This past weekend our family headed away for a few days of camping. It was everything that I was craving - peaceful, dirty, fresh, we had time to just be. But something happened that I wasn't prepared for, something that caused me to reflect on my approach to parenting. My five year old was so excited to be camping again and I was relieved to be away from the lure of TV and the Wii. From the moment we arrived he was keen to "go exploring." Unfortunately drizzling rain and the need to set up camp meant that our opportunity to go exploring on that first afternoon was limited.
Thankfully we awoke the next morning to sunny skies and shortly after breakfast we were able to explore. We headed to the river and climbed over rocks, looked for stones, sailed sticks down the rapids, spotted spring blossoms and listened for birds. We no sooner returned to camp and the pestering began "can we go exploring again? Pleeeeaaasse?????" With a baby to feed and a toddler who was "hungry mumma!" I promised we would go again in a little while. This clearly wasn't good enough and he continued to drive us crazy until we decided that he could play in the trees beside our camp site. That might not sound like much, but considering the trees were on a steep embankment that led down to the river, it felt like a big deal. He was out of sight and we found ourselves checking on him every minute or two, worrying about him falling in the river (though only about 30cm deep, it is cold and he would panic!) or wandering off.
After awhile he began playing with the two children in the campsite next to ours, one slightly older and one slightly younger. Suddenly I was reminded of my own childhood, having adventures in the paddock behind our street at a very similar age, the older children looking after the younger ones and all of us banding together and keeping safe. The three children spent hours over the course of the weekend, climbing up and down the embankment, hanging from the trees and playing incredibly imaginative games, games of dragons and fairies and pirates. The TV and Wii were long forgotten and new friendships were formed. Every now and then I had this moment of "eek... what if someone has kidnapped him" a thought that I wish wasn't even a reality, but I realised that I needed to let him be (although I definitely did my share of peeking and eavesdropping)
When the amazing Peter Gray came and spoke at our annual Unwrapping Conference this year I was captivated by his stories of "free range" childhoods. I have always advocated for this concept, but now that the reality was actually here... it was hard to let go. But I did, I let go enough to still be able to hear him. I let go enough to still be able to peer through the trees at him. I let go enough to let him feel free to play in a way that children only do when they are on their own. I let go just enough to realise that in letting go I was giving him the same amazing childhood that I had.
By Nicole Halton
Providing inspirational professional development opportunities for Early Childhood Educators