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(Un)schools of thought – a parent’s role in their child’s education

Posted on June 5, 2019 by Claudia Swartzberg

Studies have found that only 25% of academic and/or job success is predicted by IQ. 75% of success is predicated by our perceptions of the world, as well as our “optimism level, social support level and ability to see stress as a challenge instead of as a threat” (Hom and Arbuckle, 1988 & Estrada, Isen & Young, 1997, in Laughter Online University).

We have trained ourselves to believe that success makes us happy. However, research by bestselling author Shawn Achor (2018) shows that happiness is created by our ability to be positive and that happy people work harder and are naturally more energetic, intelligent and successful.

Another stumbling block to success is that there is a very poor use of our talents in general. In fact, most people go through their whole lives not even knowing what their talents may be.

The majority of people do not enjoy what they do – they endure life instead of enjoying it. Achor’s research also shows that one of the main reasons for this is due to their education. Traditional education is based on a linear model. This means that you start ‘here’ and end ‘there’, and then you should have what you need for your career. However, life is not linear, and neither are the workings of the magnificent art pieces that are our children’s minds; a 3-year-old does not have half a 6-year-old’s intelligence and ability. Traditional education is built around a linear formula of progression with an output of conformity and standardisation rather than individualisation and customisation.

Have you noticed that when you are doing something you enjoy, time just disappears? When you speak to an adult, the majority of them say that school was the longest time in their lives. Days felt like weeks. I can tell you that it is not just because of time relative to their age but rather that their energy was being drained by the conformity of their day-to-day routine.

How many stories have you heard about a child who was so “average” at school but who really came into their own after their formal education ended? Maybe this is because the world has more tolerance for non-conformity post formal education? This is ironic in itself because we are far more creative as children than we are as adults.

And here is another spanner in the works: statistics show that real learning only takes place after our studies have finished.

So, what is our role as parents in our children's education?

We need to feed the spirit and passion of our children and create the conditions under which they can flourish. It is vital to the future of our children, not just to them personally, but to the world they will have the ability to create.

This leads to the question – what can we practically do as parents to ensure our children learn through the right lens?

  • Ensure they have a broad curriculum that celebrates various talents: Arts, Humanities, Physical Education, Maths and Science (Interesting fact: children who are good at art generally have improved scores in Maths). This should ensure they are living balanced lives, but more importantly, it provides a platform for the identification of their talents.
  • Light the spark of curiosity. Curious children are natural learners. It is the engine of achievement.
  • Allow your children to learn at their own pace. Don’t compare them to other children. The speed of milestones has no correlation to intelligence and success.

  • Have a positive environment at home. This does not mean having a perfect home! In fact, it is good that children know that life is not easy or perfect. Positivity is more about an outlook and ability to tackle challenges. Perspective is everything!
  • Reality is not what shapes us. It’s the lens through which your brain views the world which shapes your reality. Teach your children to practise gratitude and kindness every day. It has been proven to positively wire your brain and releases dopamine which makes you happier and turns on all the learning centres in your brain.
  • One of my favourite sayings comes from a play on the word ‘FAIL’ = First Attempt In Learning. Children should be encouraged to fail. Obviously, I don’t mean on purpose, but they should not be scared to try things just because the result may not be positive. The greatest success stories all emanate from initial failure.
  • Support your children in their decisions. The trick is to have a fine balance between guiding them down the right path and allowing them freedom of choice. For example, general principles of being disciplined, working hard and making choices that will ensure they can financially support themselves in their adulthood, are very important qualities to instill. However, being prescriptive about the profession they should choose can cause huge unhappiness which will inevitably lead to substandard achievement.
  • Also, what was the “best profession” in your day may not be the same when it is time for your child to enter the working world. There are two points to consider here:
  1. Your child should choose a profession that he/she has a passion for to maximise chances of success (within reason).
  2. You should get advice from the right experts around what the job market values/requires at the time of choosing a pathway. For example, when I finished school, Actuarial Science was one of the most respected qualifications. So, this is what I studied, and I then qualified as an Actuary. Today, however, more broad-based degrees in data science and software engineering are more sought after. So, if I were to push my child to study Actuarial Science, I would be making a decision which is not as relevant for today’s market.
  • Play! Countries that are held in the highest regard for having successful education systems coincidentally also believe in learning through play and experience. In fact, most children are not even formally tested! There are studies that prove a more relaxed form of learning increases absorption and ability to think deeply about the subject matter. This also ties into the “perception” of learning. Learning should be interesting and fun.
  • Okay, this is an obvious one – provide a loving and safe environment! Every parent naturally works hard to provide this. It is single-handedly the most significant factor that enables the brain to grow. So, give yourselves a moment to be proud!
     

“Prolonged stress in young children can slow — or even stop — both brain development and physical growth. Prolonged exposure to cortisol released during the stress response can cause long-term damage to the developing brain, and can negatively affect the immune system.”
Better Brains for Babies, 2019. http://bbbgeorgia.org/stressEffects.php

Many parents feel that traditional education systems make it hard to provide this environment. The idea of homeschooling is not so taboo anymore. Before any traditional schooling parents knock this, take some time to see how homeschooling families are implementing this. Gone are the days when homeschooling was done in isolation and social interaction was a concern. Today, there are so many families opting for this choice that it has become a community which is very social and sport-focused.

I have spent time with these communities. These were some of the highlights of their homeschooling experiences:

  • There is a rotational schedule where the children go to each other’s homes.
  • In the afternoon, they do sports at their various academies and/or go to tutor centers for extra help.
  • You get to choose the community you build and the influences around your children.
  • The children get such individualised attention that they learn at the right pace and at the right level of difficulty for them.
  • Parents choose the curriculum which best suits the pathway they wish to take (in many countries, the national curriculum is not good enough to get into the Ivy Leagues, so parents can opt for a more internationally recognised one – www.cambrilearn.com  is a great provider for this purpose).
  • The kids focused on sports still get to achieve academically and according to a schedule that suits their lifestyles.
  • They can study anywhere, anytime AND in an enjoyable way.
  • Children can receive teacher support if they need it, which takes the burden off the parent to do so (a provider like CambriLearn provides dedicated teacher support).

These are just some examples of the benefits of an alternative schooling system. I mention this option because in addition to all the points above, an important part of a parent’s role in their child’s education is to ensure they are educated in a way that maximises their potential.

So, why does the homeschooling model yield better results? According to theories by Medlin (2005) and Luffman (1988), it is because the learner gets more personalised teaching. In other words, the subject matter is taught in a way that interests the learner and is pitched at the right level of difficulty for them. This results in optimal engagement. This is also important to ensure retention. If the lesson is too easy, learners get bored and don’t pay attention; if it is too difficult, the learner gives up and it creates anxiety. These situations also cause anxiety for the parent and typically they try to resolve this by paying more for extra lessons!

I have brought this model to your attention because parents are the ones who have defined this imaginary “box” of education. There is no box! Education is teaching the brain to think and problem solve. If you feel that your current chosen model is not achieving this then make a change.

I also want to remind you that you are the only one who has the right to make decisions for your child. I come across so many parents who are unhappy with the schools their children are at, having to accept the status quo with the decisions made by the school and feeling completely powerless. This is all your perception. How can you set the right perception for your child if you are not looking through the right lens yourself?

Our children are going to be responsible for the future. They spread their dreams among us every day – capture and nurture these dreams, for these dreams shape our world.

 

Sources:

Achor, Shawn. 2018. Big Potential. New York, NY: Random House.

Better Brains for Babies. 2019. http://bbbgeorgia.org/stressEffects.php

Laughter Online University. n.d. Gendry, Sebastian. 90% of your long-term happiness is predicted not by your external world but by the way your brain processes the world.

https://www.laughteronlineuniversity.com/the-happiness-advantage/

Luffman, J. 1988. When Parents Replace Teachers: The Home Schooling Option. Canadian Social Trends, 50, 8-11.

Medlin, R. 2005. Ranking and estimates: A report of school statistics update. National Foundation for Educational Research