Normalizing Independence in Children with Lenore Skenazy
July 5, 2022
Normalizing Independence in Children with Lenore Skenazy

As educators, you know that kids need independence. And yet, many of our youth graduate from high school having never had to take responsibility for getting themselves up on time, fixing themselves a meal, or scheduling an appointment on their own.

Our kids are being raised in a bubble where parents (and sometimes educators) do it all for them, for fear kids might fail at something.

We’re doing our kids a disservice if we don’t back off and give them the power and independence they need to live a full life. That’s exactly what this week’s guest, Lenore Skenazy, did back in 2008–and received backlash for.

But that one action, allowing her 9-year-old to ride the subway alone, sparked the idea for a nonprofit and school initiatives that are helping kids across the globe grow into the independent individuals they should be.

Listen in to why she allowed her kids more independence than many and how educators can not only get involved but encourage parents to do the same.

About Lenore Skenazy:

After her column “Why I Let My 9-Year-Old Ride the Subway Alone” created a media firestorm, Lenore Skenazy founded the book, blog, and movement, “Free-Range Kids.” She has appeared everywhere from The Today Show to The Daily Show, and hosted the reality show World’s Worst Mom. Now she is president of Let Grow, the nonprofit making it easy, normal and legal to give kids the independence they need to grow into capable, happy adults. Let Grow’s two main school initiatives are The Let Grow Project (kids get the homework assignment, “Go home and do something new, on your own!”) and The Let Grow Play Club (schools stay open for mixed-age free play. Adults don’t organize the games or solve the spats). All the implementation guides are free here. Lenore lives in New York City with her husband and beloved computer. Her kids have flown the coop.

Jump in the Conversation:

[2:40] – The uproar around letting a child ride the subway alone
[4:19] – The birth of free-range kids
[5:25] – Moving from trusting kids to a new generation we hover over
[6:08] – Teachable moments don’t always include a teacher present
[11:50] – If kids aren’t doing something just for fun, you have kids doing things for a coach and not themselves
[13:02] – We’re not just going to change minds; we need to change behavior
[14:47] – The culture is the hamster wheel
[15:51] – Free and easy ways to give kids back their freedom
[18:45] – The benefit of boredom and free play
[21:39] – No device rules
[27:15] – What classroom teachers can do to support play
[30:35] – Our kids are supposed to carry on when we’re not there
[32:50] – What happens when we let kids become independent too late
[34:30] – Turbo Time
[37:48] – Lenore’s Magic Wand
[38:48] – Maureen’s Takeaways

Links & Resources



Maureen O’Shaughnessy 0:03
Hello fellow parents and educators. Thank you for joining me at Education Evolution, where we are disrupting the status quo in today’s learning models. We talk about present day education, what’s broken, who’s fixing it, and how. I’m Dr. Maureen O’Shaughnessy, your host and founder of education evolution, micro school coalition, and co founder of at active, I consult and train with schools and leaders who are fiercely committed to changing the narrative, reimagining the education landscape, and creating learning that serves all children and prepares them to thrive. If you are new, welcome to the podcast. Please subscribe on our website to get it delivered to your inbox weekly. If you’ve been around a while, have you left a review?

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 1:09
Today’s guest is one of the most notorious moms in the country. Lenore Skenazy is the mom who wrote a New York column on why I let my nine year old ride the subway alone. This became hugely controversial, and she went on to be on a ton of shows talking about empowering kids. She also became the host of the reality TV show world’s worst mom, and she tried to help anxious parents let their kids have more freedom. I am so excited to have her speaking with us today and telling us some wonderful tools that are free and that are extending this model into our schools. Let’s get started.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 2:12
Lenore, so good to have you on Education Evolution.

Lenore Skenazy 2:16
Totally pleased to be here as proven by my presence.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 2:21
And listeners today I’m chatting with Lenore Skenazy, author of free range kids and world famous coach on helping anxious parents let their children have less supervision to grow into confident adults, Lenore as a famous journalist, your 2008 column in the New York Sun. While that my nine year old ride the subway alone, created an uproar, and also began a vitally important conversation. Take us through this momentous experience.

Lenore Skenazy 2:54
All right, remember, we’re talking 2008. And it’s a long time ago, but basically that was it. Our nine year old son it started asking me and my husband, if we would take him someplace you’ve never been before here in New York City where we live and let him find his own way home on the subway. You know, some kids. Maybe everyone doesn’t have this, but some kids are subway kids, if you live in a city, they just love the subway and they tell you what steps they’re at. And they get friendly with the bus drivers and the train conductors. And that was ours. And so one Sunday, Sunday, I took our son Izzy to Bloomingdale’s place he hadn’t been because it’s a super expensive department store. And I left him there. And I said, Okay, today’s the day. And sure enough, he found his way into the subway, which is right under the store. He took the subway down, I don’t know, three or four or five stops, he got out he had to take a bus across town. He came into the apartment, levitating. He’d done something on his own. He was a grown up. And I’m a newspaper columnist. So a few weeks later, when I didn’t have anything interesting to write about, I asked my editor can I write about is he taking the subway by himself? The other fourth grade moms were, you know, some are on my side. Some thought it was a little too soon. And so she said, Yes, I wrote the column.

Lenore Skenazy 4:02
And two days later, I was on the Today Show, MSNBC, Fox News and NPR. I love that because it’s Fox News and NPR. out there. I mean, like, you know, Hillary, you know, in one place, and then in the other place with the target. But anyways, that weekend after getting sort of pilloried on most of the shows for not going with them, not giving him a cell phone, not making them go in a group not hiding behind a pillar to watch if you is actually getting on the subway, you know, all these things that I supposedly did wrong and horrible. I started the blog, free range kids and I said, Look, I love safety, like anybody, like any other mother, I love helmets and car seats and mouth guards and seatbelts, you name it. I just don’t think kids need a security card every time they leave the house. And that’s controversial these days. So that’s it so I got the nickname America’s worst mom and ever seen Since then I’ve been really puzzling about how did we get to the point where, you know, when I was a kid and my mom, let me walk to school, it was age five, and nobody thought she was crazy. And nobody arrested her. Nobody thought that I was in terrible danger. I didn’t feel like I was in danger. And it’s not like my mom lived on another planet she lived on, you know, you’re in America, in the suburbs, where people today absolutely would consider that unthinkable, and perhaps illegal. So how did we get in a generation or two from trusting kids on their own, they’re going to be a you, we were just chatting a little before this podcast began scrappy, and happy. Versus they’re going to be either, you know, victimized, horribly, kidnapped, raped, eaten, you name it, or that time that they’re spending without an adult with them, holding their hand or helping them out is is going to be wasted time, because they could have been enriched, they could have optimized that experience, they could have, you know, had a had a wonderful conversation and learn so much about biosynthesis on their way to school. And instead, they were just wasting their time because they were just kicking the can. To me, that’s not wasted time, but to the rest of the country. Every moment has become a quote unquote, teachable moment. And in a way, we only think a moment is teachable if there’s a teacher or an adult teaching a kid. And I think kids are always learning when they’re curious. And we just gotta let them be.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 6:26
I love that. I completely agree. I could get on my bike and go miles and directions out in the country to visit friends. It was like, after breakfast, don’t bug us until dinner after dinner, stay out until dark and it was fine. And I kind of do the same with my own daughters growing up overseas, I let them fly alone in elementary to Malaysia and Hong Kong to catch a friend for spring break. And, and with my daughter with autism, we had a couple of glitches. But it was just like, hey, how do we empower and overseas I’ve gotten to here and then again in Seattle. Joanne Deke, I don’t know if you’re familiar with her, but a school psychologists that has worked with girls schools and has written how girls thrive. And I loved hearing that since I have two daughters just girls need more adrenaline they need, you know, guys will jump their bikes off of the edge of this and that and more often. So we need the girls to be rock climbing to be getting out of that oxytocin and into. So when we give our kids and especially our girls, when we think it’s not all about being safe and nice, I think that they really get to be the strong empowered humans that they’re wired to be. So kudos to you. I’m sure. It was hard, you know, being that controversial, but I bet it was also this amazing opportunity, which I know it is because you’ve kept going here I am. Yeah, here you are. What have you created since then? Oh, that’s interesting.

Lenore Skenazy 7:55
Um, so for about 10 years, I was just the free range kids, Lady and I lectured around the country and sometimes the world and cool places like DreamWorks, like, I’d go to DreamWorks and Microsoft and places like that Harvard for what it’s worth. But the thing that was killing me is that often the audience’s would be laughing and they’d be nodding along, they’d all be remembering their own childhoods they stayed out in the street lights were on. It was the best part of their childhood, but they weren’t giving it to their kids. And even when they sort of woke up to like, wow, that’s weird. I’m giving them you know, the best food and the best education and also so much love. But I’m not giving them what I love the most. That was sort of a revelation. But it didn’t result in change. And that’s what was just driving me nuts. I mean, you don’t want to dedicate your life to a proposition that kids need more independence and not see it, not see the needle move at all. And so about five years ago, a guy named Jonathan Hite ha IDT. He’s a professor of something I can never remember. It’s like social psychology or moral psychology. But the point is, he’s he’s co author of a book called The coddling of the American mind. Very influential, you know, popular book, Bill Gates just said, it’s one of the eight best books you ever read. And he was seeing kids coming on to campus being fragile. And what he meant by that is that things that they could ordinarily shrug off, were looming larger. And there seemed to be a confusion on their part between feeling uncomfortable and literally being unsafe, the word unsafe was being thrown around all the time. And he felt like this was not starting when they were 18 and stepped foot on that, you know, on the campus, it must be starting sooner. So he was speaking with a man named Daniel Stockman, who was at the time chairman of fire, which fights for free speech on campus and actually everywhere now. And the two of them are saying there must be we got to stop this problem before it starts. We have to make kids more resilient, more curious and brave, and they almost need to be more independent to get those things who’s working for childhood independence, of course, They found me and they said, Let’s start a nonprofit together. And I said, No, I’m not running anything. I was like, No, I’m a journalist. I’m a talker, forget it. And they said, find somebody to run it with you. And I said, okay, that I can do. But we also have to bring in a man named Peter Gray.

Lenore Skenazy 10:14
Peter Gray, you’ve probably heard of I see your, for your listening audience. She’s nodding with a big smile. And the reason is because Peter Gray is the best. Peter Gray is a professor of psychology at Boston College, who has spent his adult life studying the importance of mixed age free play kids of all different ages playing together. Why is that so important? Well, it’s important for a lot of reasons, but mostly because it’s what makes you a successful human. When you are a little kid playing around bigger kids, you can’t just tantrum all the time, because you’ll look like a baby. You want to be like those big kids. And so you, you lose, but you hold yourself together, or it’s not fair. But you hold it together and you don’t cry, and you go to the back line, and you wait your next turn, because that’s how you get along, right. That’s how you make the game continue. And if you’re a older kid, and the little kid comes up to the front, and he’s batting and you can barely hold the bat, and he’s wobbling, you throw the ball just as gently as you can. Because there’s no pride in you know, striking out a six year old if you’re 12. But there is this thing that wells up in you, which is a little recognition of what that kid feels like I talked to one guy once who said his most fun when he was playing with younger kids would be like, Oh my God, you hit me with the ball. It’s so powerful. Oh, my You know, that’s Babe Ruth there. And of course, the little kids squeals with Billy. And he feels like the older kid feels like he’s doing something kind of manly and fatherly. He’s being a nice older person giving a kid that day of his life. And so if you don’t have kids doing things just for fun, what you have is the opposite. You have kids doing things, or a coach a trophy, a tournament a scholarship. And it’s not that there’s nothing good that goes on in organized sports, you learn it, you learn a sport, there’s there’s teamwork, there’s camaraderie. But you can’t change the game if it’s boring. And you can’t deliberately not catch the ball because you want to make a good feel good, because you can’t Yeah, it’s always there’s some there’s an ulterior motive and it’s adult run. And so without the chance to play on their own, without an adult suggesting ideas and solving the problems and making the teams and telling you what snack to bring when, without that opportunity. Kids are missing the chance to be frustrated, excited, creative, bored, annoyed, and then fight their way out of that sometimes, literally. And so we brought Peter on board, long, long digression. And so the four of us founded a new nonprofit called let grow, not let’s go not let it grow, which is just plain old, let grow. But the whole point was, we’re not just going to try to change minds anymore. We have to change behavior. Because, I mean, you saw this from living abroad, once it becomes normal to do something a different way, then you don’t have to think about it again. You don’t you’re not terribly worried about doing it. You’ve you’ve you’ve normalized this for yourself. And if enough people are changing their behavior at the same time, you’ve normalized it for our community. And what we’re trying to normalize is childhood independence. We’re trying to make it easy to give Kinder kids independence normal and also legal. Those are the three fronts we’re working on.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 13:35
Yes. And you know, people do my generation laments that our kids today are so programmed and and they go from this lesson to this lesson. And even like no running over to the running around the neighborhood and catching friends. No, now it’s a formal playdate and driven from here to there. So wow, just let grow and and multi age. It sounds so obvious, because we’ve all experienced it. Why we’re not giving this to our kids. There’s so many no brainers right now that I just feel like parents are on this hamster wheel going round and round. And if they could just stop, off they go, Wait a minute, this isn’t what I’m trying to create. But our culture is the hamster wheel. And we just get so busy, and aren’t as intentional as we need to be. Because what you’re saying, brings back happy memories of playing with neighborhood kids of all ages. You know, and it worked. And you’re right, there was no way I was going to cry in front of my big brothers, you know, or their friends. And you know, at home I might have, you know, if mom and dad around you knows it. It’s a no brainer, but it’s not happening.

Lenore Skenazy 14:47
It’s not happening. And they’re, as you said, the culture is the hamster wheel. So it’s not the parents aren’t intentional or aren’t thinking about these things. I think they’re thinking about a lot more than my parents did because it’s But look, here’s a podcast all about it. But you can’t be the only one exiting the wheel. You know, your kid gets off the hamster wheel goes to the park and there’s nobody there to play with. That’s the end. I mean, they’re bored. Kids are, you know, Peter Gray, like constantly says it’s not the kids are necessarily drawn to the park, I said they’re drawn to other kids. And if there’s nobody there to play with, or all the other kids are in uniform, you know, busy going through their soccer drills, then you’re going to turn around and come home. And you’re probably going to go online because at least there’s somebody there to play with. And you can find somebody at any moment. So let grow recognize that recognize the sort of the fact that you can’t be the only person giving your kids some independence, and you can’t create free play out of thin air. So what we’ve done is come up with to what I consider extremely easy, and also free ways to sort of create a culture that does give kids back their freedom. And I’ll talk them to you really quickly. And I would I would urge anybody listening, to go to let grow old, let and click on school programs, even if you have a micro school, even if you’re homeschooling because these things are really easy. And all our materials are free. So the leg girl play club with Peter Gray’s idea, and he has encouraged schools to stay open before or after school for exactly what we were just talking about. mixed age, no devices, free play, there’s an adult there. But there’s an adult who is you know, there’s a there’s a lifeguard at the ocean too. They don’t organize the fun. They don’t tell you when to start making a sandcastle they jump in if there’s a shark, right. So that’s what the adults do at a play club. They’re there in case of a terrible emergency, I guess or a shark. You don’t want to discount those land sharks. But otherwise, the kids are organizing their own games. They’re solving their own arguments. And I have to say, I just went and interviewed five kids who were in play club all year at a school out in the far sort of working class excerpt of New York City. And the thing that I found most poignant, was the kids talking about like, Well, why did you go to play club and they’d all said it and they weren’t programmed or anything. They just said, Well, I really wanted to make friends. Sometimes it’s hard to make friends. I knew I wanted friends. They all were like, lonely. They longed for the most basic, fun, you know, human part of childhood, which is friendship. And one of the kids said that on the day to play club was twice a week for an hour after school. And I said, What do you do the other days? And of course, they went home and one said I was on an iPad one was on a phone was on a computer. And and that was okay. But I said Which Which do you like better? And they and one boy said, Well, he loved playing, I can’t remember his game. It wasn’t Call of Duty. I mean, they were younger than that. But whatever he was playing, he said, it’s really fun. And you do make friends. But then you take off the headset, and there’s no one there.

Lenore Skenazy 17:58
So I thought that was, yeah, that was an ouch. And then another kid was saying, he likes playing better in real life, but he goes home and there’s nobody to play with. And so really, all you’re doing is I keep trying to think of analogies. And I’ve my latest is that having a play club is like having a wildlife sanctuary. It’s it’s, you know, the outside world is all turned into, you know, smokestacks and condos. But there is this, you know, a couple of miles where the palm trees still grow. And the giraffes have no idea that they’re, you know, an endangered species, and they roam around. And that’s what play club is. And darned if the kids don’t know exactly what to do. I mean, they, you know, they play hopscotch, they play soccer, they make up games, sometimes they’re just talking. And when I’ve watched kids, playing, one of the things that’s so different about free play, versus an organized game is there’s a lot of downtime. Like if there’s like where I live in the summer, there’s one swing, and there’s, there’s a bunch of kids. And so there’s kids who are waiting for their turn at the swing. So it looks like it’s boring, and they’re wasting their time. And some of them are just like, you know, pulling up clumps of grass, but then they start talking to each other where they start weaving the grass, or they, you know, they run off and start another game, because it’s so boring to wait for the swing. And if an adult is organizing the activity, they do a better job. They say, okay, these five kids are just waiting. Let’s go over here. We’re going to count off by twos. And now we’re going to make the teams and let’s play Capture the Flag. I’ll be the flags if there’s one extra person. And the thing is that parents got to be that good, because they had all this experience. You know, being a human being who’s figured things out. But if you take away that experience from the kids, because you’ve already figured it out, when you expect them to figure it out, when you expect them to learn how to muddle through or how to deal with being frustrated that the teams aren’t fair. We think that we’re helping them by making their experience better by getting to the fun part faster, you know, instead of wasting all their time negotiating, I can just make the teams right now. No, but that hard part is like the wheat germ in wheat. You know, we took it all out, we gave kids soft, fluffy white bread, and it was better and it was yummy. And it was sweet. But but you have to chew a little to get some nutrition. And we took the nutrition out of child’s hand and replaced it with perfection, which is parentally run activities or adult run activities. So you got to give kids that back.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 20:23
They completely agree there are a couple pieces in there that caught me in our micro school sixth through 12th grade, and we have downtime. And two things that have come up from that kids teaching each other origami and knitting, you know, has nothing to do with us it’s like, and then they know during class, if they’re not distracted, if they can still be a part of the conversation that they can go ahead and do things with their hands. And for some of our kids, that’s how they focus their brains. So you’ll see them knitting in class or sketching. And then there’s every now and then there’s a kid that’s so into their drawing, they’ve totally lost us. So we have to balance that. But I agree, I see that kids fill the space. And it’s beautiful. And it’s not every moment is productive. But I think looking at the mental health conditions of our teens and the anxiety, the depression, we’ve kind of said more and more and more faster, faster. And we’re not letting them just play and have downtime and kind of figure it out on their own. So that resonates. But one piece that you said about the play the lead role play club, that I think you just skimmed over, but I think is really a landmine for so many issues. Yeah, they have this time together an hour, no devices, the no device piece. Our kids don’t have devices during class time, they have to put them in this phone jail. And they can’t bring any outside devices besides their phones. But then at lunch and break, I see pretty much all of the high school kids on a screen. And it’s a compromise with middle school kids want to be having physical recess and stuff like that. But no devices. Talk to us a little bit about that. Because parents I think I think devices have become babysitters for toddlers and and the kids are just permanently wired to them by the time they’re adolescents. What do you suggest to help us when our kids are in devices so they can truly play?

Lenore Skenazy 22:20
I think it’s sort of backwards. I think when they’re truly playing, they don’t need their devices. And what they need for playing is other kids, one of the reasons they’re on their devices is because there’s nothing else to do. They’re not allowed outside. They’re not allowed. You know, they’re not allowed to walk to the store. They’re, you know, they go to the park, as I said, it’s empty. So, you know, kids are, are us, right? I mean, I’m having fun talking to you and have fun that I don’t have to go like I otherwise do and start scrolling through Twitter. Right? I mean, kids long for this. That’s like the kid who said, you know, he’s has fun online, but he would rather be playing in real life and really think about a dinner party people aren’t, you know, it’s boring if people start pulling out their phones. In fact, it’s a dreadful thing. If you ask one question, and someone says, Let me check and they pull out their phone, and it’s like derails all the joy. Yeah. Because now we’re gonna get oh, wait, and they’re gonna be on their way to looking at that, and they’re gonna see a photo. And by the way, we could pedia says who the fuck cares? what Wikipedia says about some fact, you know, here we are communing. And so we all know the joy of hanging out. And what’s really great is if you don’t have your device, and you are frustrated, upset, a little lonely, you don’t have that escape hatch, which means that you actually have to learn these skills that we were talking about, you know, saying Can I play with you? That’s a big thing. But if you you know, it might be easily avoided if you have if you’re doing Wordle instead, believe me, I love Wordle. But I do do doesn’t. But but now you have all these kids, and they’re all in the same boat. Right? Everybody’s got to come up with something fun to do. Kids are really good at playing. I mean, at first, both Peter and I were worried that like, well, these are kids who have grown up without a lot of free play. And their lives have been pretty organized by adults, are they going to be able to figure this out? Turns out you don’t have to worry, right? It’s a little slow at the beginning in some schools.

Lenore Skenazy 24:12
So I’ve heard, but pretty soon. And the other thing he said at the beginning, this kids keep going up to the teacher whoever is supervising and saying like, it was my turn, but she took the ball. It’s like, no, it was my turn and the teacher instead of going all right, you’re gonna have the ball first Amy, and then it’s going to be your turn Seychelle or whatever. But instead the teacher says, Thank you for letting me know. I’m sure you guys can figure this out. And they do and what the teachers report. I mean, boy, there’s a great story from from South Carolina. And I’ll tell you a second but the teachers report that after a while the kids stopped bothering them because they realize a they’re not going to get any you know, satisfaction from talking to the teacher and B they can figure things out. And in this South Carolina school that started out one play club and One afternoon a week, with one teacher starting it. The teachers themselves saw such a change in the kids. And there was such a lowering of the number of visits to the principal’s office, which aren’t, believe me or not. This is like hi, Principal, how you doing? It’s like you’re going to the principal young man. Anyways, that went down engagement went up to the point where now he he’s the guy who started had volunteered to watch it. And now he has 13 teachers, all volunteering to watch play club, because it makes such a difference in his school. These are volunteers, no money, they just think it’s so important. And it’s so fun. The principal says it’s the highlight of her week when she does her tour of duty with these kids. So it’s really simple. And all I would beg of you listeners is we need more pictures. And we need more stories because we play club I was talking to the Surgeon General is obsessed with loneliness as he should be. And we had it. He and Peter and I had a chat together, believe it or not, and and now he sort of dumped us so I’m trying to remember like I want to send him pictures of more successful play clubs because if you’re big worry, which is his he wrote a whole book about loneliness called better together. And how if you’re lonely, it’s your mental state is bad deteriorates, and physically you deteriorate to you’re not moving as much, you’re just not treating yourself as well. So if the, if the simple three solution to loneliness is having a play club where they’re off their devices, so they’re becoming friends with each other and learning how to deal and make a friend, why not get on national television and tell everybody to do that. So I want to flood him with pictures of fascinating and wonderful successful play clubs and and get that Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, avec Murthy onboard?

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 26:46
Yes, absolutely. And I’m getting ideas from my microscope. This is super Lenore. taking it one step further into education. We have teachers that are trying to prepare for state tests and told to cover so much textbook content. What might they be doing? Not just the after school before school, what do you suggest classroom teachers consider?

Lenore Skenazy 27:15
Well, I wish this was published already. But we did have a PhD student studying the play club. And I’ll describe our other in class initiative. And the play clock kids, supposedly their grades went up. Right. So that seems like that will be the game changer. I wish that everything else that we’ve been talking about it than the game changer, because we’re really talking about kids lives and future and you know, happiness and ability to connect with and love their fellow human beings. That seems important. But supposedly their grades went up. So that might help a lot. The other leg grow initiative that we have that’s in the classroom, although then it goes outside the classroom is something called the lead growth project. And this is not going to address how to get to more of your AP American history in class, I’m sorry, I actually don’t know how to do that. And I’m not a teacher. So hats off to you. But I’m sorry, I don’t know that. What I do know is that the Lectro project is really simple. And it takes very little class time. And all our materials, again, are free. So the project is this you it’s a homework assignment that you give your students and it says, simply go home and do something new on your own, that you feel you’re ready to do without your parents. And the reason this is an important thing is because it makes the parents back off, there’s almost nothing else that can get the parents to stop from driving their kids to school and watching every soccer match. And you know, and reading to them and writing in the reading log and you know, watching over everything, as they’ve been instructed to do by the culture, the hamster wheel culture we were talking about before, except if the homework says you can’t do anything with them, they actually must go do something new on their own without you and we give a list of stuff. But really the list is, is the opposite of comprehensive. It says things like you know, climb a tree, make dinner, or take a walk, you know, go to your grandma’s house, run an errand, ride your bike, I can’t even remember anything else that’s on the list. That might be the whole list. The point is that you as a kid, know that there’s a particular candy store, or you always wanted to carve your initials in a picnic table somewhere or whatever. So you talk about it with your parents, and this is for K through eight. And then the parents have to say yes to something because it’s a homework assignment. And so they do. And when the kid goes off, and I’ve seen this time and again, I actually did a whole reality series about this. When the kid goes off, it’s sort of like that, my first errand Are you Old Enough show that’s on Netflix now of the Japanese kids. When the kid goes off, the parent has a breakdown. And when the kid comes back, the parent has this fantastic moment of honorable joy, which is looking at my kid.

Lenore Skenazy 29:56
So for all the fear and all the worry and I could never forgive myself and what What happens if something bad when the kid comes back and they brought the milk for dinner, or they met a squirrel, or they had a really good time with their friend and other really thirsty and hungry because they skipped a snack time, that’s how engaged they were the parents how hard it is like the Grinch at the end, you know, it’s like it goes three sizes that day, because parents have kids knowing that their job is to be able to like that the kids will be there when we’re not, let’s just put it that way. Don’t have to get into the nitty gritty worm written details of what happens when we’re not. But the point is, at some point, we know that our kids are supposed to carry on when we’re not with them. And until you see your kid do something independently without you helping, suggesting assisting surveilling without you there, you don’t have proof that existentially you have succeeded as parents. And when you when you do have that when the kid comes back, I used to wonder like, why are the people so ecstatic? All the kid did was got some bread? Are they really grateful that he wasn’t hit by a truck or, you know, abducted by the guy in the white man? I used to think it was that and then I realized, no, it’s there. They’re ecstatic because this is their purpose on earth is to raise a person who can succeed when they’re gone. So so the electoral project has all these fantastic ramifications within the family. But teachers say that the kids are finally more confident, and they’re not so passive. And they’re raising their hands. And Johann Hari, who has a really popular book out right now called stolen focus. It’s called why why you can’t concentrate anymore, and why you wish you could or something like that. And his last chapter is about going to visit kids who had done the lek row project. And he he profiles, a couple of kids, and one of them was a 14 year old boy, the strapping kid who said that, for his like road project, his mom led him I don’t know, make an omelet or something. And finally, you know, he did about 20 of them in a year. And by the end, he had built a fort with his friends beyond where they could get cell service, actually, and he and his buddies would go there. And I said, What would you do? He said, nothing, you know, they ship the ship, for all I know, they’re, you know, maybe they experimented with something with you know, I don’t even know, we pointed out that they were 14 years old.

Lenore Skenazy 32:20
And, and JOHANNS phrase for him was it looked like he had come back to life. Because Because a 14 year old boy is you know, in any other era, uh, you know, throughout history ready to get his bow and arrow and go shirt, shooting gazelles for dinner. And here we have him, you know, doing a reading log and perhaps presenting something about, you know, a novel that he read for class. So, kids are hard wired to become independent, and Georgetown University has three professors studying what happens when we let them get independence so late in the childhood cycle, that it’s, I don’t want to say too late because I hate worrying people, but it’s so late that their risk assessment is off, because in the time that they would have been, you know, jumping from the stairs, or, you know, leaping from rock to rock in the pond or trying to do a wheelie, they haven’t done any of that. And so everything what is anxiety is like anxiety is when everything looks too hard and too dangerous, and like you can’t handle it. And their suspicion and what they want to study is whether American kids are getting their their independence so late that the window when they would have been developing, accurate risk assessment is closed. And if that’s that, they’ll never learn it now. But it’s like learning Chinese. When you’re 14, it’s going to be harder, you’re going to have an accent, it’s going to be a difficult journey. Whereas you could have just been getting it automatically. You could have been fluent into being a human. Had you been allowed to be human and not just a bonsai tree sooner.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 33:59
Absolutely. Wow. These are great. And I will put all of these resources in the show notes. Oh, great.

Lenore Skenazy 34:05
Please do yo people. I’m Lenore, l e n o r e at And you can write me directly and send me pictures or ask me questions because this is why I’m here. You know, I’m yeah, I’m on your podcast. I’m eager to meet with people and especially with sound like the iconic plastic listeners you have.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 34:28
Absolutely. I want to pivot and just get to know you a bit more with a couple of triple chime questions.

Lenore Skenazy 34:34
Oh, okay. Yes.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 34:36
Like the last book you read.

Lenore Skenazy 34:39
Oh my God, what did I just read? I think the last book I read I can’t remember. But the book before that was you know, in autism landed IDEO in autism land, which I am writing about it today. It’s it’s the journals of a young man with autism, who is taught how to spell through Something called learning what’s called spelling to communicate, you use a giant letter board that that kids can point to, even if they have trouble with small motor skills. And eventually, they can spell out entire sentences. And in this case, an entire book. And it just, I really knew nothing about autism before. I have a friend who has a son who has autism. But that’s all I knew. And I had no idea that there were people like me inside people like them. Let’s put it that way.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 35:27
Yes, that does sound powerful. What’s the biggest thing you wish folks knew about free range parenting?

Lenore Skenazy 35:34
It’s really easy. It’s fun. It’s not parents who don’t care if their kids live or die. I mean, people sometimes think like, oh, free range, you must be against sugar and pro living and treetops and, and I’m like, huh? No, I’m like a normal person who was born a long time ago and remembers it and thinks it’s good.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 35:56
Yes. How about a pet peeve of yours?

Lenore Skenazy 36:00
Oh, pet peeve. Um, I don’t like when people automatically dismiss somebody from another political party. Over the years, because I’m in such a weird position. I’ve somehow met people way beyond my look, I’m I’m a New Yorker. Let’s just assume why normally meet. And then imagine meeting a lot of the opposite and realizing, Oh, my God, I liked them too. And they’re smart. And they care about the same things which is was a real revelation, you can be right wing, and also care about, you know, better education, ending poverty, improving health care. It was, I can’t believe how ignorant I was.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 36:40
Oh, I think we all need to embrace that these days. How about something that most folks don’t know about you?

Lenore Skenazy 36:48
Oh, God, you asked me this earlier. And I tried to remember what it was, oh, I guess it’s that I’m nervous. I mean, maybe you could tell that from my voice. But people think I’m this brave person. People write to me, like, Oh, I’m just like you. I let my kids ride a motorcycle at age five. And it’s so good. And now my baby is on top of their helmet, or no helmet. And I’m like, no, no, no, no, I am a nervous parent. I’m just as worried about my kids. I hate the fact that they drive. I hate hate hate it. I don’t like thinking about the fact that one of them is probably driving even as we’ve talked. But the idea that you can be a parent and not be nervous is sort of a very privileged idea that, you know, it’s like, well, I guess if you you know, if you’re with them every single second and program everything they do, maybe you won’t be nervous, but you can’t do that to your kids so that you feel nervous. So you just have to live with being a nervous wreck. I do.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 37:39
Absolutely. It’s there. I agree with you. And finally, I’d like to end with a magic wand moment. So if we were to hand you a magic wand, what would you wish for to create in terms of how play is experienced in our culture?

Lenore Skenazy 37:59
You know, I really think we have the magic wand. I think the LEC pro play club is so simple. It is the magic wand so I would use the magic wand to start a play club at every school so that teachers could see it’s not a it’s not a battleground. It’s not impossible to do. It’s not a legal quagmire. It’s just normal life that happens to be on the playground instead of in the cul de sac.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 38:25
Love it. Lenore, thank you so much for being our guest today on the education revolution.

Lenore Skenazy 38:31
Thank you, Maureen. And thanks for bringing me on. I you know, I hope I hear from you again and from some of the listeners

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 38:37

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 38:47
Listening to Lenore, I was really reminded of the magic of my own childhood. I’m sure many of us revel in those memories of having free summer days to explore and hang out with our friends. It’s definitely true that all of us are overscheduled these days, including our youth. Players gone from something spontaneous that kids took charge of to something structured that parents arrange with other adults and mark on the calendar. Ouch. I was happy to hear the research by Dr. Gray. I love the affirmation that mixed age free play is considered a factor in making a youth a successful human. Our multi age micro school has 11 to sometimes 21 year olds. And the interactions between the older and the younger students has that dynamic. Younger students are trying to step up and older students are slowing down and being inclusive and empathetic. Lenore has tasked all of us to try One or both the let grow activities she mentioned. The first would be electro project and class. In the shownotes, you will see her website. details to this project are there. The idea of this project being a homework assignment, and kids trying something they haven’t done before, independently is wonderful. Of course, there needs to be some parameters. I also liked the idea of a let grow play club after school, a device free one, our youth deserve time for unstructured play. It’s time for us adults to step back and create this very important space on a regular basis. We can do it. As always, thank you for being a part of the education evolution.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 41:08
If you are finding yourself thinking, I need to do this in my school. Let’s talk about it. I consult and also have a book TEDx talk an online course to support starting learner driven schools and programs. My goal is to help schools and individuals find new innovative solutions to reaching every student. Let’s create an action plan together. Visit to book a call and let’s get started. Education evolution listeners, you are the ones to ensure we create classrooms where each student is seen, heard, valued and thriving. We need you. Let’s go out and reach every student today. I’d be so grateful if you’d head over to your podcast app to give a great rating and review if you found this episode valuable. Don’t wait. Please do it right now before you forget. I really appreciate it. Thank you listeners signing off. This is Maureen O’Shaughnessy, your partner in boldly reimagining education.

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