I have found it extremely useful to assist children to think of themselves as independent people. Quite obviously, pre-adolescent children are not independent in many respects, but creating an environment where they think of themselves as independent opens doors to many positive outcomes in the classroom. An independent young person is responsible for personal thoughts and actions, assignment planners, and homework. A vital and shared component of all these, and other, activities is the ability and responsibility to make decisions. Establishing oneself as a decision maker sets the stage for life as an independent person.
A very useful activity to undertake on the first day of school is to provide students with a blank sheet of paper approximately 18 inches long by 12 inches wide. On the board in front of the class write the word BORN with a period under it. Proceed to explain to the children that you want them to make a DECISION TREE outlining all the important decisions they have made in their lives to date. A decision tree will have branches for paths both taken and not taken. Paths not taken will end there, and paths taken lead to a continuation down the decision tree of life to the present day. It is imperative not to give too many ideas to the students at this point as to what specifically constitutes an important decisions. Of necessity for the purposes of this exercise, students should be thinking carefully through what decisions they think they have made over the course of their lives to date. Leaving it very open-ended without much guidance tends to produce varied and interesting results. Such results might include what school they ‘chose’ to go to from amongst alternatives they have heard of, what instruments or after-school activities they chose to do, or possibly where they have lived if they have moved apartments or cities. Whether they themselves actually made these decisions is immaterial. What is important is for them to think about making decisions, and to have some defined course they followed over their young lives. They should see that a large part of our human experience is essentially selecting from amongst a series of options. Once you establish yourself as a decision maker, then you are an independent person with regard to thought and responsibility for actions.
At times, one could give a few hints to those individuals who are struggling with the project in order to get them into a productive mode of thinking through this exercise. Once all students have finished this project, have students share their thoughts and ideas with each other. Studying the Robert Frost poem, The Road Not Taken at this juncture would be a very useful exercise.
After completing and discussing the poem, ask the students to turn over the sheet of paper upon which they have outlined their major life decisions to date. Again go the classroom board and write the word FUTURE on it with a period under it. Explain again the concept of a DECISION TREE to the students. This time, however, ask them to put together a set of possible scenarios of major decisions they think they will make for the remainder of their lives. Leave this discussion as vague as possible in order to foster creativity. Interesting outcomes here have been college, marriage, career(s), vehicles, sports, number of children, retirement, travel and in some instances even death. Here again, we are establishing the concept of independence through the ability to make decisions.