There is a lot of news these days about failing schools, teaching to the tests, No Child Left Behind and how our children are doing worse than their counterparts in Europe and Asia.
It’s a huge topic and one that is impossible to solve immediately, but I would like to ask, “What is it that we want our children to learn?” We want them to be proficient in math and science, reading and writing and all the other topics taught in school, but are we teaching them other important skills for life?
Communication technology has shifted everything. Things change rapidly, and we have no idea what the world will have in store for us 20 years from now. How to prepare kids for a world that is unpredictable and unknown requires new approaches and reinventing almost everything. We must teach kids how to learn on their own, not hand down knowledge and test them on it.
Here are some essential skills that I believe will best prepare kids for any world of the future, a world that will never stop changing:
Asking questions. If we want kids to learn on their own, they must have this skill. Model this by asking questions whenever you and your child meet with something new. Do research and explore answers together.
Solving problems. A new skill, a new environment, a new need – they’re all simply problems to be solved. Work together to find various possible solutions, don’t just resolve things for your kids. If a child or an adult can solve problems, there is nothing they can’t do.
Working on projects. Isn’t learning and life just one big set of different projects? Work on these with your child (planting a garden, learning to ski, researching dinosaurs), letting him see how it’s done and gradually letting him do more himself.
Finding passion. Goals, discipline and rewards are all motivating factors, but really loving something is where we spend our time. For a child to follow her passion, she must try many different things. Don’t discourage any interest.
Independence. We want kids to increasingly stand on their own. Give them successes and let them solve failures. The more experience with this, the better.
Being happy alone. Give children privacy and alone and quiet times. They can read, play, imagine – all valuable skills. When kids are continually with others and being programmed, they never have the chance to figure things out for themselves.
Compassion. We need this to work well with others, to care for people other than ourselves and to be intrinsically happy. Modeling compassion to your child, to others and to yourself is powerful. Demonstrate at every opportunity how to do small kindnesses to others who may be suffering.
Tolerance. Expose kids to all different cultures, ages, foods and music. Show them that it is OK to be different; differences should be celebrated, and variety makes life beautiful.
Dealing with change. Perhaps this is the most important. To be able to accept change and navigate with the flow will be a competitive advantage. This is a skill we are all learning. Show your kids how you cope as you go through your days. Life is an adventure – things will go wrong and turn out differently than we expected – and maybe new opportunities will arise. It’s all part of life.
We can’t give children a set of data to learn or a career to prepare for when we don’t know what the future holds. However, we can prepare them to adapt to anything, to learn anything, to solve anything, and in about 20 years, to thank us for it.
Martha McClellan has been an early care child educator, director and administrator for 36 years. She currently has an early childhood consulting business, supporting child care centers and families.