Teacher Assigns Extra Credit Project for 6th Graders: Grow Up

Filed under: Opinions, Development: Big Kids, Development: Tweens

The sixth graders in Joanna Drusin's English class get a strange assignment every year: If they want to, for extra credit, they can grow up.

Oh, she doesn't call it that. The New York City teacher calls it the "Do Something on Your Own" project. Her idea is that, by age 11, kids are capable of a lot more than they're usually allowed to do. They can walk to school. They can make dinner. They can (I remind myself when my 12-year-old is lolling in bed) get themselves up without a million, "COME ON!"s.

But a lot of the time we don't make (or let) our kids do these things because we think they're not ready. This project changes all that -- and more.

I went to Drusin's class last week to read the students' papers on their projects. It turns out several kids had made dinner -- including one girl who overcame about 19 hurdles at once. "My mom's really protective," she explained. "So I'm not allowed in the kitchen."

"How do you get your snacks?" asked a fellow student.

"She gives them to me," the girl said, blushing. For the sake of the project, however, her mom let her enter the sanctum sanctorum and stir some corn soup.

"How was it?" someone asked.

"Awful!" But the taste of freedom -- delicious.

Another boy understood her predicament precisely: "I live down the street and my parents still walk me to school! And I still have a babysitter!" He cringed. His parents had not let him do the extra credit project. He'd asked if he could walk to school by himself.

Other parents, however, gave their blessing and the kids wrote of their excitement buying groceries, or even just walking around the neighborhood on their own (sweet freedom!). One boy proudly caught a city bus only to realize he was going the wrong direction. He panicked! "I practically screamed at the bus driver!" he says. But somehow he managed to hold it in, get off, and go back in the right direction.

Now he keeps that paper bus transfer in his wallet, the way you'd press a rose from your first dance. It reminds him of a failure and of a success, but mostly it reminds him of the day he grew up.

We all want our kids to grow confident and responsible. Maybe a "Grow Up" project is what they need.

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.