Calling All Teachers & Principals! Free-Range Kids in the SCHOOLS

Hi kkbytzthfz
Readers: It is time to take Free-Range into the schools. How? See below. Why? Teachers have a huge influence not just on their students, but also on the students’ parents. Endorsing Free-Range ideas gives parents “permission” to try them at home. When they do, everyone wins! The teachers get kids who are more excited about the world. Parents get kids who are more confident and street smart.  The students themselves get to walk taller — they’re finally realizing how much they can do!  The benefits can be  truly life-changing (I’ll document more examples in later posts), but everyone needs a little push. Schools can provide that by giving kids a Free-Range project or two. Here’s the story of one teacher who did just that. It’s taken from my  book, Free-Range Kids:

How do you bake an Independence Cake?

A construction-paper poster in a sixth-grade classroom explains the steps. The poster is enormous, because the girl who made it decided that such a cake involves a whole lot of things. Walking to the grocery—alone. Shopping for the ingredients—alone. Walking home—alone. Etc., etc. When the cake is finally baking, it fills the air with an aroma sweeter than devil’s food. Can you smell it?


Natalie Kolba went through all that for extra credit in her social studies class at a New York City school called, bizarrely enough, N.E.S.T. + M. (That’s New Explorations into Science, Technology + Math, in case you were wondering.)The class is taught by twenty-something Joanna Drusin, who had read about my 9-year-old’s solo subway ride and had her students read about it too. When they were done, she told them: OK, now it’s your turn. Go do something Free Range.

The eleven-year-olds jumped into action and tried everything from making dinner to running errands to walking to school—all the kinds of sweet, simple things they would have been doing without a second thought if they’d been born in 1957 instead of 1997.

What was different was their heightened sense of adventure—and trepidation: “I thought they were going to abduct me,” wrote a young man who took the subway by himself to Saturday morning soccer practice. A girl who made a sunny-side-up egg all by herself admitted, “I was scared out of my wits that I was going to burn the apartment down.” Another boy proudly walked the five blocks to and from his local grocery, only to learn that his mom had been trailing him the whole time. Though he lives in one of New York’s safest, fanciest neighborhoods, he understood her impulse. “She was just worried.” Yet despite these fears on everyone’s part, the kids all loved their projects.

“I made it to the field with a grin on my face,” said Nikhil Massand. He’s the one who was afraid he was going to be abducted.

*  *  *

I visited Drusin’s classroom the day the students—five classes’ worth—handed in their assignments. Dozens of essays, posters, and mini-books festooned the room, describing Free-Range adventures with a lot of photos and exclamation points.

“Why do you think we did this?” Ms. Drusin asked her class. “Have I just gone completely crazy? Why did we do this?”

Hands shot up in the air. (N.E.S.T. is a school you have to test to get into. These kids are achievers.) The teacher pointed to a young man. “Yes?”

“Well, our lives aren’t that exciting. Maybe we have a few after-school hobbies, but mostly we go home and do our homework. You wanted us to do something exciting.”

Another hand went up. “You wanted us to see what we could achieve—do something that might be a little scary at first.”

“The whole idea was to see we don’t always need help doing something,” said another student.

And all of those were absolutely right. (More prosaic but also absolutely right was the boy who said, “To get better grades?”)

But it was more than all that, too. As Drusin explained to her students, the school’s theme this year is exploration—a word you don’t usually hear in childhood anymore, except when it’s, “Let’s explore why you think the colonists rebelled.” The explorations are all intellectual. Because sixth grade is the first year of middle school here, Drusin felt it was time for her kids to try the other kind of exploring. The kind that got the colonists to America in the first place. And if you’re wondering how it felt for some of the other kids to do it, read on.

“For the very first time in my life, I decided to go shopping by myself to make a cake to surprise my parents,” begins the Independence Cake baker, Natalie. But “without my mom next to me, being further than three blocks from my house, I started to feel strange. I even jumped when some older woman asked me, ‘Where is your mommy, young lady?’” The store was half a mile from Natalie’s home, and on the way, she says, “I saw all these people and they looked angry to me—like everyone was about to reach out and snatch me.” This first solo walk of hers was “no laughing matter at all.”

Neither, as it turns out, was paying for the ingredients: “Spending your own allowance is not easy!” (Tell me about it.) But she did it anyway, to make sure the cake was truly, even financially, independent. Then she gathered her bags, started home, and discovered something startling: “The way back home seemed much shorter and more pleasant. Everything bad just flew away because I was already used to the walk.”

That same experience—terror on the way to a place and euphoria on the way back—echoed through several of the kids’ stories. Over and over they were shocked and delighted to find themselves more competent and confident than they had ever imagined. It’s like one of those dreams: suddenly, you’re flying.

The other dreamlike part of the adventure was how everything familiar became a little less familiar once the kids were on their own.

“I knew where I was going,” wrote Megan Mullaney of her walk to a grocery store. “But it was sort of like a different experience. Even though you’ve been there before, you’re more aware of your surroundings.”

We forget that one of the great joys of childhood is exactly that feeling: how the world that you drifted through holding on to your mother’s hand becomes your world when you start to navigate it on your own. And that’s as true of experiences as it is of landscapes. A girl who cooked all her own meals for a day declared, “Even though I knew what I had achieved was not that special, it still felt special.” Of course it did. Like a first kiss or first car, a whole new part of life had just begun.

Though most of the parents had not expected it this soon, a whole new part of life was beginning for them, too. The part where you start to let go.

This was not easy for all of them. One mom was not going to let her daughter do the project she proposed—knocking on neighbors’ doors in their apartment building to say hello—until the daughter came up with a compelling argument: “But mom, if there’s ever a fire, they could help us!”

Her door knocking netted her two new friends the same age who go to a different school. “And now we say hi to these people all around us.”


Teachers: Free-Range can work with any age kids. They’ll come up with their own ideas — if we let them. The goal is to re-normalize the idea of kids engaging with the world, not just organized or supervised activities. PLEASE TELL ME HOW IT GOES IF YOU HAVE YOUR STUDENTS DO A FREE-RANGE KIDS PROJECT. I will spread the word about what works! THIS IS THE NEXT FRONTIER. – L. 

school house


When a school gives kids a Free-Range project to do, they come back changed — proud, confident, ready to take on the world!

40 Responses to Calling All Teachers & Principals! Free-Range Kids in the SCHOOLS

  1. Lisa January 24, 2013 at 8:39 am #

    This story makes me wish my kid could attend that school! What an amazing teacher; I wish more would be like that!

  2. TaraK January 24, 2013 at 9:02 am #

    This isn’t a project at my kids’ school, it is a way of life! There are two examples of FRK in the school my kids go to. One, they let children as young as kindergarten and as old as they still want to play with light sabers on the playground. Together. Kindergarteners and third graders playing in a huge expanse of the playground wielding light sabers, jumping and swinging those things to beat the band for an entire recess is something to behold! There are boundaries (they have to stay in a certain area), there are teacher made rules (you have to have a light saber to play in that area, but you can SHARE yours with someone else who doesn’t have one) there are kid made rules (I have no idea what those are!). Preschoolers with older siblings in the school are VERY excited to get to go to kindergarten so they can have light saber fights on the playground!

    The other FRK idea our school embraces is freedom to explore the wooded area and build forts. I don’t know all the details, but our school has a wooded area in the back of the playground that the children are actually allowed to go into. I do know that someone has brought in some wooden pallets, someone else has brought in some old sheets and all of the kids who play back there find sticks and twigs to elaborately design and build their forts. They climb trees (within a reasonable height as determined by the teacher on duty, some allow higher exploration than others, the kids know which teacher will allow you to go how high!), they have fort building contests, they PLAY! And they come home tired and bragging about which “team” built the better fort that day. (We live in MN, they also have snow fort building contests when there is enough snow! The other kids actually add to and help each other build their forts; respecting what is already there but enhancing it!)

    I was a little nervous when my oldest child told me about playing in the woods as I had not been back there to see exactly what they were doing. After being part of your site for the years you’ve had it has chilled me out to the point where I can be excited and encourage them to PLAY at recess!

  3. thinkbannedthoughts January 24, 2013 at 9:58 am #

    Thanks! This made my morning. I’m forwarding it my kids’ principal right now.

  4. Puzzled January 24, 2013 at 10:05 am #

    My classes have become largely free-range since I began reading here. While I still do some planning, largely I’ve wanted to see where the students wanted to go. I ask them to come to class with things they want to know, then we research them together. I no longer assign any specifics on projects: I let them figure out what they want to do and what form it should take. I think of our classes as free-ranging discussions, where we engage in a real conversation – not one where I try to manipulate them to where I want to go.

    I’m a high school math teacher.

  5. Captain America January 24, 2013 at 10:11 am #

    Excellent! Joanna Drusin is my hero. Good stuff. I think kids can do more than we give them credit for.

  6. marie January 24, 2013 at 10:23 am #

    What a funny idea! The idea that walking three blocks or frying an egg is a PROJECT. These are SIXTH graders, for crying out loud! I congratulate the teacher on introducing the idea of independent thinking/acting…and at the same time shame the parents for not expecting big things of their children. I’d love a followup story about whether the kids continue with actions like this or if the parents think the project is over so things should return to the way they were.

  7. Alyxandria January 24, 2013 at 10:41 am #

    I’m working on completing my degree in early childhood education, and I’ll be sharing this with my Guidance and Behavior of Children class. I love your blog and wholeheartedly believe in FRK child rearing. I’m curious how others in this class are going to feel about this type of project in a K-3 setting. We take for granted the joy of independence children feel when they are able to do for themselves and have a sense of personal responsibility. I look forward to implementing FRK attitudes in my curriculum. Thank you!

  8. Uly January 24, 2013 at 10:41 am #

    It’s funnier than you think, Marie – NEST is one of a handful of schools in the city that are gifted-only.

  9. Dave January 24, 2013 at 11:06 am #

    What a great story. This project should be a mandatory part of the school curriculum for every school in the city. Independent kids who know their neighbors and can do amazing things like go to the local store and bake cakes. Life doesn’t get any better than this. Lenore the message is getting out. Keep on keeping on.

  10. Jana January 24, 2013 at 11:07 am #

    I go grocery shopping fairly frequently, at 15, I can’t drive so I walk to the store, buy the food, get questioned by six different cashiers who can’t be more than six years older than I am about my intentions and my safety and do I have some place warm to stay that night– nope, I’m out shaking all night long– that’s gotta be why this food needs a fridge and an oven. If my dad picks me up, then their fears are usually put to bed(perhaps with a lecture about taking good care of me) or whisper about me being his mistress– same reaction with my uncles/grandpa. My mom gets outright dirty looks for allowing my independence– as does my grandma/aunts. If my boyfriend picks me up then they witness our long kiss, which is mostly for their benefit, jot down his license plate number and gossip. I know I look young for my age (one mother at the daycare center I work at said SEVEN before walking away briskly with her daughter who could not possibly be safe with me). Sometimes I take the public bus with my baby sister and the glares are absolutely ridiculous. Then, sometimes people think I’m the norther of kids as old as ten when I’m with work or a younger relative and lecture me for not watching more closely as they roller skate/ice skate/bowl/walk the dog a block ahead of me. I live in NJ and don’t own any jacket heavier than a sweatshirt– haven’t since third grade when my mother realized that I never wore it and really there wasn’t much point to that. If one more person brings up dyfs or threatens to buy me one then I will shriek. I’m less than three years away from 18 and do most of the house keeping tasks and cook dinner as well as school and working and coaching a soccer team and going on dates and I’m totally well adjusted. Well meaning strangers and acquaintances ought to butt out of situations they don’t and won’t understand. Wow, that turned into a super rant but dammit if I can’t take care of myself.

  11. Suzanne January 24, 2013 at 11:13 am #

    I love this story! Is it in your book or was it on here before? It seems familiar. It is a great reminder for all teachers, I wish more schools would do this.

  12. LisaS January 24, 2013 at 11:23 am #

    I want our school (an all-gifted school like NEST!) to do this with the 5th graders instead of another useless, MLA-style paper!!

  13. forsythia January 24, 2013 at 11:50 am #

    Ha – I used to trail my kids all the time as they were learning the ropes of getting on the bus and other errands by themselves. This is actually a good way to be sure your kid is ready for independence without squashing their skills.

  14. Ann January 24, 2013 at 12:40 pm #

    WOW! Best post EVER! What a fantastic teacher!

  15. mollie January 24, 2013 at 1:00 pm #

    I so agree, Lenore, that parents need teachers to lead the way for them, since other parents aren’t seen as an authority on the subject anymore, and can be written off as “crazy.”

    If it is part of the school curriculum, suddenly, parents say, “Oh! Well, if it’s homework, if the education professionals advocate for this, if it means my child will have an edge in his or her professional life, well, then I guess we’ll do it.”

    People need reassurance these days, and lots of it. They’re terrified of doing something “wrong,” and getting “punished” or simply not belonging.

    When the mayor of NYC said the kids could ride the bus and the subway alone, he went a long way in offering reassurance to parents there, simply by his position of authority.

    If my son’s grade 5 teacher had encouraged independent decision-making and responsibility in a project like this, it would have helped me immensely, since my son had a hard time taking it from me that he wasn’t going to get kidnapped off of the public bus in our bucolic town.

    We all have a part to play in creating our culture. Teachers have a big part, I hope this takes on momentum.

    Bless you, Lenore, for your tireless activism for this cause!

  16. Puzzled January 24, 2013 at 1:03 pm #

    I also should comment – while this is a positive post, the picture it painted of what the teacher is trying to fix is terrifying. I hadn’t realized things were this bad. An 11 year old is proud of making a cake? A young athlete expects to be abducted going to the field? Saying hello to neighbors is so radical that the mother at first said no? My god, I’m terrified.

  17. Emily January 24, 2013 at 1:14 pm #

    Great project. I wonder if this could be taken to the next level, and done as a collaborative free-range endeavour, with the whole class, or smaller groups of students, working together on something. For example, maybe the students could organize a class picnic for the end of the year, or a bake sale to raise money for charity or something, ideally with no teacher involvement at all, except that the students would tell the teacher what project they chose, and then report back once it’s finished. Or, if it’s a bigger project, they could report back upon completing each stage, which they’d determine themselves. Of course, this kind of thing would work better if it was introduced in earlier grades, with the teacher involved, but with decreasing adult input each year as the kids get older and (hopefully) more competent.

  18. Warren January 24, 2013 at 1:21 pm #

    With all that has been happening in the schools, this could not have come at a better time. Absolutely fantastic.

    Maybe it is time to start an annual award for Free Range Teacher of the Year?

  19. Havva January 24, 2013 at 1:26 pm #

    @ Jana, may I offer a suggestion from a fellow petite person. Don’t use cash. The day I got my debit card, cashiers suddenly started addressing me as m’am instead of “honey” or “sweetie” and stuff like that. Even when I was shopping with my mom they addressed me more directly and with more respect.

  20. Jana January 24, 2013 at 1:44 pm #

    @Havva I use my daddy’s debit card, though that tends to add more to the suspicions. I keep $20 in cash on me at all times because my father likes me to have “emergency money” but everything else is plastic unless the place won’t take it. Thanks so much for the advice though. 🙂

  21. Stephanie January 24, 2013 at 4:02 pm #

    While it’s not completely independent, my daughter participates in Destination Imagination. There’s a teacher or other adult supervising the kids, but their projects have to be done with no adult help. They have to brainstorm a project to go in the category they’ll compete in, plan and create it themselves. No adult assistance allowed, aside from purchasing things needed for the project, and there are budget limits, and of course taking the kids to the competition eventually. It’s our first year trying it, and I can hardly wait to see what all the teams come up with.

  22. Kristina January 24, 2013 at 4:13 pm #

    I found this great video that I think you may be interested in watching….kids explaining what they think the cloud is!

  23. elsiroomom January 24, 2013 at 4:21 pm #

    You know – we have a phrase for this at our house. “Wildly competent.” What’s funny is that even grown ups can feel this way. Anytime I travel in a new city, make my way through a new transportation system, and arrive at my destination – I always feel so proud of myself – even though -duh!- I’m a grown woman with a law degree and three children – if I couldn’t get from point A to point B, where would I be?! “Look at me! I”m wildly competent!!” When we let our children start walking to the playground program and the grade school this year – their pride and enjoyment were so evident. They were WILDLY competent! So – even though what you are doing may be something basic – when you master it – it’s a great feeling.

  24. CrazyCatLady January 24, 2013 at 4:53 pm #

    This reminds me of the writings of John Taylor Gatto. He took classes of kids and did similar types of things with them – only they were kids in the low performing classes. He was Teacher of the Year one year, and branded a bad boy for not teaching to the test. His writings are very interesting – he writes about why the schools in the US are set up the way they are.

  25. missjanenc January 24, 2013 at 6:35 pm #

    It’s just too bad tbis type of project wasn’t also available to “regular” kids.

  26. Jenna K. January 24, 2013 at 6:40 pm #

    Gee, at some schools, just letting the kids walk to the school doors without a parent escort would be free range. I (I’m in Utah) called my brother (in San Diego) this morning for a little chat and got his voice mail. When he called me back five minutes later, he said, “I was walking Maggie into the school because it was drop off time”. I have a son the same age (1st grade) and asked him why he didn’t just drop her off and he told me it’s school policy for a parent to hand the child off to the teacher. Adult to adult. For the lower grades (K-2). A 6-year-old is not capable of walking the 25 feet from the car in the drop off zone to the school doors. I told my brother that I’m glad I didn’t have my child at that school because that would seriously irritate me.

  27. Donald January 24, 2013 at 8:20 pm #

    In grade school before the holidays, we always made presents. We made Christmas, Valentines Day, Mothers and Fathers Day presents. The crafts were very simple in first grade and got steadily more complex. I learned how to make things. I learned problem solving skills. I can now jump into a project even knowing that I don’t know how to finish. I have the confidence to know that I will figure it out.

    I have developed a group project to get kids to work together and construct something they can be proud of. This project looks very complicated but it’s surprisingly easy. In fact, people often marvel about how young students can make this. In fact, my last sundial was constructed by a 3rd grade class!

    The project is a sundial of human involvement. The children paint numbers and months on the ground. They then stand on today’s date and their own shadow will point to the time! I custom design each sundial according to the longitude and latitude of the school. I will do this free of charge and provide all dimensions for you. Just mention in the email that you saw this offer on Lenore’s blog.

    For more information, see my web site at

  28. hineata January 24, 2013 at 9:05 pm #

    @Uly – I have something to do with gifted kids (study, running a p/t programme, insane daughter etc) and a number of them, without specific training from parents or teachers of this type, seem less capable than ‘normal’ kids of doing regular tasks like this. But I am with Puzzled in thinking this is terrifying – especially if you have kids that might lack ‘common’ sense, as gifted kids sometimes do, you need to work on basic tasks like the above much earlier than eleven!

    @Puzzled – have you ever videoed your math lessons? If you haven’t could you please think about doing one and posting it somewhere, because I (and I think lots of teachers) would so like to see it in action. Sounds inspirational, and something my older group need to do more of. They are mainly of cultures, though, where they don’t like trying new things without a model…..

  29. hineata January 24, 2013 at 9:09 pm #

    @Jana – unbelievable! I would think about getting a t-shirt with some kind of smart comment on it. I don’t know, maybe “Yes, Mummy (Mommy) does know where I am!” though I’m sure you can come up with something better…..:-)

  30. Puzzled January 24, 2013 at 11:57 pm #

    Hineata – I haven’t, and I’m not sure how well it would work. I suspect a video of one of my classes would do little to reassure or convince those not already convinced – they’d see me spending 20 minutes and “getting nowhere” in terms of content. It would probably validate all their fears about how terrible this kind of education can be – never mind that, after a year, my students not only know a lot, they can also figure out the rest if they need to. Those results don’t show in a single taped class, though.

    I’m happy to provide a model for this way of working in other ways, though – and, of course, to learn from others with similar interests. I’m far from an expert in free-range teaching – and it’s hard to aspire to become an expert since so little is known and so few even find it worth thinking about. It gives me this feeling like I’m discovering things that we should have understood hundreds of years ago, but somewhere along the line education got tied up with ditto sheets, classroom management, and the game of making what we do look more difficult so that we can explain the need for licensure. Which is why I decided in college that public schools weren’t for me.

  31. Library Diva January 25, 2013 at 12:18 am #

    I remember this from your book, because it made me look at myself. Several kids described everyone they encountered as looking mean or angry. It made me wonder, do kids think that about me? I’m just preoccupied, but it made me try to be a bit friendlier when I’m out in the world, just making eye contact and smiling a bit more often with people I don’t know. The world often seems like a cold, forbidding place, but the fact that children pick up on that too disturbed me, and I decided to set out to make it seem a little less so.

  32. Marcus January 25, 2013 at 3:22 am #

    I just found your website the other day and I’m enjoying it immensely. After reading this post, I gave my kid a free-range assignment and we both learned a lot from it. I wrote about it in my blog here:

  33. Momof2 January 25, 2013 at 7:42 am #

    I sent a letter to my son’s teacher AND the principal. Yay! I had informed our PTO a couple years ago, but never heard back from them. We’ll see what the teachers says. 🙂

  34. EricS January 25, 2013 at 11:03 am #

    The same way people got to be so paranoid and distrusting these days, is the same way they can revert back to the old ways of thinking. Start off small and slow, let the idea catch on. Eventually it will gather momentum, and become a new old trend.

    It’s so surprising that even the parents who were willing to let their kids do this project (though a little apprehensive), thought that it was to early for them to be independent. At age 12. When just 10 years prior, the average age of children doing the same things on a regular basis was 8-9 years old. Some as young as 6-7. We walked and took transit everywhere. No scowls from adults, no police officers taking us back home, and especially no ‘stranger’ abducting us. In fact, most times strangers were our parents’ second eyes.

    It’s good for children to have a little fear, it’s a natural emotion towards something unknown. But that fear needs to be focused and utilized. Instead of running away, and hiding or being sheltered from it, it should become a lesson. That fear of the unknown can help one stay alert, observant, and focused. And when the fear subsides, the instinct to be alert, observant and focused remains. That’s how I got street smart back in the day. And it’s still a part of me to this day. It also teaches our kids to be respectful, and courteous.

    I think this kind of project should be a mandatory program for every school throughout North America. Take back what was once ours. The freedom of mind and heart. The bond of community. And the natural growth of our children.

  35. EricS January 25, 2013 at 11:15 am #

    @Library Diva: That’s the thing that many adults/parents these days don’t realize. Children pick up EVERYTHING, whether you realize it or not. Whether they show it or not. The amazing thing about children is that their minds are tainted as adults. They see what the world is as it is presented to them. No grey areas. It’s black and white (which is what life is). The grey areas are created by people who have lost that innocence. So if you teach/show your children that the world is a terrible place, where every stranger is a threat, that is what they will take in. So when they see someone they don’t know looking at them with disapproval (for being on their own), they automatically think what they have been taught…”this person is going to kidnap me”.

    I think we should all take that in our minds. To give the wrong impression to children. When I see the few children, who are free range, walking downtown on their own it gladdens me. And I smile at them with approval. “Where are your parents” never even enters my head. More often, it’s “you kids have awesome parents”. I’ve even come across a lost child a couple of times, and never have a second thought about helping them out. I ask where he saw his mother last, then I would take them by the hand and walk back there and wait with him. Eventually the parent returns. Luckily, in those instances, they were grateful and not “stranger danger”.

    Keep up with what your doing. Good for you, good for the kids. 🙂

  36. hineata January 25, 2013 at 11:44 pm #

    @Puzzled – fair enough. Have just spent the week at a ‘Thinker’s Conference’ of all things, (ICOT13), and am all fired up again to do a similar thing I think to what you are doing. Much easier for me, though, to get away without doing much in the way of standardised paperwork because I work part time with gifted (talented, whatever) kids. Mine are younger than yours – I work with 6-11 year olds, but a number of them operate in some things at a high school level.

    If you do feel like sharing the stuff in another way, my email is [email protected]. Also, the conference I’ve just been to, which had interesting odd bods like Edward De Bono talking, has been uploaded on to I suggest you take a look at some of the stuff, as it might be along the line of where you want to take/are taking your teaching…..:-).

  37. bbbbarry January 26, 2013 at 10:52 am #

    My favorite is the kid who said “But mom, if there’s ever a fire, they could help us!”

    Hahaaaa! Genius. Using our culture’s worst-first thinking against it. That’s what I call fighting fire with fire.

  38. Heike January 26, 2013 at 12:08 pm #

    Little adventures out in the world are an integral part of a Montessori elementary program. It’s called “going out”, and it’s a free-range version of field trips.

    The children decide a place they’d like to explore in the neighborhood. Then, it’s their job to plan the trip – to figure out how they’d get there, to organize the money for bus fare, to call ahead and inquire about what it takes to visit, to call and organize parents as drivers, if cars are needed. And then, of course, when they come back, they write thank you notes for all the adults that helped them make their trip happen.

    Read more about the Montessori free-range approach to elementary education here:

  39. Tracy January 28, 2013 at 4:59 pm #

    My son is in Joanna Drusin’s class, and he was alarmed by some of his classmates’ stories–alarmed that some of them had apparently never been to the grocery store alone before or walked to a friend’s house. (He’s been roaming our Brooklyn neighborhood for years, doing errands for me at the bodega, going to the local park to ride his Ripstik, taking the subway to school.) But some kids at the school are clearly more independent. I went to watch my son play in a school table tennis match at another school in Chinatown; afterwards, several of the boys (6th and 7th graders) charged off together, into the busy and unfamiliar streets as night was falling. They asked strangers the way to their subway line (I didn’t know the way either) and happily and confidently set off.

  40. Jenn February 4, 2013 at 8:29 pm #

    I had wanted to do a Free Range project with my students for a long time and I as inspired by my 8 year old son. I am a teacher and I volunteer with Scouts Canada as a Beavers leader. My son recently moved up to Cubs but comes to my Beavers meeting to help out as an unofficial Keeo (a third year Cub). We often have him run simple games with the Beavers (aged 5-7 years old) as we finish up crafts or activities with the early finishers, like Octopus or TV Tag. He was complaining to me one night that sometimes the Beavers don’t listen so we talked about some strategies to encourage people to listen and accept that sometimes people still won’t. LIGHTBULB MOMENT! Maybe one of the reasons kids aren’t great listeners today (or aren’t as respectful) is because they don’t have the opportunity to be the speaker and see what it is like to be speaking and people aren’t listening.

    I then challenged my fourth graders to pick a game that they would each like to teach the class. Every day, one student has the role of being the `teacher’ and teaches the class how to play a game or do an activity. They need to bring the materials required (or make arrangements with me to get it from my supply cupboard) and be prepared to lead the activity. After, they reflect on how it went and how well they feel people listened to them. It’s amazing to see how some of my usual `clowns’ now listen! They are loving the opportunity to be in charge but are also seeing the perspective of the teacher and how frustrating it can be when you are trying to teach something and people keep interrupting. The games the kids are teaching are also being played in the school yard at recess so there are less problems arising since they have a ton of new games to try out.