Habits are those things your child does without thinking about it like hitting the snooze button, brushing their teeth (hopefully), or sitting up straight. Many have developed the habit of regularly checking their cellphones (a powerful habit that social media apps promote and reward) or putting their dirty dish into the sink and walking away.
Researchers estimate that 40-50% of what we do each day are habits. Habits are predictable, slow to establish, and difficult to extinguish. And, of course, habits can be good or bad.
Since schools closed several weeks ago, parents have become much more aware of their child’s educational patterns and deficits. Most now see that their children are not independent learners. They must be told what to do and when to do it. But, like most behaviors, under the right circumstances, your child can develop a habit of independent learning.
The typical school structure is one where committed teachers exert daily pressure on their students to learn. Reading aloud in class, completing assignments at the teacher’s prompting, and classroom test preparation are some of the many ways teachers use to assure a child is learning assigned material. They do this because, if they don’t press, they know that their students won’t learn the state-mandated academic content they are required to teach. (In a future post series, I will discuss the lunacy of our antiquated and soul-killing “state-mandated academic content”.) Parents have now been recruited into the role of teacher. They are now the ones pressing their children to learn.
But what happens when the traditional school year ends on May 29th? Will parents quit providing the same pressure?
Teachers will pause for a well-deserved vacation, and many parents will be tempted to stop their work as well. But the learning that has happened under the parent’s watch these last few weeks, however small it may seem, is the beginning of a powerful habit that can be the difference between winning and losing The Education Game.
The Habit of Home Learning
Parents have almost certainly noticed a change in their relationship with their children. Some parents feel a powerful urge to lock themselves in the bathroom while others have begun to fall into a sort of rhythm with their child. For those in the latter group, you are watching your kids develop Habits of Home Learning. These habits may be fledgling right now, but your child is getting used to the idea that the home is a central hub of learning. They are also getting used to the idea that you — the parent — are an “educational authority” and your educational expectations must be followed. To win The Education Game, this is an extremely positive development and must be sustained over the summer months.
Preparing for Post Season
In thirty-one days, the mandated school assignments will end, and you and your child will enter the summer vacation. In our home, there is no such thing as a “summer vacation”. May 30th through July 15th is called “Post-Season” and July 15th through the beginning of school is called “Pre-Season.” These are the times where learning still happens but entirely under our parental leadership.
If you intend to win The Education Game, now is the time to inform your child that you will continue requiring academic progress in the summer. But their learning will look very different than what school assigns.
In the summer, under your leadership, your child will explore the areas of greatest interest to them. The spark will come by asking our child, “When school assignments are over, what would YOU like to learn about? Or ask, “What are you MOST curious about?” Ask them today and see what happens. Be prepared for a look of utter confusion. Likely, they have never been asked this before.
For the parents who have had constant friction over school-assigned academics, don’t despair. There are usually two factors at play.
Reduce Pressure and Increase Pressure
First, the child who is resisting usually has been so discouraged from traditional academics that they have given up trying to succeed. Sometimes this turns into outright defiance. One way to deal with this is to REDUCE the overall pressure but to INCREASE specific pressure. Instead of demanding that all assignments are completed to your level of satisfaction, define which one or two assignments are of such long-term importance to your child that you cannot in good conscience allow them to avoid learning it. For me, that usually involves Reading, Math, and Communication (written and oral). These are the three areas that I do not allow our children to evade. All other assignments are encouraged but non-essential.
A second reason kids resist is that they have come to despise learning about things that are of no interest to them. Parents, ask yourself this question: Are your kids naturally curious or lazy? Your answer to this question determines your next steps.
If you think your child is lazy, then you need to continue brow-beating them until they learn what you or your teacher assigns. (Good luck with that… and the therapy bills will be coming soon.)
If, however, you think that children are naturally curious — and there is ample evidence to support this belief — then your challenge will be to find out what your child is naturally curious about.
Parental Leadership and Student Engagement
At some point, our educational system will realize that student engagement is more critical than state-mandated learning objectives. Until that day, parents must continue their newly-found educational leadership and shift the learning objectives towards the child’s interests and curiosities. Once this happens, your child will be on the road to becoming an independent learner, and you’ll never have to brow-beat again… except when it’s their day to wash the dishes.