaction to it. They assume that most adults will help a child in trouble, and that it is only the rare person who will hurt a child.

Before calling the cops on parents, please consider doing the following:

Put your fear in context. Hearing one terrible story does not mean it happens all the time. Pay attention to statistics not anecdotes. A little more than 100 kids a year are abducted by strangers. There are 74 million kids in the US. This is not a pressing danger for most kids.

Observe for a moment. A child alone is not necessarily a child in danger. Children have a right to navigate their world on their own, and most places are safer than they were in the past. As the free-range mom Lenore Skenazy has suggested: if you are worried about seeing a child alone, watch them for a few minutes. See that they make it to where they are going.

Talk to the parents, if you are worried about a child’s care. Ask them about what you’ve noticed. You may discover there is something else going on than what you assume. Most likely these parents need your understanding and support, not your vilification.

Meet your neighbors! You don’t have to be best friends, but you shouldn’t be strangers either. Introduce yourself. Meet their kids. If they live close by, give them your phone number or email. Hopefully, you can watch out for one another and help each other out in times of need.

Because that’s what being a community is all about.

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Achtung in SF and Seattle

I had a fabulous trip to the West Coast including stops at two great Achtung Baby bookstore events in the San Francisco Bay Area: hosted by Book Passage in Sausalito and Napa Bookmine at the Napa County Library! I also enjoyed some great scenery and sunshine.

Then headed to Seattle where I appeared on King 5 New Day show.


Gave a presentation for Townhall Seattle at the Westside School.

And a Google Talk at Google’s amazing Kirkland offices.



Everywhere I went I met wonderful, concerned parents, trying to figure out how to give their kids more independence in this age of fear and uncertainty. I tried to offer ideas and encouragement, many of which I hope you can also find in the pages of the book itself.

I arrived home, feeling exhausted but inspired–and very grateful.

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West Coast Achtung Baby events!

I’m heading out to Cali and then up to Seattle in a few days! Come see me, and let’s talk about ways we can give our kids the chance to be more independent and self-reliant!  Here’s the schedule:

January 19, 6:00 p.m.
Book Passage-by-the-Bay
100 Bay St, Sausalito, CA 94965


January 20, 2 p.m.
Napa Bookmine / Napa County Library 

580 Coombs St.,  Napa, CA


January 22, 7:30 p.m.
Town Hall Seattle / Westside School
10404 34th Ave SW, Seattle, WA 98106



Read the latest news about the book!


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Achtung Baby Arrives!

Achtung Baby was released January 2nd!

I had a great launch week with an appearance on the Today Show,  a live Salon Talk, a great review in USA Today, and the UK’s Daily Mail–and a presentation at Politics & Prose bookstore. I also had several radio interviews including a long conversation on WNYC.


Sophia climbing in Berlin, photo by Zac

The book has been climbing up the sales charts, appearing as the #1 new release in parenting on Amazon its first week.

I am so happy to be sharing the message about raising kids to be self-reliant. The rallying cry at our house is “Free the kids!”


More links to recent press can be found here. 

NEW: Check out a selection of the audio book version of ACHTUNG BABY.

To purchase ACHTUNG BABY try these great booksellers listed here.

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ACHTUNG BABY in the News



On Wednesday, January 3, I am scheduled to be on the Today Show to talk about how Germans raise self-reliant kids! Catch me live around 8:30 a.m. EST.

Also on January 3, I will sit down with Salon Talks live at 4:00 EST.

Both should be posted on the internet after, and I will post the links on the “News” page here.


USA Today called ACHTUNG BABY one of the top 5 new books you don’t want to miss this week!


As more coverage comes in, I will post links on this page.  Please check back!


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“Let the Children Fight” in The Wall Street Journal

WSJ illus

Parenting the German Way: Let the Children Fight

by Sara Zaske

The chaos of German kindergartens is sometimes hard for Americans to understand.

When I lived in Berlin for nearly seven years, I was surprised at first to find that kindergartens and child-care centers (called “kitas”) were all about play, all the time. No reading, no math work sheets . . .

Read more on The Wall Street Journal website. The article will be in the 12/30/17 print edition.

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