NJC: You mention that these seven essential skills do emerge naturally but that we have to intentionally promote them to help our children (and ourselves) develop them fully. Do you think that there are particular factors inherent in today’s culture that make it more or less difficult for these skills to develop on their own?
EG: Great question-because as you see from the many, many how-to suggestions in my book, a lot of the activities that promote these skills are activities with age-old traditions, like Simon Says. So the answer is both yes and no.
Yes because our world is so hectic, fast-paced and because many of us are so tethered to our smart phones and to work, that we don’t feel we have the time we used to in order to hang out and do fun activities with our kids.
No, because seeing these skills involves a mindset. It is seeing everyday things in new ways. And that is one of the main messages of Mind in the Making. It is as if we have a new set of glasses that enable us to see the opportunities that arise for promoting these skills. An educator told me recently that he had been burned out by the field of education before Mind in the Making, but Mind in the Making energized and motivated him. It enabled him to see through a child’s eyes again!
NJC: As you write about self-directed, engaged learning, you use a quote from Adele Diamond stating that schools are too often organized in such a way that the teacher exercises executive function for the child or simply organizes situations in a way that removes the need for the child to exercise these skills at all. (pg 312) Could you give some examples of how teachers and parents commonly do this as well as some positive examples of what they could be doing instead?
EG: I love that quote! Here are some examples:
- When children are bored, we play “entertainment central” and come up with ideas of what they might do rather than help them figure out what interests them and then pursue these interests.
- We children are upset, we try to “fix” it for them rather than help them develop strategies for handling times of conflict.
- We set goals for children rather than giving them some time to come up with their own goals.
Of course, all of these examples depend on the age of the child. You wouldn’t let a baby set goals, but with an older preschool child, yes!
NJC: The metaphor of lemonade stands come up frequently in your book. How would you suggest parents go about encouraging their children to build passions, particularly when they seem reluctant or apathetic about “everything”?
EG: Being apathetic about everything is learned; it is a response to a situation. I can’t believe that parents haven’t seen a spark of interest somewhere, sometime in their children’s growing up years. I would try to go back to that spark and begin to rekindle it.
For example, my son had a period in his growing up years when he was completely disinterested in reading, but loved music. We got things for him to read about music and he plunged back into reading. I didn’t care if it was a magazine about music rather than a great novel. From the magazines, he eventfully moved back into other kinds of reading.
I was also pretty intentional about telling my kids that my goal was to find and nurture their interests.
NJC: On that same topic, when you share the example of your grandson, Antonio, and how he began to discover his own passions, you mention that before discovering his “lemonade stand” he spent most of his time playing video games. Some might say video games were his passion. Can you explain why some interests may be better to encourage than others? What made Tae Kwon Do or the Yankees better lemonade stands than video games?
EG: I actually don’t think that video games are worse than Tae Kwon Do. When Antonio was consumed with video games, I looked for programs where Antonio could learn how to create his own games rather than just play other people’s games. I also connected him with folks who study gaming and kids in the hopes that he could be a resource for them.
Tae Kwon Do was his genuine interest because he wanted to learn to protect himself. Having Tae Kwon Do, baseball and video games in his life offered a balance. With video games, he was multi-tasking, whereas with the other physical activities, he was focusing.
For those parents whose kids are mainly interested in video games, I would try to find ways to build on and extend their interests. For example, when Philip was interested in cartoons, we got a cheap film camera and together figured out how he and a group of friends could create their own cartoons.
NJC: What is the role of schools and home in encouraging this love of learning. Ideally, a child’s curiosity would be encouraged in both environments. Unfortunately, we don’t all find ourselves in this situation. Can a parent’s encouragement at home counteract a lack of passion in the school programs?
EG: Yes, ideally a child’s curiosity is encouraged both at home and at school. And yes, we all don’t find ourselves in this situation. Study after study shows that family experiences and values are most important in children’s lives. Teachers, though very influential, come and go, but we are the constants.
If I were in a situation where a child’s teacher just focused on rote learning, I would probably explain this to my child in a way is matter of fact and not condemning: “This teacher has one view of learning and we have another. We want you stay curious, ask questions, try new things, and care about what you are learning.”
NJC: What should you look for while touring schools that might indicate they promote a passion for learning? Are there environmental factors that might give some indication?
EG: Here are some indicators in a school that promotes a passion for learning:
- When you walk into the classroom, the children are busy working—in fact, they are too busy to pay much attention to you. If they run over to you or all look at you, chances are they are bored.
- The children’s work is displayed in the classroom and the pictures, the stories, and the other materials made by children are each unique. If the children’s work all looks the same or if the things displayed on the walls are made by the teacher, there is little opportunity for children to express themselves.
- The children are in small groups or working individually and they are doing things. If everyone is in one group, listening to or answering the teacher, there is little hands-on learning and little learning from the other children.
- The teacher handles disciplines problems in a way that teaches positive behavior, not punishes negative behavior. I would also look for a child who is acting up a bit and ask the teacher to “tell me about this child.” If the teacher uses negative words about this child, she or he well might use negative words about your child too.
- The teacher has an excitement about teaching—there is a fire in her eyes.
NJC: What can parents do to be advocates for more effective, passionate learning experiences in schools? How might one effectively communicate the value of passionate learning and curiosity to the school as well as to others?
EG: I would tell the teacher stories of what interested my child and bring in books or materials about this subject. I would offer to come in and do things with the children on a topic that I knew about or was interested in. I would look for any indication, even a small one, where a teacher promoted passionate learning and compliment the teacher on this, tell him or her how much it meant to your child.
We have turned Mind in the Making into what we call Seven Essential Skills Modules and in some communities through a grant we have from the Kellogg Foundation, parents and teachers are learning this information together. Nothing makes me happier!! If anyone of your readers is interested in this, please be in touch with us.
Read the third and final installment of this Q&A HERE.