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Recently, I had yet another conversation that included a bit of head scratching as we discussed the idea that kids in middle and high school increasingly have to be told exactly what to do, how to do it and what they should do if they have any problem. Basically, the adults have to figure the whole thing out, and then deliver the instructions in as many forms as possible, verbal, printed step by step, multicolor agenda on a white board and interactive demonstration. After that, kids either figure out how to do it or ask lots of questions.

We hear all the time that “things are different for kids these days” Many of today’s adults grew up getting actual dirt on their knees, made physical objects like go carts or clothes, fixed broken things (probably after breaking them) because we would have to do without until it was repaired. However, the today’s kids are often overscheduled, and kept from any discomfort.

A site created by Lenore Skenazy has the mission of creating Free Range kids. Helping to make kids more aware of their surroundings and how to do things on their own will bring about different skills and interest in these growing individuals.

We are not daredevils. We believe in life jackets and bike helmets and air bags. But we also believe in independence.

Children, like chickens, deserve a life outside the cage. The overprotected life is stunting and stifling, not to mention boring for all concerned.

The Free Range kids has some other information about helping to encourage parents to give kids the freedom that will help them to become more competent and confident as they grow up. The site has lots of comments on this somehow controversial issue. Their RSS feed for comments is pretty extensive.

Skenazy recently appeared on Dr. Phil’s show about Extreme Moms discussing the differences between parenting with freedom and parenting with helicopters.

A middle school in New York City just gave its sixth graders an extra credit “Free Range” project: Do something on your own that, for one reason or another, you never tried. The 11-year-olds jumped into action and did everything from making dinner to baking a cake to walking to school – all the kind of sweet, simple things they would have been doing without a second thought a generation or so earlier.

What was different was their trepidation: “I thought they were going to abduct me,” wrote a young man who took the subway solo home from soccer on a Saturday morning. A girl who made herself a sunny side-up egg admitted, “I was scared. I didn’t want to burn myself.” Another boy walked proudly five blocks to and from the grocery only to find out at the end that his mom had trailed him the whole way, through one of New York’s fanciest neighborhoods. She didn’t trust him to make his way safely.

Do you think that you were raised in a way that encouraged your curiosity and creativity? What can parents do these days that will help kids to take appropriate chances and learn from mistakes? How can parents helping with projects not take over the project? How can kids make things that will solve the real problems in their communities? If you have experiences that help others see the value of kids with freedom and making the things they need, pass along info through the comments, and add your photos and video to the Make Flickr pool!

Chris Connors

Making things is the best way to learn about our world.


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