As a fairly neurotic parent, I find great difficulty letting go of the reins and allowing my children to venture and learn solo. Nevertheless, I believe at the core of my soul that letting them loose and controlling less is ultimately going to create, in my case, better men. It is impossible to grow and learn and develop when we’re stifled. Take a candle for instance, with a little room to breathe it burns but it will not grow, give it even less space and it will suffocate completely. I find that children living under helicopter parents are similar. They don’t have the opportunity to learn anything; they’re spoon fed information and there is almost no engagement whatsoever. How many times do you see parents answering the questions they just asked, or asking leading questions to “help” them find the answer? It’s like we assume our kids are adorable little morons. Personally I fight hard not be that parent, so if this sounds familiar don’t fret just keeping trucking. At least if we’re trying it means we care, and that is more than our kids could ever ask for. When in doubt help less.
When we moved to this mountain top all my boys wanted to do was run. They wanted to kick off their shoes and get lost in the woods. We did lots of hiking and foraging and collecting leaves and flowers and seeds that we found on our journeys, but they really wanted to test their skills solo. Now we’re on 6 acres of land that backs onto endless miles of crown land (or government land depending on where you’re drinking your coffee at the moment). We can walk out of our back gate and literally go forever, it’s fantastic. At 4 and 6 years old however, I wasn’t about to let my kids run rampant in the forest. As a true-to-form helicopter parent from the suburbs I wanted to see them, hear them, tell them to be careful stepping over that log and to watch out for the stinging nettles. Nevertheless, I dug down deep and mustered a solution that allowed them to be “free” and me to be able to hover – I strapped our dogs tracking collars to their backpacks. I could stand on the deck, or do the dishes and watch every single step they took, the direction they were looking and the meters from my handheld. It was brilliant. We had a strict rule that they needed to stay on the path that we’d made and take a dog, which didn’t allow them nearly as much distance as they felt (and it kept them within hearing range), but it allowed them out of the gate and into the wild ALONE. They walked this path, with their Adventure Packs and all the survival skills they’d been taught about 100 times this past year.
There is nothing my kids love more than hitting the trails and bringing things home to examine and wonder about. Our rock collections are ridiculous and I always seem to have seeds and feathers and bones scattered on every flat surface in my house. They search for treasures and creatures, they track different animals and compare their features. They practice physics and the laws of motion, they experiment with biology and study taxonomy. They learn patience and care and measuring and monitoring. They are better students because they are wild, because we let them loose. We learn so much about the world around us, that often I go in with a plan or a lesson in mind and when we emerge from the bush the list of things we learned is only outdone by the list of things I need to look up because I didn’t go in prepared with the answers.
It’s hard some days to find a balance, or even to find my footing. It takes a lot of motivation (for me) to get out, and some serious effort to foster their focus without controlling the learning. I try and take a jump in/step back approach. When I see a learning opportunity, I highlight it or point it out, ask a question that requires some critical thought and then step right back out of the situation while the wheels turn. I keep a notebook for questions that they ask so that I can look up the answers when we get home. Nothing is more humbling that home or forest schooling to remind you of how little you actually know about the world.
So take this bit of encouragement from a mom that tries and fails regularly, because it’s still working. Despite my failures, I can see that it’s working because I am watching my boys become everything I’d ever hoped they would become: strong, independent, intelligent, brave, kind and self reliant.
Get outside, follow their lead and learn whatever they’re in the mood for. Find the strength inside to get outside, even on the days you want to binge watch the latest trash TV or become a FB zombie. Let them go, let them run ahead without you. You’ll catch up and they’ll have stories of adventure when you get there.
“… But can’t you hear the Wild? – it’s calling you. Let us probe the silent places, let us seek what luck betide us; Let us journey to a lonely land I know. There’s a whisper on the night-wind, there’s a star agleam to guide us, and the Wild is calling, calling… let us go.” – The Call of The Wild, By: Robert Service