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Let Grow gives kids their freedom back

  1. Education

Let Grow gives kids their freedom back

Let Grow’s freedom model will help kids grow into the kind of brave adults who help shape society for the better.

Lenore Skenazy outside wearing sunglasses looking into the distance facing the sunlight

It starts with a simple homework assignment: go home and do something new on your own, without help from adults.

This is the foundational concept of Let Grow, an organization founded by the "world's worst mom," Lenore Skenazy. Skenazy earned that title when her 9-year-old son asked if he could ride the subway home alone. She gave him a map, $20, and her blessing to ride the subway alone. It caused an uproar.

That experience convinced Skenazy of the value of giving children the freedom to exercise independence and self-reliance. Let Grow is a free program for use at home and in schools, designed to do just that. Parents and educators are shown how to guide children towards exploring their unique interests, on their own. 

Doing so, Skenazy believes, is the first step to unlocking a child's independence. This will nurture their confidence and self reliance, producing the boldest generation we've seen in decades. 

Let Grow posits that a culture of fear limits growth

We have hit peak worry regarding our children. Parents have become "programmed" into habitual hypervigilance surrounding their children's safety. There is a rising culture of fear surrounding kids, and they can feel it — annually, 5.8 million children are diagnosed with anxiety, and 2.8 million with depression. 

"Our culture is telling parents, 'You can't trust your kids, they're going to be in danger, they are going to fall behind," says Skenazy. "We're treating children as fragile, and ironically, doing that is making them fragile."

The Let Grow project works to empower children with free reign — even if it means letting them go off on their own.

The program equips parents and teachers with activities and discussion points aimed at encouraging independence and self-reliance in children. Kids are given assignments to do new activities of their own devising, explore their interests and expand their abilities, by themselves. This can include mowing the lawn, starting a club, cooking a new recipe, or babysitting a family member.

"Let Grow is trying to make it easy, normal and legal to give kids the independence they need to grow up into happy, confident and well adjusted adults," says Skenazy.

Let Grow believes independent activities encourage confidence and self-reliance

"It makes me feel happy and proud of myself." 

These were the words of 9-year-old Erick, whose Let Grow project was to drive the potato truck himself around the family farm.

"If you don't let them try new things, you won't learn what they can and can't do," says Erick's father. "He felt like he was 1,000 feet tall."

We all want to keep our kids safe. But sometimes protecting them against the unknown can do more harm than good. 

Encouraging independent exploration helps children find out their limits for themselves. This doesn't mean disregarding safety, but rising above that current culture of fear. 

"When you're a kid and your parents believe in you, it's transformative," says Skenazy. "When parents trust in their kids and let their kids go, it's a gift." 

Let Grow may become a presence in schools nationwide

To really have a widespread impact and make a dent in our culture of fear, Let Grow has plans to become part of the common curriculum in schools. 

It has already had success in the classrooms it has been implemented in due to the wide-reaching benefits it offers students, including the opportunity to fail, and a path to discovering their interests beyond school curriculum. These exercises result in heightened interest, attention, and participation, which reap benefits for school performance as well as life outside of the classroom. 

"What they're finding out is that the world is interesting, but more importantly that their parents trust them," says Skenazy.

This holds benefits not only for children, but for the entire family. 

"To realize that your kid is this growing, blossoming independent person is what changes the parent," says Skenazy. "There's nothing that makes a parent happier than finding out that their kid is doing well in the world without them there." 

Through solo tasks and reflection, children in Let Grow's curriculum are able to engage with the possibilities of the world around them. The first step? Learning to trust themselves.

Let Grow is supported by Stand Together Trust, which provides funding and strategic capabilities to innovators, scholars, and social entrepreneurs to develop new and better ways to tackle America's biggest problems.

Learn more about Stand Together's K-12 education reform efforts.

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