Let Grow co-founder Dr. Peter Gray writes a blog called Freedom to Learn at Psychology Today. His most recent post is about the developmental leap kids make at age four, including the one HE made at that age:
On a hot summer day, my grandmother told me that it was time for me to take an adventure by myself. We lived on a busy street with traffic lights, and I’m sure that my grandmother had already explained to me how to cross streets at lights as we took walks together. But this day, she told me, I would go by myself, a distance of about two blocks, crossing at least one busy street, to buy myself a popsicle and then walk back home.She would sit on the stoop and watch to make sure I came back OK. I did. And then, after that, I could take walks like that myself,to get things my grandmother or others in the family needed, without having to be watched. I’m sure that one reason I remember this event so well is that it was very exciting to me, a big step toward growing up.
At age four.
Often, people wonder, "What age can my kid start crossing the street?" One mom recently wrote that she'd heard kids aren't developmentally able to do this safely until age 10, when something-or-other kicks in.
What society has forgotten is that kids do not need to be at college before they can start crossing the street on their own. Our job is to teach them to roam safely -- the way Peter's grandma did -- then see that they've learned, then loosen the reins.
The way we learned street crossing in kindergarten (because clearly the school thought this was an activity we were going to engage in) was: "Look left, look right, look left again." And also, "Stop, look and listen," which is good advice for anyone who comes to the corner.
You don't have to let your 4-year-old start crossing the street of course, but it's good to start recognizing their drive for independence:
Throughout human history, until very recently, people understood that the capacity for common sense, restraint, and self-controlled safety grows rather rapidly at around age 4.... Children today, sadly, exist in a world in which adults have become convinced that children are not competent at age 4, and many believe that they are not competent even at age 8 or 12. Many 12-year-olds today are not permitted the independence that 4-year-olds were permitted until just a few decades ago.
We also, sadly, live at a time when many people hold the really weird belief that it is more important to train little children in so-called “academic skills” than to teach them basic rules of safety — rules that they can understand and that could give them the freedom they need to learn lessons that are far more important than the scraps of academia we force onto them.
Peter is so good at pointing out the disconnect between what we let kids do and what is truly valuable.
And lest we forget that kids can be competent, here's a video from 1938, when all the CROSSING GUARDS were...KIDS!