Learning Through Experience: Breaking Down the Importance of Real-World Skills for Our Kids
Parenting is hard!
You are constantly juggling the demands of work and family life while trying to meet everyone's needs.
It can be exhausting, and you often feel like you are getting it all wrong.
Lenore Skenazy is a mom who has had her fair share of controversy and criticism, so she understands how you feel.
After letting her 9-year-old son ride the New York subway alone, people called her America's Worst Mom, a title that sparked the growth of a movement encouraging freedom and independence for kids.
"I guess my motto was that our kids are safer and smarter than our culture gives them credit for" - Lenore Skenazy.
Wanting to protect your children is a natural instinct, but our constant hovering, coddling, and micro-managing damage our children's development.
Kids Learn When They Are Allowed To Live
Lenore Skenazy started her blog Free-Range Kids and wrote a book with the same title to share her passion for childhood freedom.
"The whole point of education is not to just learn something that a teacher teaches you; it's to be learning all the time" - Lenore Skenazy.
It seems that over the years, we have lost the trust in children to direct their own learning and choose how they spend their time.
Our idea of education revolves around keeping kids busy and involved in activities that we deem worthwhile.
Lenore explains that "we just started filling kids time with activities that we thought were more interesting and developmental and would make them into better college prospects. In doing so, they just didn't have the time to pursue their own interests out of boredom".
The goal of education is to equip our kids with the necessary knowledge and skills they will need for adulthood.
Yet the traditional education system focuses heavily on specific knowledge without the accompanying skills.
How Do Kids Learn Life Skills?
The simple answer is by living.
Experiential learning is a vital tool for adulthood, but Lenore says that kids miss out on life experiences because 'the whole culture is organized around constant adult supervision".
At the most basic level, this childhood independence looks like free play.
Kids need time and space to be bored, be creative, problem-solve, and interact with each other.
Lenore says, "if nobody's organizing the teams or deciding if the ball is in or out or was that a foul or who's on what team or even when the game starts and where it is played. If kids are deciding all that, there's a lot of bickering, but there's a lot of growth because you're compromising, you're explaining, you're trying to get buy-in, and you're changing the rules".
The life skills that kids learn in a game situation during free play are invaluable.
When no adult intervenes, kids learn to compromise, communicate, and cooperate.
Lenore gave a great example of a kids' soccer league that worked with the Let Grow Program and how fifteen minutes of free play at the start of each soccer practice improved the kids' abilities and personal growth.
Coaches noticed that the kids were more excited to come to practice knowing there was free play involved and that "some of it was just the joy of goofiness and creativity, but some of it was almost more intense because this is your life now, you're not a pawn, you're in charge" and the kids acted accordingly.
In particular, coaches noticed that the older kids took on more responsibility at tournaments and acted more like coaches. They would wait on the sidelines, assess the team's performance, and make player adjustments.
As Lenore said, "it's self-regulation, it's maturity, it's leadership, and that happened in a regular, organized pay-to-play league."
It just goes to show that the Let Grow motto is true- 'When Adults Step Back, Kids Step Up.'
How To Future-Proof Our Kids
The trend in parenting and education has been to coddle our kids, and the view that they are fragile and vulnerable is causing them actually to become fragile and vulnerable.
We are doing our kids a disservice by constantly solving their problems and telling them what to do.
The world is changing rapidly, and the education system needs to be evolving as the demands for skills and creativity increase.
With the increase of online businesses, entrepreneurial ventures, and a constantly shifting job market, our kids need to be problem-solvers, out-the-box thinkers, and curious creatives.
Unfortunately, the current school system is more about conformity and grades than imagination and free-thinking.
How will children learn to take calculated risks, make informed decisions, or start a business if we have never let them be in a situation that requires risk assessment, decision-making, or an entrepreneurial mindset?
The future is constantly shifting, and our kids need to be adaptable and resilient to thrive.
Parents Need Help and Encouragement To Understand The Importance of Childhood Independence
"I want people to change, and I finally recognized that the only way people change is by changing. You sort of almost have to force them or push them or encourage or nudge or whatever word you want them into a little bit of behavior change. Then they've seen it works, and it's great" - Lenore Skenazy.
The Let Grow Project has been implemented in schools across America to nudge parents into giving their kids more freedom.
It is a basic homework assignment that asks the students to go home and do something new on their own.
They can decide what that is, and it could be anything from cooking a meal or going to the store to walking to school on their own.
Lenore says, "it's just an easy way of normalizing the idea that kids don't need an adult helping, coaching, intervening, watching them every second of every day."
Free Play Is the Simplest Way to Encourage Real-World Social Skills
Dr. Peter Gray created the Let Grow Play Club as a way to bring unstructured playtime to schools and communities.
Mixed-age free play is crucial for helping kids develop the necessary social skills they need to thrive in our ever-changing world.
Some of the life-skills kids learn from playing freely are:
Parents and teachers have seen a marked difference in behavior when kids have had the space to interact with each other and solve problems on their own.
Kids are more capable than we give them credit for, and the Let Grow Play Club and let Grow Project are helping parents and students find their feet and walk their own paths in a world that needs more independent thinkers.
"And that's the behavior change that then changes more behavior. Because once you have let go and seen how much your kid can do, it's almost like those coaches, once they have kids back some free time for free play, they saw that they're smarter than we thought" - Lenore Skenazy.
How To Give Your Kids Freedom in the Online World
There is no denying that the online world is here to stay, and our kids need to have the skills to navigate it safely.
As a parent, making rules around the internet can be tricky as it is so much a part of our everyday lives and will be a large part of the employment landscape in the future.
An online community offers social connections in a world where kids have limited freedom and free time.
As Lenore explained, time spent online isn't wasted as kids learn valuable skills.
She gave a great example of a friend's son who was spending lots of time online because he was interested in cars. He researched, listened to podcasts, and then started his own blog.
Not only was he exploring a topic he found interesting, but he was developing research, writing, and technological skills.
Galileo's own Stacey Piercey asked Lenore when the right time was to teach kids about being digital citizens.
There is no correct answer, but rather the right time for your family.
Kids are different, and how each family approaches situations is different.
Stacey did have some great advice saying that open and honest communication is key.
Lenore said, "if you can keep people from feeling shamed, I think that that's going to make it a lot easier for them to come to you when something is disturbing or strange."
But What About Gaming?
Gaming has a bad reputation amongst parents, but really it is a learning tool for kids.
Not only is it a form of social connection, but it also teaches skills like risk assessment and decision-making.
Lenore spoke about brothers playing a video game online with other kids and how it was a valuable teaching tool. The younger brother wanted a sword that you could get for free if the other players voted for you, and he told his brother his plan to ask for votes. The older brother said he should wait until he became a better team player as none of the other players enjoyed gaming with him due to his behavior.
"So the younger kid took this in as valuable info like a cheat code. So it seemed like a cheat code for how to get the sword for free, but really it was a cheat code for how to make people like you, how to be a part of a social situation, how to be more mature. That's what happens in play".
Trying to protect our kids from the real and online world will only make it more difficult for them when they eventually explore it.
Why not give them the freedom to learn from their life experiences to better handle situations as they arise?
Are You Willing To Give Your Kids The Freedom They Need to Thrive?
Life can seem scary, and being a parent feels like a big responsibility. But it is our responsibility to help our children grow and thrive, not just keep them safe. We are there to help prepare them for the world as they find their place in it.
How can we expect them to flourish when they never have the time or freedom to fail?
Life is about learning, and we should be helping our kids become life-long learners that are curious about the world around them. That is what they need to learn about life and themselves.
As Lenore so wisely said, "all you have to do is step out into that real world and recognize that you can deal with."
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