Today was a “stuck at home sick” day, and by this afternoon my 5-year-old was climbing the walls and begging to play outside. Since the weather was absolutely beautiful, we headed outside to get some fresh air for awhile.
After a few minutes, my son disappeared into the house. He quickly reappeared dressed from head to toe in pirate gear, clutching a treasure map and wearing a determined grin. He walked over to our box of outside toys, retrieved a shovel, and sprung into action. He followed his map around the yard until he selected just the right spot and started digging for “treasure.” He was completely self-driven, completely engaged, and completely independent in choosing how he wanted to spend his outside time. And he had a blast.
My daughter, on the other hand, transformed herself into a scientist for the afternoon. She armed herself with a set of tweezers, a clear plastic cup (her “keeper”), our toy magnifying glass and microscope, and a poor dead bug who hadn’t weathered winter very well. She set up her own lab on the deck and was totally engrossed in examining that bug. She, too, was self-driven, engaged, and completely independent. By the end of our time outside, she had even set a new goal for herself: to find a snake. (Thank goodness that didn’t actually happen yet! We’ll save that for sometime when Daddy’s in charge…)
This led me to really think about the type of independence I want my kids to have. How I, as a parent, need to better recognize the opportunities to give up control and expect my kids to take the lead. How there needs to be a little more unstructured time in our days, time where the kids can spread their wings and try out their own ideas in their own ways.
Independence is something we discuss a lot in the teaching world. We view it as something to be built. We don’t just expect kids to have it–it’s something we give. We consider ourselves as teachers to be responsible for helping kids build stamina and for fostering independence. We even go so far as modeling exactly what our visions of independence look like. And when kids don’t show the level of independence we think we’ve taught or given them, we quickly become frustrated.
In the past few years, I have had opportunities to witness kids engaging in Genius Hour, novel engineering, and choice play time in classrooms. Each of these experiences let me witness kids who were self-driven, engaged, and collaborative. They were working independently, not because the teacher told them to but because the work they were engaged in was meaningful, purpose-driven, and demanded independence.
The funny thing about independence is that it is something we want kids to have, but we often want to be the ones who control it. We want to be the ones who decide throughout a school day when to “allow” it and when to give it to kids–independent reading, independent work time, independent centers. We want to set parameters about what exactly independence should look like and where the limitations should be.
But what if we shift our perspective on independence a bit? What if, instead of approaching independence as something we give, foster, or build, it is something we just expect of kids? What if we begin to allow our classrooms to become places where independence is the norm, not a privilege?
I’m excited to join other writers every Tuesday and daily during the month of March in 2017 to participate in the Slice of Life writing challenge through Two Writing Teachers. Read all about how you can Write. Share. Give. on their website here.