Ask any parent, and there’s probably nothing they’d want more than a great future for their child. They work hard to provide for the needs of their kids and strive to get them into good schools. Families can even relocate if it means a chance for better education and the subsequent opportunities it unlocks.
But parents can also take such well-intentioned efforts too far. They can place so much pressure on their children to succeed that it leads to psychological harm. Overbearing, micro-managing parents impose a rigid structure on their children’s lives. It emphasizes the consequences of failure rather than the potential to explore new opportunities.
How do you strike a balance between wanting to set up your child for success, and giving them the freedom to stumble on occasion?
Early supervision and structure
When kids are young, the adults in their lives must give structure to their environment. Just as they were helpless in the newborn stage, they are also in need of firm guidance when it comes to learning.
As a child’s first teachers, parents will be responsible for early lessons in language, numeracy, and literacy. Later on, teachers in school will have them follow a standard curriculum. The approach and subject matter will become increasingly formal over the years.
It’s not uncommon for kids to feel bored by certain subjects in school. They might wonder why it’s even necessary to spend their time studying them. And yet there’s an innate desire within every child to learn on their own, especially when it comes to extra-curricular topics. Even within the early classroom, kids demonstrate great curiosity and benefit from a wide variety of learning experiences.
Structure and supervision are necessary. But we need to learn how to relax those measures as children grow older. Otherwise, we risk stifling their natural curiosity and enjoyment of learning in their preferred manner.
Tending a garden
The system of learning children encounter throughout their growing years can be likened to a garden. Having added fertilizer and everything else you need from a gardener’s supply to enrich the soil, you plant seeds and expect them to grow. But gardens need constant tending, and at some point, adults have to accept that they can’t always provide that; kids need to grow on their own.
You might have made the soil of their minds fertile, and planted the first seeds. Yet eventually, you have to teach every child to tend the garden of their learning. They need to find the freedom to pursue their own interests while also continuing to nourish the crop of essential subjects.
Thus, another issue is raised. How can you teach children to be self-motivated when it comes to learning? What techniques will aid them in maintaining that approach throughout their lives?
Learning to know
In a report to UNESCO, the International Commission for the Twenty-First Century proposed four pillars of learning around which future curriculum change should be planned. These are: learning to know, learning to do, learning to live together, and learning to be.
It’s worth considering all four pillars in a holistic approach towards a child’s education. But to prepare a lifelong learner, the first pillar is of critical importance.
‘Learning to know’ emphasizes mastery of the basic instruments through which we learn; discovery, memory, imagination, problem-solving, and coherence. It implies a shift away from the traditional paradigm of rote learning and memorization of facts. As teachers, we need to refocus on enhancing these faculties among our students.
Embracing a growth mindset
Even without an overbearing influence to hit high levels of academic performance, kids can harbor the wrong sort of beliefs about growth and learning. This can happen because of common ideas that pervade society; they tell children that some people are just born good at doing certain things.
By imbibing these notions, a child can believe that talent is the most important factor in determining success. And once they fall into that fixed mindset, they won’t feel motivated to try hard. They will quit upon encountering difficulty.
This is what makes the growth mindset such a vital component of lifelong learning. It teaches us that talent is only an initial level of competency. We can get better in anything by embracing effort and recognizing failure as a learning opportunity. We can even overcome the first gulf in talent and get better than individuals who are unable to escape the fixed mindset.
Focus your child on learning to know, and cultivate a growth mindset. No matter what academic setbacks they encounter, they will prove resilient and retain the joy of learning. It will carry them through life and set them up for better success and autonomy than simply relying on a formal curriculum and its associated results.