Readers — Here’s the letter. All I took out was the name of her town:
I’m a 13 year old living in a suburb . I have a problem and I wish to see the viewpoint of a free-range advocate.
Basically, my mother signed me up for academic programs over the summer. I am three days into these programs (four days into summer) and I am already dreading them. I don’t want to brag or anything, but I don’t feel as if I need them since I am in the ninety-ninth percentile in my grade.
One of the programs happens for three hours four times a week and they are English/ debate programs. It gives out so much homework that I can already see my summer as bleak as the Detroit atmosphere. This program lasts for four weeks over the course of summer.
The other program is Kumon (which I am assuming you are familiar with since I have seen them mentioned in your posts) and I take math there. The primary reason why I attend this is that I got an A- in math for one of our school’s trimesters this year, something that my parents were extremely uncomfortable with. This program will last not only for the summer but until I finish the entire Kumon Math Program, which would take about five hellish years.
Once again, I wish to see your viewpoint on these issues so I can hopefully convinced parents into taking me out of at least one of these programs. I understand if you don’t respond to this, as you are a very active woman.
Thank you for your time and consideration. — Distressed
Dear Distressed: I am distressed too! I am not your mom, so I obviously don’t know you the way she does, but to me, the Kumon program sounds like a pyramid scam — it ropes you in and then you (and your parents’ bank account) are stuck. The five-year aspect seems like a money-making scheme that thrives on making parents scared that, without it, their kids will fail, fail, fail.
As I see nothing but a bright future for you, that “fail” outlook is wrong.
Your parents clearly love you and want the best. And different families, cultures, neighborhoods, kids — they all have different priorities. Mine were shaped by my own Free-Range upbringing, and recently reinforced by the book “Free to Learn,” by Peter Gray. He makes a very clear case for free time and playing being the building blocks of ALL learning, even academic learning. That includes English and math!
When kids have time to goof off, read, organize a game of kickball or pretend to be space aliens, they may LOOK like they’re “wasting time.” But actually they are learning truly key skills like organization, cooperation, communication, problem-solving AND “executive function” — the ability to focus and do the right thing, even if it’s hard. (To start a game and keep it going takes focus and restraint. It just doesn’t feel that way, which is why it’s such an ideal way for kids to learn. That’s why Mother Nature gave kids the DRIVE to play.)
I also remember the principal of my sons’ middle school telling us parents: “When we look back on our childhoods, somehow we remember summer the best, even though we spent a whole lot more time at school.” For that reason he did not assign summer homework. He felt summer was a time for kids to have off, and make some lifetime memories.
Can I post your note on my blog? L.
(Replied the girl): Yes! This means a lot to me and as I know, to dozens of those who live around me.