Nobel Laureates and Kiddie Flash Cards

Tutoring session for potential geniuses.

Tutoring session for potential geniuses.

by Lenore Skenazy

This is a plea for standing back and letting childhood happen. When we care about our children’s safety and success, but do not obsess to the point where we can’t magine either happening without our immediate and constant intervention, we free up both generations.

What can our kids do with that free time not spent with flash cards, Kumon, or classes? Goof around, “waste” time and stumble upon the things they love to do. Or so it seems to me, especially in light of this little insight from Linda Stone, coiner of the phrase “continuous partial attention,” as quoted in boingboing via James Fallows in the Atlantic (yes, a roundabout way to find itself here). Says Stone:

I interviewed a handful of Nobel laureates about their childhood play patterns. They talked about how they expressed their curiosity through experimentation. They enthusiastically described things they built, and how one play experience naturally led into another. In most cases, by the end of the interview, the scientist would say, “This is exactly what I do in my lab today! I’m still playing!”

An unintended and tragic consequence of our metrics for schools is that what we measure causes us to remove self-directed play from the school day. Children’s lives are completely programmed, filled with homework, lessons, and other activities.. There is less and less space for the kind of self-directed play that can be a fantastically fertile way for us to develop resilience and a broad set of attention strategies, not to mention a sense of who we are, and what questions captivate us.

Yup. This summer, let’s make a pledge to give our kids some of that brain fertilizer known as free time. And, if they’re old enough, some unsupervised free time, at that.

Lenore Skenazy is a public speaker and founder of the book and blog Free-Range Kids. Interested in having her speak at your convention, company or community group? Inquire at !