28 Nov 2014

Children Need to Direct Themselves

Category: Self-Directed LearningAdmin @ 2:14 pm

Here is evidence that too many children’s lives are over-scripted at the expense not only of their free time, but also of their cognitive development. Psychologists at the University of Colorado in Boulder, CO (USA) and the University of Denver in Denver, CO published their research in the June 17, 2014 Frontiers in Psychology journal entitled, “Less-structured time in children’s daily lives predicts self-directed executive functioning.”

The “executive function” is the part of the brain’s function which oversees other parts so that we can selectively and consciously pay attention to what interests us. To pay attention, we also must selectively filter out what gets in the way. Very young children have not developed the executive function yet, and their attention is largely directed by their environment and the actions of those within it. Movement, light and sound can easily interrupt whatever they are doing along with their thought processes.

As Dr. Maria Montessori, a keen observer of children, recognized long ago, concentration has to be developed, and the child must have the opportunity for uninterrupted, self-directed focus in order to develop it. She wrote that “play is the child’s work,” because she recognized that in self-directed play, children were literally growing their own minds.

When I was six, which was way back in 1964, my parents allowed me to expand my solo bicycle-riding range from one block to many. What was I learning? Besides how to find my way home again, I was developing my coordination, self-confidence, and social skills. Once a teenage girl literally rode her bicycle into me after zooming down the hill that was her driveway. I was knocked on the ground and my bicycle seat got turned 90 degrees. She apologized, fixed my bicycle and invited me in. Her mother cleaned me up and then they sent me home. How wonderful to know that I could count on these neighbors for help!

Today I would insist that any little kid wear a helmet and have a tall flag attached to her bicycle, and I would certainly make sure my child knew the rules of the road and safety (as I did) before turning her loose. I admit that I would worry, but if she proved herself road-worthy, I would let her go.

I suppose some might call me “the World’s Second-Worst Mom,” after Lenore Skenazy, the “World’s Worst,” who let her nine-year-old son ride the New York Subway by himself (at his own request). She has been lecturing ever since about the damage we are doing to children – and their families – in the name of safety. For example, below is a 2012 YouTube interview of her by Reason TV. She also has a website called Free Range Kids. What do you think?

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