Should 4-Year-Olds Be Allowed to Run Errands Alone?

“A 4-year-old can run errands alone … and not just on reality TV.” M. Doucleff, NPR  April 30, 2022

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key

Credit- Malaka Gharib: NPR


Excerpt: A 4-year-old can run errands alone … and not just on reality TV, By Michaeleen Doucleff, NPR (Goats and Soda section) April 30, 2022

“A few years ago, my husband and I had a bit of a situation on our hands. Our 4-year-old daughter had figured out how to climb onto the roof of our home. After breakfast in the mornings, we would find her perched, like a pigeon, three stories above a busy city sidewalk. (It makes me a bit nauseous to think about it).

The first morning, I tried to coax her down by asking her nicely (“Rosy, please come down. That is dangerous.”), nagging a bit (‘Rosy, I’m serious. You have to come down. Please. Please’) and eventually issuing a flimsy threat (‘Ok. If you don’t come down, we won’t get ice cream on Friday.’)

Then the fourth time she went up there, I was a bit fed up and decided to try and fix the root of the problem, instead of just the symptoms. I was in the middle of writing a book about parenting around the world, and I had heard the same advice over and over again: When a kid misbehaves they need more autonomy; they need more responsibility…So, looking up at the little daredevil hovering over the gutters, I decided she was finally ready to do just that. So I said to her: ‘We’re out of milk. Can you run up to the market and buy us some milk?’ The market is two blocks away. ‘All by myself?’ she asked with a twinkle in her eye. ‘Yes, all by yourself.’

Now a Japanese reality show, streaming on Netflix, is reminding me of that pivotal moment – and the importance of a seemingly trivial task on children’s lives — all around the world. It’s not so much about raising ‘free range’ kids – the term often used to describe children who are free to play and explore around their homes and neighborhoods on their own — but rather it’s about raising smart, capable kids whose parents enable them to practice autonomy without sacrificing safety. Kids who have the skills they need to handle the responsibility.

The show, called Old Enough!, has aired in Japan for more than three decades, but it’s new to an American audience. On the show, children ages 2 to 4 are charged with running an errand for their parents. Camera people follow the kids. A narrator comments on their progress.

Don’t forget the curry! A very young errand runner is the star of one episode of the Japanese series Old Enough!, which assigns seemingly daunting tasks to little tykes. Netflix / screen grab by NPR

In the first episode, a toddler takes a 20-minute walk to a grocery store and picks up three items for his mom: flowers, curry and fishcakes.

The little boy couldn’t be more than 2 and a half years old. Is that a diaper I see under his shorts? Yet he manages to navigate traffic, find two of the items in the grocery, pay for them and walk out of the store…Despite all that, at the end of the episode, I still had this overwhelming sense that the child accomplished something remarkable. Seeing a little tyke – perhaps still in his nappies – handle such a complex task brought this rush of joy through me.

Credit: Malaka Gharib: NPR

And made me think, Wow, kids are so much more capable than we think! And on the flip side: Wow, American society is really holding kids back… If your kid is anything like Rosy, they will cherish and love these moments of responsibility and autonomy.”

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post

NOTE: Lessons can also be used with native English speakers.

Level: Intermediate – Advanced

Language Skills: Reading, writing, and speaking. Vocabulary and grammar activities are included.

Time: Approximately 60 minutes.

Materials: Student handout (from this lesson) and access to news article.

Objective: Students will read and discuss the article
with a focus on improving reading comprehension and improving oral skills. At the end of the lesson students will express their personal views on the topic through group work and writing.

I. Pre-Reading Activities

 Predictions: Analyzing headings and photos

Directions: Examine the titles of the post and of the actual article.  Examine any photos, then create a list of  words and  ideas  that you  and your group members think might be related to this article. 

II. While Reading Activities

Word Inference

Directions: Try to infer the meanings of the words in bold taken from the article. You use a dictionary, thesaurus, and Word Chart for assistance.

  1. We would find our 4-year-old daughter perched, like a pigeon, three stories above a busy city sidewalk.
  2. It makes me a bit nauseous to think about it.
  3. The first morning, I tried to coax her down by asking her nicely.
  4. Eventually, I issued  a flimsy threat (‘If you don’t come down, we won’t get ice cream’.)
  5. When a kid misbehaves they need more autonomy.
  6. I told my friend about Rosy’s escapades.
  7. Looking up at the little daredevil hovering over the gutters, I decided she was finally ready to run errands.
  8. I began watching a Japanese reality show.
  9. Seeing a little tyke – perhaps still in his nappies – handle such a complex task is amazing.
  10. The show has a laugh track behind the commentary,  which makes it feel a bit silly.

Grammar Focus: Word -Recognition

Directions: Students choose the correct word to complete the sentences taken from the article. They are to choose from the options presented.

Autonomy has/have oodles off/of benefits for/of kids of all age/ages. Studies/study have linked autos/autonomy to/too long-term motivation, independence, confidence an/and better executive function. As a/an children/child gets older, autonomy is associated with better performance in/inn school and a decreased risk of drug and alcohol abuse.

Reading Comprehension: Identify The  Speakers

Directions: Read the following quotes from the speakers in the article. Then identify the speakers.

  1. Learning to run errands has huge benefits to kids All around the world, little kids, even as young as ages 3 or 4, run errands for their parents. In fact, if you look across cultures, not running errands is an oddity.”
  2. kids in many parts of Europe walk to school and make trips to the grocery store alone.
  3.    “Even youngsters who are still walking very unsteadily on their feet are conscripted [asked] by adults to hand knives, beads and food to other nearby adults.”
  4. In a study published in 2009,  they described  a 6-year-old girl in Peru who volunteers to join Izquierdo and another family on a five-day journey down river to fish and gather leaves.
  5. “Autonomous play has been a really important part of child development throughout human evolutionary history. And actually, it was a feature of American society until relatively recently as well.”
  6. They write in their book  The Self-Driven Child: “…when children don’t have enough autonomy, they can feel powerless over their lives…Over time, that feeling can cause stress and anxiety. In fact,  lack of autonomy is likely a major reason for the high rates of anxiety and depression among American children and teenagers. Autonomy provides the antidote to this stress.”
  7. “The biggest gift parents can give their children is the opportunity to make their own decisions.”
  8. “We now live in a country where it is seen as abnormal, or even criminal, to allow children to be away from direct adult supervision, even for a second.”
  9. “What counts as ‘free-range parenting’ and what counts as ‘neglect’ are in the eye of the beholder — and race and class often figure heavily into such distinctions.”

III. Post Reading Activities

WH-How Questions

Directions: Have students use the  WH-question format to discuss or to write the main points from the article.

Who or What is the article about?

Where does the action/event take place?

When does the action/event take place?

Why did the action/event occur?

How did the action/event occur?

Discussion Questions for Comprehension /Writing

Directions: Have  students discuss the following questions/statements. Afterwards,  students share their thoughts as a class. To reinforce the ideas, students can write an essay on one of the topics mentioned.

  1. Can you remember the first time you went to a store by yourself?
  2. At what age do you think it is safe to send a child alone to the grocery store?
  3. What does the term “free range” kids mean?
  4. How Long has the reality show Old Enough! aired in Japan? Describe what the show is  about.
  5. After viewing the Japanese reality show, what was the author’s reaction?  What did she think about American society and how kids in the U.S. are treated?
  6. What are some of the benefits of teaching young children to run errands?
  7. How did the author of this article handle the situation with her daughter Rosy? Do you think it was a good solution to stop Rosy from doing dangerous things?
  8. List three new ideas  that you’ve learned about the topic from the reading,  two things that you did not understand in the reading, and one thing you  would like to know that the article did not mention.  Share your responses with your class.