How Raising Free-Range Kids Made Me a Better Mother

Growing up, I was all about nature. I spent a large part of my childhood in the great outdoors. Then adolescence replaced a passion for playing under wide-open skies with an infatuation with shopping malls. Once my babies were born though, I knew it was time to rekindle my childhood romance. Wild and free became my parenting philosophy, and raising my kids with plenty of time to play freely became a priority.

As we made nature outings a regular event, what I didn't realize was that while I was hoping to fill them with an appreciation for nature and spending time outdoors… they were also instilling it in me. My love for the outdoors was growing at a rate I would never expect and I’ve realized that when we spend family time outside, I’m able to be a better mother.

Here are my top four reasons why I’ll be raising my children in the great outdoors:

There are learning opportunities in every corner…

I’m a big believer that the best kind of learning comes when children are active and engaged, learning through experience. I also think that despite the old saying "curiosity killed the cat" that curiosity can be the best teaching instructor.

I oftentimes sit back and let my boys try to figure things out for themselves, of course while keeping a close eye on them. Children learn best when they’re following through on their own ideas. When they’re simply playing and exploring, then their discoveries are all their own. When we’re outdoors, my children have more opportunities for discovery. I find them asking more “why’s and how’s” from “Why are the “ice pops” (icicles) on this tree but not that one?” to “How do the tomatoes turn red?” It may take us twice as long to get anywhere, but we’re actually taking the time to enjoy and learn from our everyday surroundings. I’m able to give them the time and space they need to learn, without hovering or disrupting.

We find something new in our old favorites…

To be honest, we’re creatures of habit even when it comes to our adventures. We love to revisit some of the same places: our favorite swimming hole and fishing pond, the boys’ favorite giant sand pit, hiking to our local waterfall, or going sledding down the same hill a million times. And yet, even though we’re revisiting an old favorite, each experience feels entirely new… and so do the amazing memories that come along with it.

When we visit my mother-in-law’s vacation rental each year and finally get to feel the sun on our skin after a bundled-up winter, it just feels perfect. We’ve been to this exact same location before, but each year, my boys are a little older, a little smarter, and a little more daring. Cooper was actually courageous enough to jump in the pool for the first time and Boone was finally brave enough to enter the water without having to cling onto someone.

I love that these moments teach them that you don’t always have to go for something new, different, novel. It’s not what’s trendy or hip that’s important. There are new experiences all around you – always something to discover – and it’s all contained inside of you. You just make it happen.

We collect moments, not things…

As the saying goes: "Collect moments not things" and that’s exactly what spending time outdoors allows us to do.

We’ve driven miles to see giant colorful stacked rocks, simply to admire the gorgeous juxtaposition of man-made art with natural wonders. We’ve hiked red rock… ran through the sand… but most of all we enjoyed each other’s company. No devices, no souvenir shops, nothing external… Just us four, making memories as a family.

It’s where everyone is present…

It goes without saying that the best days are those that are uninterrupted… when you’re fully there, completely present. I rarely have the discipline to unplug all day at home. But when we’re out, in some gorgeously remote location that’s untouched by the distraction of cell towers, I can do it. I let go and I’m 100% in the moment. Text messages can wait, phone calls can go to voicemail, Facebook and Instagram notifications will still be there when we’re finished.

In that moment, my boys have my full attention. I sit. I listen. I watch. I record their every move… the way the sun reflects in their eyes, how those curly locks get curler by the second from their sweaty little heads, the way they pick at bushes, brush the sand from their pants, scour the ground for the perfect rock, and stomp around, trying to figure out why their footsteps are silent.

This is my opportunity to learn more about them as individuals. And I know that I’m truly a better, more aware parent out there in the sunshine, rain, and snow among the mountains, sand, flowers and trees with my little lost boys.

Live in the sunshine. Swim the sea. Drink the wild air. – Emerson

Check out Makelle's blog, Lost Boys Are We, and read about her trip to the Seven Magic Mountains.  

Tags : parenting   slow living   simplicity parenting   

Sid Mannheim
Nice thought but they're kids not chickens. Structure is important.
Elodie Nilsson
I would love to do more of this. But living in a city like LA and working full time, we just have the weekends to squeeze in as much as possible.
Ruth Zakarai
Love everything in this, and can relate to "finding something new in old favorites", and collecting moments not things. So sweet!
Maya Slavin
Those boys are adorable. This is how I wish to raise my kids as well!