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Kids prove to be capable and resilient during the pandemic

Many have learned new skills, thanks to free time and less parental supervision.

Just because schools are not open right now doesn't mean kids aren't learning. In fact, they're probably learning a ton – except it's more of the softer, creative, practical life skills that are often overlooked in the classroom environment. With parents caught up in work and the calendar wiped free of extracurriculars, many kids suddenly have the time to do things for themselves, and they're proving to be remarkably adept at it.

Let Grow, the organization founded by “Free Range Kids” author Lenore Skenazy, held an Independence Challenge this spring that asked kids to submit examples of things they've accomplished on their own. The results are marvelous, with kids checking the oil on cars, building furniture, cooking for themselves, operating a sewing machine, cutting hair, gardening, and mowing the lawn. It's living proof that “when adults step back, kids step up.” (See video posted below.)

Out of curiosity, I put a question to my parent friends on Facebook: “In what ways have your children developed independence skills during isolation?” And they responded with numerous examples of how their kids have grown and matured over the course of the past couple months. These answers represent children at various ages and stages, but all are still in elementary school.

One parent has taught her children to make blueberry muffins and coffee in the mornings before waking her up. (Heavenly, right?) Many said their kids have learned to ride bikes without training wheels and improved their street safety skills. There were multiple mentions of cooking independently, from getting their own breakfasts to preparing full meals for the family. My oldest kid launched a small, informal baking business and now makes cookies and cakes for order. (I call it Home Ec when he spends a morning puttering around the kitchen.) One mother wrote,

“Mine have learnt a lot in quarantine. How to cook an entire dinner, clean almost anything in the house, garden, refinish furniture, build shelves, drive a tractor, have helped take apart a water pump in vehicle to fix it, remove a motor from a washing machine to repair it.”

breakfast muffin challenge© A. Williamson – One family's breakfast muffin challenge

Another parent commented,

“Kids have learned things based on their interests: take winter tires off, bake more things, cook a whole dinner, plan a flower garden over video chat with grandparents and now plant it, clean/tidy more things then before, make crafts independently etc. Not everything is perfect, just different.”

Several parents said their kids have gotten better at solving their own problems: “They have learned how to work through their problems without parental intervention more effectively.” They're more likely to get things from the kitchen without needing to ask a parent.

These words are music to my ears. For so long I've advocated for children to have less scheduled time and more freedom to tackle challenges without parents micromanaging them every step of the way. This pandemic has been a rare opportunity for both parents and kids to let go of the usual constraints on their lives and allow them to discover hidden skills and new abilities.

I often think of a phrase coined by Skenazy, when she urged adults to stop treating children like “delicate morons.” They're not. They're the opposite – tough and resilient and quick to learn. But if we continue to treat children that way, that is exactly what they'll become, fragile and helpless. I wrote in a previous post, “They will start doubting their own physical abilities and shy away from situations where they might get scratched or bruised. Their confidence will wane, their creativity will shrivel, and their health most definitely will deteriorate.”

No doubt this strange period of isolation will leave its marks on a generation of parents, who've seen their lives descend into turmoil and uncertainty by the world shutting down; but for families with young children, I hope it marks a turning point when kids are finally viewed as the capable, clever, and helpful little humans they are.

Watch the Let Grow video of Independence Challenge winners below.