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Learning to Free-Range Hike, and an Excerpt from Cootermaroos

I'm working on a book about unschooling and free-range parenting with the working title:
A Dad's Guide to raising Happy, Adventurous, Well-Rounded Urchins
The following is an excerpt from the book.  To provide a little background, the kids who are now 8, 6, and 4 years old have all been camping since before they could walk.  We apply the same free-range principles to camping and hiking that we use in our every day lives.  On our hikes, the kids range from a quarter to a half mile ahead of us with the single rule that if they come to a fork in the trial they can't range out any further until my partner or I catch up.  With that intro, here's an excerpt on how each of them learned to hike free range!

Since we’ve been camping since before the kids could walk, and since we love hiking, we’ve discovered a few misconceptions about what kids can actually do out on the trail.  Just like in town, as each kid begins to take their first steps, I take them out of the wrap so they can hike the trail with me.  I hike more slowly for awhile, for about a year really. 

Our free-range approach to hiking with the bigger kids has made all of this easier.  They’re not hanging near my feet complaining we could be moving faster as each new kid gets their hiking legs under them.  They’re out in front, getting to explore and be even more independent while the newest hiker and I bring up the rear. 

Some of the steps down the trail are too steep at first, and the distance of our standard hike, about three miles, can be a bit challenging in the beginning so I frequently wind up with the newest hiker on my hip, or back in the wrap, but within months… wow!  Each new kid ranges from the wrap to ambling a mile, then to two, and before long, with the exception of me helping them over the bits they’re just not tall enough for, they’re completing the whole hike.  Three year olds can cover three miles, easy!  I just had to have faith, and let them.

The kids don’t get bored while we’re out on these hikes.  They don’t need activities.  There’s so much going on all around them!  They also don’t need guidance from me.  One of the greatest pleasures of being outdoors with the gang is keeping myself to myself, and enjoying all their discoveries—things I would have missed if I was busy telling them what I thought.  They always find the banana slugs, (giant yellowish slugs that look like nothing so much as a mobile dog turd), before I do. They make observations about how the trees fit together, what color the vegetation is on this trip, how it’s changed, what they found in the stream they study at their leisure while I take a break.  The world does my parenting work for me.  I just sit back--metaphorically speaking since we’re on a hike— and enjoy the show.  God, it’s nice!


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