Camping, Free Range Kids

Baby Steps To Free Range Kids

August 23, 2016

We’re finally settling in after an adventurous few weeks (posts about that coming later!) spent camping at some of our favourite places. We’ve had time to explore together, push personal boundaries and discover beautiful new locations.

Best of all, our girls had the opportunity to make connections with kids of all ages and the freedom to explore away from our watchful gaze. By now I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “free range kids” and you’ve come to some conclusions about what that entails.

For me, it means allowing our girls to have the space and freedom to discover just how much they’re capable of, just how competent they really are and to practice self-reliance and problem solving on their own. But it’s also so much more than that. It’s challenging my own belief systems, the ones that urge me to keep them close, keep them safe. The ones that flash worst case scenarios in my mind until I feel my chest tighten.

Examining our belief systems and where they come from is a necessary step in allowing our children some much needed freedoms. What contributes to our beliefs that kids are in danger when they’re not with us, and that by keeping them close we’re protecting them. News, media, amber alerts, warnings from our own parents? When did we come to the conclusion that the world is so inherently unsafe that a 9 year old can’t play at the park alone, or that siblings walking home alone from the park warrants police intervention?

It’s a constructed false reality. The truth is that our kids are growing up in a safer world than we did. Across North America violent crime rates have fallen since their peak in their late 80s early 90s. With some areas experiencing a decrease of up to 50-70%  in violent crime, leading researchers to search for the cause, with some interesting theories.

Police-reported crime rate in Canada continues to fall, and in 2013 reached the lowest point since 1969.



So why, when polled, do we believe that crime is on there rise?

Part of the reason for this divergence is what sociologists call pessimistic bias: the unshakable conviction that things are not just worse than they are, but also worse than they used to be. Humans appear to have a hard-wired tendency to compare contemporary life with the largely fictitious good old days, in which all schools were top-notch, politicians had integrity, children behaved and crime was nil.

– Joe Keohane Writer/Editor.

Another part is that while crime rates are dropping, reporting on crime has increased somewhere in the 600% range. The fear inducing headlines are everywhere we turn, on the news, while waiting in line at the bank and coffee shops, on FB, twitter, it’s a constant stream of worst case scenarios.

It’s an unfortunate fact that media reporting on individual crimes yields a relentlessly dismal drumbeat of downbeat news. But even as each reported crime yields a story that is terrifying enough to shape our perceptions, the truth is that none of them tells us much about the broader trends. Far better to ignore the anecdotes and focus instead on the big picture, and the hard data tells us: There’s been a remarkable decline in crime.

– Justin Wolfer, senior fellow at Peterson Institute for International Economics and Professor of economics and public policy at University  of Michigan

The best way to shake yourself free of these misconceptions is to arm yourself with the truth. Study, read and re-evaluate that which you just assume to be a certain way. Then, make your decisions accordingly.

I’ve read Skenazy’s book (Free Range Kids) and it’s helped me immensely in allowing Amina more freedom. The best place for us has been provincial and national parks. The photo below was taken at Cyprus Lake on the Bruce Peninsula National Park’s campgrounds. She, the youngest in the group of 6 girls (8,10, 11, 12 and 13) were hunting water snakes, frogs and leeches as the sun set. Heidi (above) looked on, but was too tired to join in (we decided against letting her venture with the group at dusk).

Raising Wildlings Cambridge Forest School -Camping At Bruce Peninsula National Park-1

They had been at it all day. Making discoveries, hypotheses and testing their theories. They concluded that the light fleshed slimy creatures they pulled from the murky water under rocks were vegetarian. A conclusion reached by the groups’ oldest (13 year old Cam) after she attempted to entice the leeches to bite her and they refused. (Cam and Heidi were exploring a little further down).

The 4 girls in our camp, my mini wildlings and the 2 daughters of a dear friend left together, venturing only to the path next to our tent at first and slowly farther and farther away as their confidence grew and as the adults relaxed. They forged a friendship with the 3 other girls, made plans together and looked out for the littlest in the group (Heidi, 2.5).

Nothing compared to their breathless excitement as they raced back to camp form the lake with slimy creatures in a bucket, bursting to show us what they discovered. In that moment I knew without a doubt that the decision to let go a little was the best one of the trip. Baby steps.

If you’d like to delve into this topic a bit more, I’d love to see your thoughts in the comments.For more ideas/encouragement in favour of Free Range Kids/Parenting, check out the links below:




What baby steps have you taken? Do you let your little one cross the road walking beside you, not holding your hand? Do you let your kids run ahead on the way to the park? Let them play in front of the house? I’d love to hear your stories!

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  • Reply Jennifer August 23, 2016 at 2:59 pm

    Interesting thoughts and beautiful photographs! I feel like what this concept means for each family is so unique to our perspective, history and what we can live with. I can tell my naturally anxious self that I am being over reactive and attempt to calm my racing heart at times with statistical security and a stern talking to however it doesn’t always make me any more confident in the world around my children. Is it MOSTLY safe for them? But that other what if…that lingering “what if”… I had a free range childhood. I walked to school alone from kindergarten on, I made my own lunches, took off on my bike (sans helmet or cell phone of course…) from dawn until sunset with the gaggle of kids who had almost as much freedom as I. I took the city bus by age 9, I didn’t have a bedtime of a screen limit, as a teenager I made up a curfew to break. I played in forests and creeks as a young child and drank from strangers garden hoses. My parents while busy and distracted professionals were not neglectful but sometimes I feel as though I could have been more parented. “I turned out okay” is a sentiment I often hear…but I can think of many instances that were not okay, they were not to my benefit or positive growth and could have been avoided’ was a skin eating infection, bully’s, nails through feet, near misses with cars and untreated broken bones to name a few worth the freedom? I don’t know. Is a childhood of virtual play, limits, rules and boundaries that erase creativity and adventure the appropriate opposite? Yes, I grew up to be very independent whether by choice or by force but choose to parent my children differently. There has to be a healthy middle ground. To some people I would appear to hyper parent perhaps… no sleepovers, no unsupervised park visits, certainly no city buses… but to others I am very cavalier with how they play and trusting of their ability to judge skill and danger… my one year old scaling the play structure, my 6 year old battling waves with a stick in his underpants (his clothes strewn at intervals up the coast on a recent maritime vacation)… Sometimes other parents look on in awe or in horror depending. I trust they must make different choices in those circumstances. But there is a running dialogue in my decision making; am I handing them a situation that is fair for them to successfully manage? Are they confident enough? Brave enough? capable enough? Secure enough? Would they be more so if I stepped back and allowed them to develop these necessary traits faster or more independently? Are the risks worth the gain? It is an ever evolving scale. The term “free range” can easily be misconstrued to mean “unparented”; the line between freedom and neglect can be blurry if the outcome is not positive.- where do I want to fit on that line? It is though provoking to be sure.

    • Reply Cristina Alt August 23, 2016 at 5:36 pm

      Jennifer, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts, I appreciate the dialogue. I felt like I was reading my own words, you and I share the same fears and doubts. I think the difference between our parents and us is that we question everything so much. We are so aware, there are so many books, so many articles pushing and pulling parents in all directions (and endless blogs). I don’t think our parents or theirs felt the same scrutiny for their actions/lack actions of as we feel today. They did as their parents did with little questioning (in a lot of cases). Our choices are more informed I believe. More carefully weighted against our own past experiences and the ideas we’ve absorbed on this parenting journey. You know your children best and it sounds like you’re doing an amazing job. Keep questioning and re-evaluating. Kids taking risks is a beautiful thing. Accidents can happen yes, but I’ll leave you with this thought I read ages ago but can’t recall exactly where:

      “A worried overprotective mom keeps a watchful gaze on her kids at all times and stays within arms reach when her son is playing on the playground. On the first day of kindergarten he falls and breaks his arm. Mom is frantic and blames school saying someone should have been there. The reply is “he fell because you were always there”.”

      The “what ifs” can be paralyzing and we must keep them in check, otherwise what kind of life will the kids lead? We’re already seeing the repercussions of that:

      The one thing I don’t weigh when making choices for my family is what others think. Their opinions are their business. On the subject of freedom for kids this can get tricky as we’ve seen with police and government overstepping their authority. It’s a lot to balance!

  • Reply Anita Ovalle August 23, 2016 at 10:44 pm

    What a great read. It was nice to learn that crime and violence has actually dropped from the past, whereas I thought it did increase. Although I do try and practice free range parenting as much as possible, so to me my prior belief in increased crime never stopped me from letting my kiddos do stuff on their own and trusting they can do things. I was, and still am a firm believer that if they think they can, then I think they can too! Always let Angelina ever since she was tiny or able to walk, to cross the road without forcing her to hold my hand, I trusted her that she would stay beside me and look for cars passing safely, and with this trust and not forcing her to hold my hand at each crossing she takes extra precaution and actually many times grabs my hand now out of excitement to cross the road or walk through a parking lot.

    I love your blog and cannot wait to see what the future of raisingwildings will bring to all the kids and parents who will choose this path ?

  • Reply Jennifer August 26, 2016 at 12:40 pm

    Just as soon as I underestimate their distractedness or impulsivity or lack of consequence sense they show me how deeply it can run…it is hard to know just how close to stand or how quickly to intervene. For me it really depends on the child…I use to have a pretty solid opinion on the phenomenon of toddlers on leashes. I thought “now THAT takes the cake”. Until of course I had the child who humbled me enough to recognize that we need to effectively parent the child we have regardless of the ideals we may have once had. After one child with a good inborn dose of common sense, a large bubble of personal safety with a naturally obedient and cautious personality I thought I was doing something right. Then I had his brother;) Within a couple of years we lived in a small fortress. Double dead bolted doors (he would attempt to leave the house at 2am) Chairs were ziptied to the table legs (I caught him using them to get on the counter tops to climb on top of the fridge). We had alarms on doors, toilet locks (the plumber was amazed at what he pulled out…from underwear to dinky cars). He jumped off the top of the stair case at three years old with garbage bags around his arms. Shocked that his parachutes didn’t in fact deploy like he imagined. Somehow all bones stayed in tact that time. He had knocked out his four front teeth by the time he was three and in public was in a 5 point harnessed stroller or yes… a leash… after a stranger had to grab him from the path of an oncoming dump truck when I blinked for half a second and he darted away…there was really no choice. Coupled with the fact that he has a genetic blood clotting disease that raises his risk of hemorrhaging…I had to hover over that kid. I know other parents looked at me and quickly deducted that I was crippling this child’s future but truthfully I was just trying to make sure he HAD a future. I am not exaggerating. I have worked with children for 20 years, have 4 of my own and had never seen a child so oblivious to self harm and with so little foresight than this child. I am a believer in natural consequences but I am pretty sure his would have landed him in the ICU or worse. By the time he was 4 he was actually quite independent and is now a responsible 6 year old who can safely and independently cross the street, no longer attempts impromptu base jumps, and can be let out of my sight- but at 2… I wasn’t sure if would ever get there. It is important I think to recognize where our children are in terms of their ability. One child will be ready for something far sooner or later sometimes than their peer but having the main goals laid out as something to aspire to is a good starting point. I knew for sure that I wanted my leashed toddler to one day drive a car, go to college, not need me to remind him to bring a coat…but one day at a time;)

    • Reply Cristina Alt August 27, 2016 at 12:34 am

      Wow! What a difference! Yes you certainly have to parent the child you *do* have and each one is so different. I have seen kids in leashes and I’ve *tsk* *tsk*ed about it to myself lol. Not my proudest moment. I don’t have escape artists but I’ve talked with mamas who have them and it’s so hard and so scary. The only thing you can do is what you know is best for your kids and don’t pay attention to the ones throwing looks your way.

      Sounds like you guys got through it all with some awesome stories to tell 😉

      Some kids will thrive being given the support and encouragement to try things like this: Others, well… you know 🙂

      Our eldest is more cautious, hangs back, and it takes her longer to do things, but when she does she’s so proud of herself it’s amazing to see. at 6.5 she just taught herself to swim and jumped into the shallow end of the swimming pool for the first time. She also just put her head underwater to swim and remarked how much easier it is! lol No amount of convincing on my part would get her to do it before she was ready. I trusted and waited, and it finally happened. I have a feeling it’s a pattern that we’ll be seeing again and again.

      • Reply Jennifer August 27, 2016 at 7:58 pm

        My first son was 7 before he would even entertain the idea of taking the training wheels off and only this summer put his face in the water…it is nice when you see patience pay off… walking, eating with a fork, reading, jumping off the diving board… it is a privilege to be a part of their accomplishments.

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