Indonesia Expat
Education

Lenore Skenazy Discusses the Let Grow Movement and Restoring Children’s Independence

Lenore Skenazy Discusses the Let Grow Movement and Restoring Children's Independence
Lenore Skenazy Discusses the Let Grow Movement and Restoring Children's Independence

The American author and blogger had an in-depth conversation with the Head of School at North Jakarta Intercultural School, on behalf of Indonesia Expat, to discuss her ground-breaking movement and its achievability in Indonesia.

Lenore Skenazy is the author of Free-Range Kids, the book-turned-movement, and the president of the US nonprofit Let Grow. You may have seen her on TV on The Today Show, The Daily Show, or her own reality show, World’s Worst Mom. She recently spoke at the Educators Conference for the Association of National and Private Schools (ANPS) at North Jakarta Intercultural School. I had the honour of interviewing her from her home in New York via Zoom for Indonesia Expat magazine.

Gerald: Lenore, thank you for joining us so early in the morning. Please tell us a little about how the Let Grow movement came to be.

Lenore: Alright, for that, we have to go back to the subway ride. Well, a million years ago, when our younger son was 9 – he’s 25 now – he started asking my husband and me if we would take him somewhere he’d never been before and let him find his way home on the subway here in New York City, where we live. After some contemplation, we said “yes.” and so, one sunny Sunday, I took him to Bloomingdales. I went home one way, and then he came home by subway on his own. He came into the apartment, levitating with pride because he’d done something he was ready for. He had taken a step into the adult world, which is what kids have always wanted.

A couple of months later, when I had nothing to write about for my weekly column in the New York Sun, I asked my editor if I could write about my son taking the subway, and she said yes.

Two days later, I was on every possible television show in America and got the label “America’s Worst Mom!” After some initial shock, I started a blog to say I’m not America’s Worst Mom! I love safety, bicycle helmets, car seats, seat belts, and all our essential safety advances. I just don’t think the kids need a security detail every time they leave the house.

Then, in 2017, I was approached by two free speech advocates – one of them Jonathan Haidt, author of The Coddling of the American Mind – who’d been thinking about why college kids seem less robust and resilient nowadays. Trying to fix that problem when they’re 18 or 19 is too late. Why don’t we try to raise kids from an early age who are more resilient, independent, open-minded, and ready for the world?

So, along with the psychologist Peter Gray, we decided to start a nonprofit, which we called Let Grow. Our simple goal was to make it easy, normal, and legal to give kids back the independence that we were pretty sure they needed.

Free-Range Kids written by Lenore Skenazy
Free-Range Kids written by Lenore Skenazy

Gerald: So, what are the features of the Let Grow programs?

Lenore: The Let Grow Experience is a year-long series where, once a month, the teacher gives a homework assignment: Go home and do something new, WITH your parents’ permission – but WITHOUT your parents. We provide a teacher implementation guide and all sorts of “independence activity” suggestions on our website for free. Everything from walking the dog to making breakfast, running an errand, and building a fort. It could be indoors or outdoors.

We need to remember how to let kids do those things! And so when the parent finally lets go, and the kids come back, the parents are ecstatic, as you’ve probably seen at YOUR school, Gerald!

Gerald: Please tell our readers a little bit about how Play Club works at schools.

Lenore: The Let Grow Play Club was the idea of Peter Gray, the psychologist who wrote Free to Learn. He’s obsessed with the importance of mixed-age play. He points out that until very recently, we never segregated kids by age.

If you have a bunch of 7-year-olds trying to play a card game, it does not work. They just can’t get it together. But if you have 7-year-olds playing with 9-year-olds, the 9-year-olds say things like “We can see your cards – hold them up better!” or “Don’t throw out your queen, put that back.” That’s how multi-age play works, which is basically helping and being annoyed and figuring out how to make the fun happen, solve problems, and make new friends.

Let Grow Play Club
Let Grow Play Club

Gerald: What would you say to expatriate families wondering how to start with Let Grow in Indonesia?

Lenore: What would I say to them? First: How cool you have leapt into another country! That’s brave and exciting. And now — let your kids be brave, too. Let them do some new things on their own. They can do it with another kid. It’s more fun for them. And YOU can sit and have your cup of coffee with YOUR friends while they go to the mini market.

Gerald: In your articles and also in Jonathan Haidt’s writing, you’ve referred to free play and independent activity as being like a vaccine for anxiety, inactivity, and fragility. How do you think play and independence can make such a difference?

Lenore: Because the operating system that is a human evolved over 3 million years, and our minds and bodies come into this world expecting these experiences to help make us into working systems. When a gazelle is born, it’s ready to roam something like two hours later. It gets up on its feet, and then it knows to eat, and it somehow knows where to go and how to explore.

Human babies need a lot of childhood because our brain is our superpower, and there’s so much that has to be booted up. It gets booted up in a 3D world with smell, sound, taste, good experiences, and bad experiences. But we are taking kids out of that world and giving them more and more time with a two-dimensional screen, and adult-run activities where they only experience the good and never the real or the bad.

Lenore Skenazy, the President of Nonprofit Organisation Let Grow
Lenore Skenazy, the President of the Nonprofit Organisation Let Grow

Gerald: Where can parents and schools learn more about Let Grow programs?

Lenore: Anyone can visit our website – www.letgrow.org – we have a Pledge of Independence that will send you ten activities over ten weeks. We also provide an Independence Kit, which is the home version of the Let Grow experience. Schools should click on our “Schools” tab, of course. Anyone can send me an email at [email protected], too!

Gerald: Lenore, thank you for taking the time for the readers of Indonesia Expat and inspiring Let Grow programs in the US and worldwide.

Lenore: Thank you too!

Gerald Donovan is the Head of School at North Jakarta Intercultural School.

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