Following on from the last three posts (Part 1, Part 2 & Part 3) about using the opportunity of lockdown to teach your children key life skills, this last instalment reviews some of the crucial, but less tangible or concrete skills, such as the ability to direct their own learning; manage their time well; effectively communicate; think critically and solve problems; and help others and the environment. We’ll look at each in turn.
Raising children to truly love learning, who independently chose to study a topic because it interests them, not just because they are told to do so, is a gift from you that just keeps giving. Children with this skill will grow into adults who rarely get bored; adults who are self-starters, who do not wait for chances to fall into their laps, but instead actively go out there and grab them with two hands.
The most effective way to encourage a love of learning is to model it yourself. Basically, with this one, you get to do something for yourself, knowing that it will have a positive impact on those around you. What’s not to like?
Chose something you’re genuinely interested in knowing more about, whether this be a hand craft skill, investigating your own family tree, the science behind the Coronavirus, or how to use Excel more effectively. It could be anything. But it has to be something you would want to do in your own time. Spend a short period a day – say 30 minutes – actively learning more about your chosen topic/skill. Do it in front of the children and share your enjoyment from this journey with them in a genuine way. You’d be amazed at the results it can have.
I’ve been wanting to improve my Spanish for years. Over the Easter break, I decided to crack on and do it, and with my own copy of the Basic Spanish Practice Makes Perfect book that they use, I started learning the vocabulary, writing the sentences and reading the passages. I do about a chapter a day, sometimes more, sometimes there’s no time at all. I genuinely love doing it! And that joy must shine through, because first Bean10 noticed and beetled off to get her copy to do sitting next to me, and now Bean9 does the same – in their break time and weekends. They delight in me making mistakes, because it gives them permission to do the same! And consequently, they’re learning so much more.
Self-directed learning is a very powerful tool. I appreciate this will be hard for some people, who are trying to hold down a job, manage the home and their children’s educations all at the same time. But I honestly believe you’d be better spending 30 minutes less on house chores or helping the children and use it to design your own self-directed learning instead.
You can also model curiosity in whatever you’re doing. Share your enthusiasm with your children on any given topic. MrJ is particularly good at this – he genuinely seems fascinated by all that they’re learning, actively verbalising it, looking through their workbooks, sharing his own experience and discussing matters with them further. Hearing the comment, “Wow, is that true, that’s really interesting,” is not an uncommon phrase in our household, as he sneaks away from the day job for a five-minute tea break and listens into our reading from the Evolution Revolution book. It was about convergent evolution, where unrelated species in separate locations develop similar adaptations to their environment, such as the South American poison dart frogs and the unrelated mantella frog of Madagascar, who have both developed the same mechanism for storing poison from the ants of their diet into their skins, and developing bright orange skin colours as a warning to predators. So, it was pretty cool!
And finally on this point, encourage reading (again leading by example) and imaginative play – lots of it – and where possible limit television, (unless it’s a documentary). I know it seems hard, but it will pay dividends in the long run.
Prioritisation & Time Management
Let’s be honest, I’m sure most adults still have a lot to learn about managing their own time and priorities, but the more your children understand how to do this effectively, the more successful they’ll be once they fly the nest.
In your life together as a family, many time management/prioritisation learning opportunities will present themselves, but here are four simple ways we’re attempting to teach the Beans this key skill:
- Weekend Priorities – the Beans have so many different projects going on, that there is literally never enough time for them to complete everything they want to do in a day. They were starting to get a little dispirited. So, we instigated a ‘morning prioritisation family chat’ at the start of each weekend day. Here we discussed the ‘have to dos’ like the daily walk/bike, food preparation and a quick house clean, and then each person named what they’d like to do in the day. We then asked them to prioritise their activities, talking about how long each one might take and whether it was realistic to do everything in one day. Sometimes what they wanted to do involved another person – say Daddy’s help – so understanding what his priorities were in the day, allowed them to see what was feasible. This has really helped us all manage our free time in a much better way.
- Order of Tasks in Cooking – if you ask Bean9 to make a cup of tea, he’d get out the cup first and then maybe put the teabag into the cup, before even thinking about turning on the kettle! The same applies to his cooking. He’d get out the pan and start heating it up before even considering chopping the vegetables to be cooked in it, or get something ready to go into the oven without a thought for preheating it. So, through our two recipes a week that he’s mastering, asking him questions at each stage of the process about the correct order of tasks (and why) has become an important part of his learning process. It has initiated conversations about how this prioritisation and ordering of tasks can be applied to so many other situations you might encounter in life.
- Daily Workload Management – I write out a really simple weekly schedule for the kids and give them each their own copy. It’s entirely up to them to manage in what order they complete their tasks in a day, as long as they consider that I can’t help them both at the same time, so if Bean9 needs me, Bean10 has to work on an independent activity. Once they’ve finished their tasks, they’re done for the day, even if this is at lunchtime. It’s taken a long time for Bean9 to learn the lesson that if he just gets his head down and concentrates, he can be finished earlier and off to play. But I think we’re getting there now. Another important life lesson.
- Revision for Simple Tests – they’ve been studying cell biology and genetics all year with another home ed friend. I think it would be valuable for them to go over all they’ve learned. So, I’ve factored in three days of review time towards the end of the term, before a simple and non-stressful test, not designed to grade but to see what areas still need more focus (we’ll do the questions verbally together first and then they can write up their answers, so it really isn’t like a normal exam). But, giving them three free days to study their science journals and revise all they’ve learned will be a great opportunity for them to practise some time management skills.
The ability to understand and communicate with others is crucial. In order to build these healthy social-emotional skills, they need to listen, read social cues and be able to look at situations from other’s perspectives. On the surface, it would seem that lockdown isn’t the optimal time to practise these skills, but the additional time with loving and interested parents actually affords children a perfect education opportunity. Take time to listen and talk with your children every day, and patiently (as much as you can) explain different perspectives from your child’s own view on a topic (even if you don’t necessarily agree with them).
Point out social cues you’ve provided if they’ve missed them. For example, as an introvert, there are times when I just need to be alone. Initially, I instinctively give them subtle clues as to my need, but if they miss them, I’ve started explicitly pointing out the indicators I’d already given them, explaining how I needed them to respond. Sometimes it pays to be direct!
The virtual friend meetups and online lessons, particularly those with many attendees, also require each child to listen much more carefully than normal in order to maintain a sensible conversation. Listen in every so often, and if you see it not working, take your child aside and chat about how it could work better.
Finally, it’s a great time to get back to that old-school style of communication – the humble letter! Showing them how to construct a letter and address the envelope is an easy English lesson that I suspect won’t feel like work if it’s someone they want to communicate with. My two have loved sending letters and pictures to their younger cousins, some of which has been in Spanish, since they’re all learning the language (and their Auntie is fluent).
Critical Thinking & Problem Solving
We live in a complex and fast-changing world, in which those who can think critically and solve problems will undoubtedly thrive. Prioritising open-ended imaginative play is crucial in developing these skills, as through play, children formulate hypotheses, take risks, test out their ideas, make mistakes and ultimately find solutions – all key aspects of abstract critical thinking. So, please allow your children to be bored, because if you sit out their moaning, rather than turning on the TV to pacify, they will ultimately turn to play in some form. And that is so, so beneficial for them. All you need to provide is the time. Even at 9 & 10, the Beans spend literally hours playing together, creating imaginary worlds either with their toys or bits of paper or boxes they find around the house. Currently for example, they’re playing a game in which they’re SAS agents in WWI searching out secret information about the Germans…
Board games are another great way of developing critical thinking skills – see this post about some of our favourites.
Other opportunities for you to offer support are to provide plenty of time for your child to think up a solution to a problem they’re tackling/they’ve come to you about. Don’t jump in and try and solve these issues for them (which is certainly my natural response). Ask them open ended questions to coach them through the problem and help them get to an answer themselves (which may well be a better solution than you’d thought of yourself), supporting their development of hypotheses and assessing each one against their success criteria. If the idea is flawed, don’t be tempted to point it out; it’s far more beneficial for them to realise this on their own – mistakes are essential to their learning process.
Helping Others and Environmental Preservation
With so many incredibly brave individuals in the NHS and key worker roles trailblazing the path of helping others throughout this pandemic, there could not be a better time for your children to learn about this critical role of kindness. So many children and adults are getting involved in a plethora of beautiful ways, from creating protective face masks, to calling their grandparents, to the supportive rainbow pictures in windows or on the street, to making little pamper and snack packs for NHS workers’ breaks. Share the numerous positive stories of small or large acts of kindness with them and encourage them to think about how they could help, even in a small way – it all adds up.
As well as looking after the people on this planet, instilling the importance of protecting the environment and all its flora and fauna, along with the concept of sustainability at a young age will encourage your children to look after planet Earth too. Explain its importance, share with them the positive impact of the current pandemic situation on the natural world, and practise eco-friendly habits in everything you do at home from recycling, to growing your own food, to printing as little as possible, to reducing waste, to turning off lights and saving electricity, to saving water. Again, it all adds up.
Overlying all of the basic life skills I’ve covered in the last four posts (and I’m sure I’ve missed some) are the following qualities of a successful individual: kindness; resilience; adaptability; positivity; a self-starting attitude; the ability to cope with failure; a strong work-ethic; focus; self-control; patience; persistence; and self-belief. Encouraging these character traits as they work through the life skills is probably as important as the outcome of their efforts themselves. This is a lifelong quest though – it is most definitely still a work in progress for me!
Hopefully this series of posts has been helpful to you in some way – planning and writing them has certainly given me food for thought and altered how we all share our days together.
Enjoy the journey of building those life skills with your little ones!