Updated: Sep 2, 2020
The transition from summer to school generates different feelings for different people. Some love the excitement of “back to school shopping”, while others dread the labeling of binders. Some linger in the final days of freedom from routine while others thrive on the bell schedule, due dates and after school programming. No matter how you generally feel about the “back to school” commercials, one thing that’s true for all kids this year is that the return to school will likely be quite different than the norm.
Whether your reentry is familiar, you’re participating in a hybrid model, or are entirely virtual, most children continue to be confronted with the reality and challenges of COVID precautions. Parents and educators alike have concerns about how learning has been and will continue to be impacted by our distracting pandemic realities. How do you keep kids engaged and intellectually stimulated, not only in general, but especially amidst unprecedented times in the educational system?
Well, we have a few ideas at JSA.
Here are some of the ways in which we have found success in building intellectual curiosity, engagement and educational ownership within our students.
Let the students take the lead.
It’s important for kids to feel heard, not only within their peer groups but also when engaging with adults. Allow space for students to express their natural interests and be flexible in the ways you guide the conversation or let it evolve. Showing a student you are equally as willing to learn from them can be powerful in fostering a sense of confidence in their voice, and it also models positive interpersonal skills - so let them teach something to you and allow for nonjudgemental curiosity. The student leads...and you listen!
Peel the onion.
Every child has a different relationship with school, which is important to understand if you’re looking to inspire them academically. Take time to build a rapport with them around their feelings toward anything school-related. Where do they find the most joy every day at school? Do they dread anything? Why? Conducting emotional check-ins related to a student’s context is far more impactful than lecturing them about why they “should” be motivated to learn. Showing genuine interest in their story helps peel back the layers, providing their trusted adults with critical insight to their educational experiences.
We all know there is great comfort and familiarity in seeking the things we feel most competent doing, and in many ways, children in the US are often encouraged to stick to what they are “good at” - hence the culture of specialization. However, research suggests children are better off extending themselves beyond their self-identified “talents” and developing a broad range of skill sets even if they aren’t necessarily naturally inclined to be the best at it. Celebrating the vulnerability of trying something new serves kids well as they face decision-making around perceived intellectual, athletic and social risk-taking.
Encourage a growth mindset.
It’s one thing to tell a kid to “just keep trying” and another to genuinely praise their efforts. Making progress is far more important in the lives of young students than attaining perfection, but sometimes the messages in our world tell them otherwise. When kids are taught to embrace challenge, lean in to their curiosities and approach life with open-mindedness, they gradually become far more equipped to handle difficult situations (like learning in a pandemic). Mistakes are necessary, and a fail forward mentality is perhaps one of the most valuable lessons they can learn as they explore their sense of self through academia.
Keep it chill.
Students in today’s society face immense pressure to “perform”, “succeed” or “excel” - whatever synonymous verb you choose to insert here, academic settings are full of these expectations. Creating a mentorship environment where students can define their own goals helps bring a greater sense of agency to their educational experience. For some kids, the trick may be to inject humor in your engagements with them, for others it may be providing some positive behavior reinforcement. Whichever the method, you’re aiming to activate a sense of calm and support, rather than the fight or flight that so many kids feel in an academic setting.
Now we want to hear from you.
How is your child handling the back-to-school season this year?
What struggles are you facing as a family?
What have you found to work in keeping them engaged and happy?
And as always, keep our services in mind if you're discovering that remote learning isn't the best fit for your child this year and you want to start exploring the private school option. We are here to help.
Range - by David Epstein
Mindset - by Carol Dweck
The Case Against Grit - The Atlantic