September 27th, 2021


Releasing Kids Into the Wild

Lenore Skenazy

By Lenore Skenazy

Published Nov. 18, 2019

Releasing Kids Into the Wild
School is in full swing, which means that some lucky students are about to undergo an enormous, transformative experience. It does not involve a test.

At least, not on paper.

It involves doing a Let Grow Project — a radical new homework assignment where the kid's task is to go home and do one thing on their own that they haven't done yet. These activities might sound simple or scary, depending on how much local news you watch: Walk the dog. Make dinner. Run an errand.

Here's what some sixth graders in my city — New York — discovered:

"Going home by myself gave me many different feelings. I found it fun, because I was finally able to take the bus all by myself! Also, when I got off, I walked to my building — 8 blocks in total. My fear of going home alone disappeared. I am so happy I forced myself (and I also forced my parents) to go home alone. Now I am allowed to do it every day!"

See? That was a transformative afternoon for that girl. Here's a boy whose mom allowed him to get a snack on his own:

"After the eternity of waiting, the school day is over. I think to myself: 'Where to start? So many things to see!' I figure that if I was going to be a new and independent me, I should try new things. So, I go to the falafel place and order falafel with sour cream and salad. I have never eaten sour cream before. I feel nervous and I hate that. It is all because my parents always keep a really close eye on me. I'm so accustomed to them watching me that not being watched is abnormal. The pita sandwich finally comes. I have one bite of the sloppy mess and think, 'OH. MY. GOD. FANTAAAAABULOUS!!' It was one of the best meals I ever had. I eat until I notice my plate is empty."

And now from a boy who's exaggerating his fears ... I hope:

"Being 11, I feel more independent than ever. I have decided to risk my life and make an egg sandwich, all by myself, and eat it too. This task is harder than it may seem. I am going to use a flame to cook eggs, all independently ... I transfer the eggs to the pan. I am a little nervous now, since I can easily touch the flame right then and there."

He manages to make the eggs, as well as the toast, even though he writes, "In the process I could easily burn myself."

He survives and eats the sandwich: "Yum."

Here's one last story, this one from a girl:

"Everyone says that when you're on an adventure, you'll travel far. I don't believe this to be true. In fact, today my adventure led me to a neighborhood cafe, Cosi. I have been begging my parents to let me go somewhere on my own. Today, they finally caved. They sent me off, cell phone in hand, and told me to have fun. I felt as if I was a bird who had broken free of her cage."

Naturally, she has to call her parents the second she arrives safely. But it's a start. All these adventures are. They may seem small, even silly, but in a culture that has created mountains of fear around every childhood experience, these kids have started their climb. Pretty soon, they'll be ready to fly.