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Three Conquered the Cliff!

The gang has been remarkably chill this week; they’re working with each other instead of squabbling; they’re taking time to make big decisions, weighing out the pros and cons; occasional disappointment have been taken in stride; and at bedtime, they’ve zonked right out every night.  Trying to figure out the secret of their success, I asked my partner what she thought.  Her immediate response: “They went camping last weekend.”

Even though I don’t’ have copious amounts of data to back me up, I think the camping hypothesis is exactly right.  Our camping trips look far more like the free-range, unschooling ideal we shoot for than our everyday life does.  The kids are responsible for almost all of the logistics: they know the bus route to get to the campsite; they carry their own stuff; they setup the tent.  They also get to engage in far more independent, sometimes risky play.  The campground is theirs to wander around as they please.  On our hikes, they routinely range out from a quarter to a half mile in front of us, either eventually waiting for us to catch up or doubling back to see how we’re doing.  All of these things are the sort of stuff that unschooling and free-range proponents claim grow independent, well-balanced kids.  So far, I’m a believer.

Speaking of independence, Three year-old No. 3, with her sibs spotting her, hit a huge milestone on the camping trip.  She navigated the ladder that transits a ten-foot high cliff dividing the hiking trail all by herself!  My partner had asked Three to hang on so she could go down in front of her, but Three had other ideas. She hopped right onto the ladder, starting on her way down before we had time to think about it. 

As I watched, I resolved to just let things slide on this one.  Keep my mouth shut. (Boy was that hard!)  Three clearly though she was ready to scale the ladder, who was I to second guess her estimation of her own skills.  As she hit the third rung down the ladder, she turned back to look down.  Fears of heights, of looking down?  Apparently they’re learned.  Three has no such fears.  Having assessed how far she had to go she started in again.  Seven year-old No. One who was already at the bottom of the ladder hollered up that we shouldn’t worry.  If Three fell, she’d be there to catch her.  Seeing that the front of the ladder covered by One, five year-old No. Two ducked under the ladder where he planned to catch Three if she fell through the rungs.  As it turned out, neither of them need have bothered.  I appreciated their efforts though.

My partner called out “Focus!  Don’t lose your focus!”  I looked up from One and Two in their spotting positions to see Three was trying out a new technique for transiting the ladder rungs.  She bent her knees, dropping her butt down to her heels so her backpack hung out over the empty space below.  She'd taken the same position she would have siting on the non-existent ground with her knees pulled up to her chin, but was only supported by her feet below and her hands above.  I was convinced she’d pop off the ladder.  Still, I  managed to maintain my silence, (just barely).  I would have fallen off if I’d tried the same maneuver, but my center of gravity, (not to mention my limberness), is vastly different than Three’s.  For her, it was the most natural way to move given the situation.  She didn’t need my help, or advice on how’d I’d move my differently proportioned body.  From her squatting position, to my horror, she stuck her bottom strait out so she was now making a triangle with her feet and hands on the base, and her butt at the apex.  From there, she simply stepped down to the next rung like she'd been climbing down ladders all her life.  For me it was terrifying to watch, but it wasn't my climb; for her it was easy, it made perfect sense.  Five rungs later she was all the way down!    We cheered, she made a small flourish with her hands grinning from ear to ear.  With  her new achievement under her belt, she turned to head down the trail with her older sibs.

I think activities like this, where the kid is responsible for their everything, where they’re the only ones who can be, ones where I can’t help are responsible for the kind of easy-going living the gang is having this week, and they might be the most important activities of all.


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