by Emily Bujold

After Utah passed the country's first law legalizing so-called free-range parenting, groups across the states are pushing for similar steps to bolster the idea of an antidote for anxiety-plagued parents and overscheduled kids. Free-range parenting is the concept that gives kids the freedom to do things alone -- like explore a playground or ride a bike to school -- and makes them healthier, happier, and more resilient. Here is more on one organization that is doing just that.

Backpacks and babies in tow, we follow a tribe of three and five-year-olds down the trail; they are the leaders this morning. There is no 'hurry-up' or 'not that way,' no destination or agenda, we're just here to play. They lead us to a familiar low spot, wet from the spring rains. The kids take note that the water isn't as deep as it was last week and together we think about why. It's not long before shoes and shorts are discarded and the group is knee deep in cold, squishy mud. "We need a bridge!" someone shouts and so the morning's mission begins. 

The kids don't need toys or an activity prompt, they are naturally curious and bursting with ideas. They just need their grown-ups to step back and let them play, the way we used to when we were young and the parenting mantra was "come back when the street lamps come on." They are members of Free Forest School, a community of free, parent-led, outdoor play groups with the mission of getting young children outside and engaging in self-directed learning. Rooted in the Scandinavian forest school tradition, the nonprofit's popularity is on the rise across the continent with over 80 groups in the US and Canada. 

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