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What School Can Teach Us About Life

Our children are different, but yet somethings still remain the same.

Recently I was at a parent forum when the discussion turned to the 21st century learner—otherwise known as the kids of today. They certainly are different than my generation.  They are growing up in a world where learning extends beyond the walls of a classroom or home or library.  It is now an international classroom where, with the click of a button and the help of Google, just about anything can be accessed.

As a teacher, I try to stay current on educational issues and what is happening to meet the needs of my students in the classroom. One question that often comes up when speaking with parents or even just in casual conversation is, “How can I help my child with what they are learning?” 

Here are a few ideas:

1.Encourage your child to be a self advocate

Too often we, as parents, want to fix everything and do everything we possibly can for our child. While the sentiment is no doubt natural and genuine, the result is that kids are not developing the vital skill of speaking out for themselves. I’ll give you an example.  When a student is doing homework and doesn’t understand something, instead of not doing the homework and having mom or dad write a note, tell your child to send the teacher an email about the problems he is having in doing the homework. A few weeks ago, I wrote about the purpose of homework and what it can do in terms of creating stronger bonds for long term storage. If the homework is done incorrectly, that can cause confusion in terms of learning.  I personally would much rather have a child tell me they tried the homework and didn’t get it than to do it wrong.

2.Allow your child to make mistakes.

Making mistakes is how they learn. We all did it, it’s part of life. Remember the poem “All I Ever Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten”?  Sometimes we have to remind ourselves of that. If our kids don’t make mistakes, they will not learn. In the classroom, teachers often see this as students thinking they “knew” all the material for an assessment, so they decide not to study. The result is they do not do as well as they would have liked to. This is the perfect opportunity to have the discussion about choices and making mistakes. Letting your child know that they have control over these kinds of things will make them move accountable in the end.

3. Encourage your child to problem solve

I absolutely love this one! This is a common scenario in my classroom:

Student: “Mrs. Villano? I don’t have a pencil.”

Me: “Okay. Well I don’t have your pencil.”

Student: “What am I going to do?”

Me: “Good question. What can you do?”

Now you might be chuckling to yourself right now but I swear it’s true. It happens at least three or four times a week. Being able to solve problems is a life skill. By me asking the student “what can you do?” instead of telling them to go to their locker or borrow from a friend allows them to do the thinking, not me.  Sometimes the irony of children today having everything at their fingertips has taken away those opportunities for problem-solving development.

4.Not everyone can win

Sometime in the last 15 or so years, we as a society felt it important that everyone feel like a winner. Children started getting trophies just for participating in a sport regardless of the fact that perhaps that team didn’t win a game all season. It became the norm that everyone got a trophy or a medal for just showing up. In the classroom, I see this as not everyone will get the A for showing up or just turning in their homework. In my educational experience, if you showed up and just turned something in with the minimum requirements it was a C - average. It’s also important to remember that everyone—regardless of size, culture, or religion—has different strengths and weaknesses. A student who works really hard and has earned that C should feel like a first place winner. Education and sports should be fun. It’s not just to get a trophy. There is a valuable lesson in teaching our children to lose as well.  We all know there is only one first place, and should celebrate each child’s own personal best.   

5.Our children are digital natives, we are digital immigrants

Yes parents, it’s the reason why we just don’t get technology. Our children have it all and have always had it all, while some of us are still trying to figure out how to turn on the computer. It is a different way of thinking.  The possibilities are endless and the information multiplies daily.

We are living in an exciting time—a time of rapid change and advances  that it’s impossible to keep up. But some things must stay the same, like the lessons we all grew up with. Our children are the future of our country. They will be making the decisions one day and we will have to know that they can think and be reliable. I know I certainly don’t want the president calling me to tell me he lost his pencil (exaggerated, yes, but you get the idea, right?).

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