Category Archives: kids — freedom and responsibility

Kids’ free play correlated with social “success” as adults

New research from Germany finds people who recall having plenty of free time during childhood enjoy high levels of social success as adults.

Free time as kids was also linked with high self-esteem and the flexibility to adjust one’s goals.

Noted at:

The original research article (abstract and free PDF download of article):

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Sudbury Valley and Free Kids related links – 5/15/2015

When Adults Take Over Children’s Fun

“Schoolification” of Sports (from the unschool subreddit)

Interview with Hanna Rosin (news report video)
“The Overprotected Kid.”

A Useful Reminder: Louis C.K. Was Bad Before He Was Good

“I could see that the experience of meeting her was confusing to many of them. They were at the conference in support of learning through play, but here was a young woman who really had learned through play—through true, self-directed play, without coercion—and they found it hard to believe. I wish Nina had been invited as one of the principal speakers.”

The (Mandatory) Science Fair….
“Parent1: You mean I get an A on his science project?”

How to find the perfect job… from Mike Rowe (Dirty Jobs)

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Children’s Risky Play From an Evolutionary Perspective: The Anti-Phobic Effects of Thrilling Experiences

… Sandseter began observing and interviewing children on playgrounds in Norway. In 2011, she published her results in a paper called “Children’s Risky Play From an Evolutionary Perspective: The Anti-Phobic Effects of Thrilling Experiences.” Children, she concluded, have a sensory need to taste danger and excitement; this doesn’t mean that what they do has to actually be dangerous, only that they feel they are taking a great risk. That scares them, but then they overcome the fear. In the paper, Sandseter identifies six kinds of risky play:
(1) Exploring heights, or getting the “bird’s perspective,” as she calls it—“high enough to evoke the sensation of fear.”
(2) Handling dangerous tools—using sharp scissors or knives, or heavy hammers that at first seem unmanageable but that kids learn to master.
(3) Being near dangerous elements—playing near vast bodies of water, or near a fire, so kids are aware that there is danger nearby.
(4) Rough-and-tumble play—wrestling, play-fighting—so kids learn to negotiate aggression and cooperation.
(5) Speed—cycling or skiing at a pace that feels too fast.
(6) Exploring on one’s own.

This last one Sandseter describes as “the most important for the children.” She told me, “When they are left alone and can take full responsibility for their actions, and the consequences of their decisions, it’s a thrilling experience.”


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Sports — just let them play

“I learned that early — just to let them play. And if I see some things I will say ‘Listen… this is important, this is what you gotta pay attention to.’ “
– Bobby Carpenter, Former Boston Bruin
Interviewed on “Olympic Zone” 2/19/2014 on TV discussing his hockey playing kids — including his daughter — now Olympian Alex Carpenter

So perfect! This also works great with downhill skiing with kids. No need for structured, formal lessons per se — they sometimes kill the fun. Instead, try lots of actual skiing with some select comments here or there — mostly learning by doing and watching good skiers.

I’m not saying lessons or advice isn’t useful… they certainly are. But in limited doses and most importantly never at the expense of FUN. I’m also not against organized sports where one is following rules carefully … it’s often been my personal experience that playing team sports properly and by the rules is much more fun than just horsing around. But there is also plenty of time for that. So let them play / skate / ski!

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The World Happiness Report and “Freedom to make life choices”

The World Happiness Report — a UN analysis of average happiness of countries — has an item that is one of maybe 7 factors they use to gauge overall (average) happiness:

“Freedom to make life choices” is the national average of responses to the question “Are you satisfied or dissatisfied with your freedom to choose what you do with your life?”

Guess what? The US doesn’t do all that well on that measure. So much for Land of the Free. I suspect it is because we think things like cars and single family homes in suburbia are desirable things. But it actually feels freer to live WITHOUT a car in an area with access to great public transportation, health care, etc. There’s probably a psychological or sociological term for this but it’s not coming to me right now.

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My Daughter’s Homework Is Killing Me

My Daughter’s Homework Is Killing Me

What happens when a father, alarmed by his 13-year-old daughter’s nightly workload, tries to do her homework for a week

“My daughter has the misfortune of living through a period of peak homework. But it turns out that there is no correlation between homework and achievement.”



Right. Or very little.

Kids are people. Let them choose. If they are stoked on something, let them work on it as hard as they want. If not, why bother? Life is long. My kids, 5 and 8 work their hearts off on stuff they are interested in, usually to the dismay of me and/or their mom — us urgently trying to get them to do something on OUR agenda, like… get out the door for some reason or another.

And it has taken me an embarrassingly long time to realize over the years that when my 5 year old regularly seems like he doesn’t hear me asking him something over and over… it typically is not that he is ignoring me, he literally is so insanely focused on his task at hand that he doesn’t notice my increasingly loud and annoying attempts at getting his attention.

Seen in that light, that’s not annoying, it’s AWESOME.

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Born Mavericks

“I return to the ideal I raised when we discussed
the possibility of an open childhood. A single word,
an entire philosophy of education: Socrates speaking
of himself as “midwife” to his students. Mid wife—
one who brings forth what is already there, waiting to
be born: the hidden splendors of self-knowledge.
That is where a personalist education begins in this
Socratic conviction that our first and highest object of
study resides within. All there. Given. Teachers
may offer information, know-how, technique,
example. But until the student’s innate calling
declares itself, we have nothing but mimicry, memory
work, superficial performance. It is only after we
have tapped an authentic incentive that true education
happens. Then, everything that lends depth and
distinction unfolds before us—from the inside out.”

We are all born mavericks, gifted with strange vocations.

This is what all of us bring into life and to school: a wholly unexplored radically unpredictable identity.

From Chapter 7 of Person/Planet: The Creative Disintegration of Industrial Society By Theodore Roszak


And see also Chapter 6: page 179: The Open Childhood…

“The ideal of open childhood .. join the unconditional loyalty of the family to the Socratic commitment to free dialogue, and we have a home that champions self-discovery and defends it against all comers.”

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The SVS Report: May 10, 2013

The school report according to my fired-up oldest after bursting in the door: “Tons of running! — newcomb, soccer, ultimate…”

What? No pickle or “capture”? Not today I guess. ;-) And we rode our bikes to and from today.

(I’ll report back on a rainy day when it is all inside play for comparison.)

And really, I have no idea what his day was really like. Except that he loves going to school. That’s what is important. The rest I trust will take care of itself.

And BTW, the reason it works I think:
1. People are naturally curious and have a innate desire to figure out the world and their place in it and what they want to do — day-to-day, next week, and when they “grow up”.
2. Schools don’t raise kids, families do.
3. His time at school is HIS time. No judgement.

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Whatever happened to ‘go outside and play’? — I’ll tell you! :-)

CNN: Whatever happened to ‘go outside and play’?

(I think everyone actually knows this, but here’s my list:)
1) More families with 2 working parents.
2) More TV and video game options. Yes, they existed when we were kids, but not as many or as interesting
3) More organized activity options. There are many many more options for organized activities these days.
4) Parents sense (right or wrong) that if not #3, then #2… so “organized activities” is the lesser of two evils.
5) More homework — depends on where you live
6) Parents worried about their kids being kidnapped/abused.
7) More suburban sprawl — hard to get places on foot or bike safely
8) New playgrounds are boring — where are the BIG slides, swings, zip lines and dangerous teeter-totters and merry-go-rounds?
9) New playgrounds are built in inaccessible locations. Rare is the good playground in a walkable location.
10) FORGOT THIS ONE: Divorce rate is higher (meaning more single parents usually meaning more daycare)

Some of this stuff is catch-22/chicken-and-egg stuff. When kids aren’t around and playing in the neighborhood, it encourages other parents to schedule organized activities or plug kids in to the screen too.

– Consider cohousing or moving to a denser/slower neighborhood. Structure matters. When driveways are long and people drive straight into garages, it’s harder to strike up conversations and have kids to run into each other. Amazing neighborhoods with kids running around still do exist, but it’s rare, and sometimes fleeting.
– — alter your current neighborhood starting with your own house/yard (see also book: “Reinventing Community”) Be the change.
– Move somewhere rural enough that kids can ride around on their own on horses. My wife as well as many other people (in online comments) have had amazing childhood freedom with horses.

KID FIXES (bring the kids somewhere)
– Sudbury Schools — e.g. Sudbury Valley School — as a way to recreate the “childhood of your youth” with like-minded families. Bring the kids to the neighborhood. Nothing beats this!
– Drop-in unstructured camps — e.g. Stow, MA is offering an unstructured camp in Summer 2013. At a playground/huge field/basketball court/pavilion area with “counselors” there to help, but not to “do anything”.
– Skate Parks — My kids get bored at normal playgrounds fast. But at skate parks (with skateboards, bikes, scooters) they can often stay for hours. With lots of different aged kids. Up through teenagers and above. Age-mixing is amazing stuff. (Like at Sudbury Valley School I am always impressed with the older kids and their interactions with the younger kids. They really step up the respect and responsibility. And fun!)

– Lakeside beaches — nearby lakes with town beaches you often get kids playing together who don’t know each other at first for hours (if the parents can stay that long) Ocean-side beaches usually don’t have this same level of intermingling. But sometimes.
– Camps – there are some amazing day camps and overnight camps that are unstructured enough that they give the feel of this freedom and responsibility.
– Family Camping Trips – same idea as kid camps, but with the parents along. Not necessarily seeing each other all day, but together maybe at meals and in the evenings.

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Gotta put in the hours…

Just got to wondering about how many hours one spends in PreK-12th grade. Well, if you assume 5 hours (it’s supposed to be 5.5 in upper grades in MA law) and 180 days/year and 14 years, well then… that’s:

180*14*5 = 12,600 hours

FWIW, this compares to the “10,000 hours” from Malcolm Gladwell’s book: Outliers: The Story of Success

I believe his thesis is… some baseline of talent + 10,000 hours to pursue something = Success

One can read pretty much endless Sudbury Valley School alumni (and older students) who say that looking back… the time they had to pursue their passions at school was pretty darn important to them.

On the other hand, there are not really any easy generalizations to be made about how kids choose to use their time at Sudbury Valley School. Take two passionate musicians for instance. I think it’s equally likely that they spend all their time at SVS (or any sudbury school) “doing music”. Or none of their time. Or something in between. That’s the beauty of the school. There are 24 hours in a day, so that’s plenty of time to use the school as a resource and community in a way that works for you. At times it might be a place of study, play, conversation, etc. Intense. Or not.

A better example than music might be dance. Or hockey. If you are intensely involved in an activity like this, then obviously you are going to spend significant time outside of school pursuing these activities and SVS is going to be something else for you.

I guess what I am saying is that SVS can be equally valuable for what it is NOT (For instance, not infringing on your time outside of school as well — with homework you have not chosen to pursue yourself.)

- The discussion of three levels of learning… “curious probing” vs “entertainment style” vs “unstoppable mastery learning” from “Do People Learn from Courses?” in: The Sudbury Valley School Experience, pages 90-99

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