Our children face many hurdles during their educational journey: the ever-demanding curriculum, tests, peer pressure and more. There are many opportunities for children to lose self-esteem and doubt their own ability. With a focus on levels and test scores, children are all too aware of their position in relation to their peers and rather than creating positive competition, it can spiral into self doubt and lack of self worth.
From my own experience, a child’s feeling that they can’t do something (or finding a certain task difficult) is a greater hurdle than academic ability or a lack of understanding. The negative outlook that a task is going to be hard, or ‘I hate these types of question’ can be a difficult barrier to overcome.
Boosting self esteem and giving children opportunities to see how good they are, is far more valuable than focussing on what they can’t do. As educators, we a trained to look for gaps in children’s understanding. Yes, these need addressing and it is key that children receive the support and intervention that they need. But perhaps, before any intervention, there needs to be an investment in ensuring that a child is ready to learn and feels confident that they have the ability to succeed.
Imagine learning to drive. You can manage roundabouts, three point turns and emergency stops but that reverse parking is causing you problems. If the instructor spends most time talking about reverse parking, it makes you feel frustrated and focuses your own mind on what you can’t do, rather than what you can. If each week you return to reverse parking and you start to have self doubt, lack of confidence and feel you can’t do it, you begin to feel like giving up. You need to be reassured that you have the ability and are a good driver, so that you have the resilience to master the areas you find most difficult. (In case you’re wondering, reverse parking was my Achilles heel when I was learning to drive, but I did get there in the end!)
Education should be as much about celebrating what each child can do, and is successful at, as well as finding the gaps. We can never underestimate the value of boosting children’s self esteem; confidence is key!
My youngest child brought home a letter this week informing me that she will shortly be participating in the National Child Measurement Programme (the height/weight check for Reception and Year 6 pupils). I immediately thought of all the current focus on healthy eating, exercise and the rise in obesity in children, but then also considered whether as much attention is focussed on improving the mental health of our children (and indeed ourselves). I have experienced first-hand the multitude of mental health issues which children, and those who work with them, can experience. I myself left the teaching profession because I was aware that it was having a negative impact on my mental health and affecting my family life at home. I have seen colleagues leave the profession or need time off because of the stress and anxiety of working in education. My own children, and others I have met during my career, have exhibited a range of mental health issues. I have seen lack of self-esteem, uncontrollable anger, despair, grief, anxiety, eating disorders and socialisation difficulties. What I now realise is the frequency with which I noticed these issues, on a daily basis, which makes me wonder what the wider picture is. Today our lives seem busier than ever. Educators juggle the demands of their career with family life and have their own ongoing battle to care for their mental health. Meanwhile children are reacting to pressure from peers, trying to please, care for, or rebel against parents (whilst undergoing constant academic assessment). There seems to be opportunity to share problems or take time out to listen, speak or help. We assess academic achievement, we measure children’s height and weight, but do we ever check children’s mental wellbeing. If tests could be carried out nationally, what would it tell us? Perhaps just as many schools have adopted ERIC time (a slot when everyone takes time out to read) there should be a move to have a slot each week when everyone has chance to share their troubles, check up on each other, or just to celebrate being happy. I think I’ll try it at home, a weekly family mind time, and see how it goes!
Ever changing, ever growing, social media seems to be tightening its hold on my children. There’s new apps I’ve never even heard of and phones/tablets seems to be constantly flashing and pinging with notifications. Facebook, twitter, Instagram are the ones I am familiar with and feel able to support my children in ensuring they keep their accounts private. Others like TikTok and Houseparty are a bit of a mystery and I feel concerned that I don’t know enough about these and other apps which appeal to our younger generations.
It seems an almost impossible task to keep up with the current trends and new apps as they appear. As parents, educators, we want to be able to guide and support children, but this is difficult when they often know more about these apps than we do. Esafety is taught throughout school, but is this enough? Perhaps I’ll just turn the internet off for an hour, so we can all have a break!!
Another Sunday spent trying to ensure that homework is all completed to a reasonable standard before Monday morning!
Homework certainly has its value and can be an essential supplement to the work done during the school day, but I am a strong believer that homework should be relevant, valued and purposeful. All too often my own children have completed homework only for it to get a single cursory tick (or worse still not marked at all).
We have completed projects on building Viking ships, or making games to practise maths skills. However, I often find that these ‘projects’ often rely of the input of parents to succeed, rather than the children. The competitive element appears, as parents vie to ensure that their child’s homework is the best (or at least not the worst in the class).
Reading, spellings, learning tables are all key elements of the primary curriculum and frequently form a significant proportion of homework. Spelling and reading are still valued at secondary level but then the other homework tasks become more varied and indeed vague. I have heard of homework which is to ‘revise’ (what and for how long is not specified), or homework this week is to watch …. on YouTube! The value of this type of homework – I am yet to be convinced.
These days children seem to spend more and more time at after school activities, or glued to some type of electronic device. Perhaps a new approach to homework is needed in this modern age? Tasks which are engaging, purposeful and that actually benefit a child’s education are needed – not just homework for homework’s sake!