FYI: Links to each part of the in-depth, 4-part newsletter series I recently did, on starting the school year off right, can be found just below my signature. (Feedback was that many of you found that series super helpful and so I want it to be available all through the start to this school year!)
What matters most in a young child’s learning: Book Excerpt
My latest parenting book, Educating Happy Kids: 9 Ways to Help Your Children Learn What They Need to Know is out this week!
I’m celebrating by sharing the following, an excerpt from the book, which I hope will be super helpful to you in starting the school year off right.
The whole e-book is available exclusively at weturnedoutokay.com/books, at a substantial savings (as I finish up things like a cover, the paperback and audio versions, and listing it in Amazon and other places).
This chapter covers what I view as the foremost important factors in a young child’s learning.
Thank you for reading and I hope you find it helpful!
“Last chapter, I shared about how I became an educator in the time before No Child Left Behind came to being.
While high-stakes testing was becoming prominent, even during my graduate school years, the emphasis had been on supporting each and every child in their learning. Teachers enjoyed more autonomy, independence, and choice about how they structured their classrooms and schedules.
My education to become a teacher taught me: if we do nothing else, we must foster our children’s interests and uphold their curiosity and imaginations. Those are the crucial sparks for learning.
If you’re happy with your child’s schooling, I am so happy for you. I think it’s wonderful! And if you’re not happy, let’s talk about the changes we can make.
Starting with the question: what does matter in a child’s education?
1) The Child’s Interests
When Max entered kindergarten, he got a packet in the mail just before the school year kicked off. It had a letter from his teacher, and included a page for him to write and draw about what he wanted to learn about in kindergarten. With my background in early childhood education, I saw this as a great start! And my son drew and wrote about dinosaurs to the best of his ability.
When we went in for his kindergarten Meet the Teacher Night That September, every child’s picture was up on the wall. And if there were twenty-five kids in that class, they wrote and drew about twenty-five different interests.
I felt excitement. I knew exactly what I would do if this was my early childhood class… We would pursue those interests.
But that is not what they did. The children’s pictures stayed on the wall, as examples of the children’s work, but not to pursue the individual interests. Instead, Max’s kindergarten class followed the prearranged curriculum. They did this all through the year, without taking into account the children’s interests. The last time my son’s interests were taken into account was when the teacher invited him to draw that picture.
I cannot blame the teacher. In fact, this is the very same teacher who sent him off to surgery with a journal to write about his hospital experience.
But I was disappointed. Here she had all this information about what motivated her students – all this data about their interests – and yet she needed to stay within the proscribed curriculum. This is a fault at the administrative level; taking away a teacher’s autonomy, and forcing them to teach from a standardized plan, means less motivated students.
Back at home, dinosaurs (and birds, their evolutionary descendents) continued to fascinate Max. As he grew this developed into an interest in biology, geology, and physics.
At the end of his high school years, Max realized that his lack of mathematics knowledge was holding him back – you can only learn and understand so much of the sciences, without understanding higher level math.
As a result Max became extremely motivated to learn geometry, algebra, and calculus… With the result that he discovered a love of math. So much so that, when he moves up to the college level this autumn, he’s chosen mathematics as his major!
That’s something we could never have foreseen, back when he felt like a failure as a first grader in math.
It was pursuing his interests, first with dinosaurs, and then with other sciences, that brought him around to a love of mathematics.
So, the first thing that does matter: what interests your young child? If you can tap into that, you will find him going absolutely crazy to learn and understand about that thing. Which leads to the next thing. And the next, until one day your competent young adult child stands in front of you, excited about his future – and with an understanding of how to achieve his goals.
2) That Children are Engaged in Their Own Education
How do we engage our kids? We bring in their interests.
Max’s curiosity about dinosaurs produced many questions, as well as a love of stories about their existence. He loved hearing about the meteor that came along, leaving just a few dinosaur survivors… Why did they survive, he wondered? What was it like to be alive at that time? Could it be true, he’d ask, that some dinosaurs evolved into today’s birds?
Burning questions like that will bring children into wanting to learn how to read, because it’s much easier to learn about the stuff you’re interested in once you master this skill. Reading and writing help kids find answers to their questions.
3) That Learning be Social
As discussed in Chapter 5, social skills CAN be taught.
They can also be strengthened.
Strengthening social skills really does matter. Especially with today’s kids, who can spend so much more time either isolated, not out in open-ended play with peers, or in enrichment activities that are scripted and run by adults. And school is primarily about work. So kids go from activity, to activity, to activity in school.
It’s just not good for them.
I read a paper called Crisis in the Kindergarten: Why Children Need to Play in School. When I read it I wanted to smack my own forehead and shout “Eureka, now I understand!” The paper revealed the missing element from many children’s elementary school years: the missing element was play.
Crisis authors Edward Miller and Joan Almon define play as “activities that are freely chosen and directed by children and arise from intrinsic motivation. Within this definition are many different kinds of play, including dramatic and make-believe play, block play, sand and water play, art activities, play with open-ended objects, spontaneous physical play, exploring the outdoors, and so on.”
Crisis showed how, in the years since NCLB became law in 2002, “scripted and didactic teaching” came into fashion. As Miller and Almon write, “imaginative and dramatic play is disappearing because of lack of materials and funding, lack of support from school administrators, and curricula that don’t allow for such activities.” Instead of promoting play and encouraging children’s learning through their interests, to comply with the law, schoolteachers are stuck forcing their kids to sit still and shut up.
Strengthening social skills is done through plenty of open-ended play, without screens, and with other people. The more we can foster playful, open-ended, screen free time, the better. It’s crucial to get your kids to be able to play in an open-ended way with other kids.
4) That Learning be Self-Directed
Blake Boles, author and educator, learned firsthand as a college student how important it is to be truly invested in your own learning. Blake writes excellent books to help young adults find their way, and when I saw a presentation of his in-person, in 2014, he presented an idea that blew my mind: the idea of consensual learning.
In The Art of Self-Directed Learning: 23 Tips for Giving Yourself an Unconventional Education, Boles writes about taking an Emergency Medical Technician course. Instead of starting with what he calls “the good stuff: how to stop massive arterial bleeding, stick a pen into someone’s trachea to help them breathe again, or splint a femur fracture,” the course kicked off with the eminently boring topic of consent. But he soon understood the importance of the subject.
In Boles’ words, “The basic principle was: Don’t help someone without asking first. Get consent first. Because when you think you’re helping, you might actually be hurting.
“After that lesson,” Boles continues, “I thought back to my entire K-12 schooling experience. Despite the number of kindhearted and well-intentioned people who played a part in it, how many ever asked for my consent? How many asked me (and seriously engaged me in) the questions: Did I actually want to go to school?… Was this class actually worth my time? And what else might I have done with my time instead of sitting bored?”
One attendee at Boles’ live presentation, a mom of two young children, was curious about consent and young children. So, she raised her hand and asked Boles “How can I tell if my young child is giving consent?” Boles replied that, as he was not a parent, he didn’t feel qualified to answer that question. He turned it back out to the audience and a woman named Amy Anderson raised her hand.
Here are Amy’s (paraphrased) thoughts: “I think you can tell that a child is giving consent, or withholding it, based on their actions. If your child is getting up every morning with a stomachache; doing a lot of crying; not interested in play, or having tons of temper tantrums, that may be your child withholding their consent.” (I was so impressed with Amy’s answer that I brought her on the show! See the bibliography for the link.)
If your child exhibits any of these, it may be that her learning is not self-directed enough. It’s possible that she is trying to please you, to do what you think she ought to, rather than what is in her heart.
That is why so many people go on to become lawyers, when they would rather be novelists, or doctors when they would rather have been accountants, or skiers when they would rather be snowboarders. It’s why so many people give up on their passions, marry the wrong person, make any number of lousy life choices… They are trying to live up to somebody else’s expectations instead of consulting their own.
Instead, consider the path that is both more fun, and prepares your child for the future: as much as possible, give her choices in her learning.
Real choices. Not “do you want tap or ballet,” if she’s not interested in dancing.
Allow her learning to be self-directed. This can be as simple as getting books out of the library about those interests – Max looked at pictures as I read to him (when he was preliterate), and then read anything he could get his hands on about his beloved dinosaurs when he was young.
He still does this. The interests have changed – he’ll come home with a book about calculus, instead of dinosaurs – but the basic idea remains the same.
When he was young, and mathematics was forced on him before he was ready, he balked. He ran away screaming. But allowed to come around to math on his own terms, and in his own way, he’s discovered a love of the subject.
Who knows what your young child will develop a passion for?
Here’s how to find out:
Take her interests into account.
Engage him his learning.
Ensure that the learning is social, and involves lots of open-ended play with others. Observe her consent through her actions, ensuring her learning is self-directed.
That’s how you can help your children truly learn what they need to know.”
Thank you for reading!!
Get the whole book at weturnedoutokay.com/books… If you’re an NPC member please remember that, like all my parenting books, your free ecopy is waiting for you in the community! Click here to view, download, and print the Educating Happy Kids e-book.
If you’re not yet a Ninja Parenting Community member, learn more about and join our private coaching community by clicking here.
Wishing you a wonderful parenting week!
Links to each part of my in-depth, 4-part series on how to start the school year off right:
Click here for part one, about the first thing you can do when confronting any challenge;
click here for part two, where I share my method for cutting through overwhelm.
And click here for part three, a case study of one mom who made back-to-school weekday mornings work – even when dealing with her child’s NIGHTLY bedwetting.
Finally click here for part four, which includes the link to a tool that I use all year round – as do many ninja parents in our private coaching community – to schedule our days and weeks.
Keep reading below for What’s up on the podcast/In the Facebook group…
PS I am largely off-line for the month of August, as I finish up with Educating Happy Kids and enjoy some family downtime!
I will have only sporadic access to email, so if you write to me please be patient, I will get back to you ASAP, though it may be several days.
I will still be in our private coaching community forums every single day! So if you are a member, click the link below to join in the fun: )
What’s up on the podcast this week:
Four ways to start the school year off right – this week’s episode was the basis for the recent in-depth, four-part newsletter series I did on this same topic! Links to each of those newsletters are just below my signature above 🙂
Click the link below to listen:
What’s up in the We Turned Out Okay Facebook group this week:
Magic Words for Parents is off until Monday, September 10, as I wrap up my book and get some family downtime.
Click here to join the Facebook group, because I am still popping in there and would love to say hi!
PS – If you’re enjoying this Weekly Parenting Newsletter, click here so you can sign up to receive it in your inbox, or forward it to a friend who needs a parenting boost today.