Fostering Independence

IMG_0734For the first time in his three years of public schooling, my 8-year-old son waited cheerfully and excitedly at the door for the moment it was time to leave for school. While not every morning has been a full-blown battle, he has perfected surly feet-dragging and spiteful last-minute fumbling for his backpack. He and his teachers have always reported that he liked school, did well there, and seemed happy once he arrived, but getting out the door has been a struggle. But on this momentous day, my son was at the ready a full 15 minutes before he needed to be, asking me, “Can I just go now? Please?”

Stroller Hikers, I’ll share the magic parenting strategy that produced this minor family miracle. The only thing that made this morning different from other mornings is that my son was riding his bike to school by himself for the first time. Having ridden the route over 300 times with his dad, he was confident in his ability to navigate the distance, to follow biking rules, to stay alert, and to be extra cautious at the one tricky intersection. Given the opportunity for independence and autonomy, he bloomed and couldn’t wait to get going. Watching him pedal away (5 minutes earlier than he needed to), I felt how empowering a little trust can be. My son was thrilled to be his own person, to demonstrate his responsibility, and to make his own decisions. When handed the torch, he ran (or pedaled) with it proudly.

When I met him after school, I wanted to hear all about his first solo commute. But he was cool as could be: “It was fine, Mom.” No exciting adventures or reports of a proud triumph. But his increased confidence was evident, the kind that comes from accomplishing something tangible.

Stroller Hikes has provided a perfect opportunity for my children to practice this empowering independence. Kids in the outdoors can run ahead, choose which trails to take, and find fun places to climb and explore. Perhaps even on his earliest hikes 8 years ago, from the safety of the Kelty carrier, my son was looking forward to the day when he would self-propel himself through the next hike, to his second grade classroom, and on through the rest of his life.

– Amy B


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