School Year Is Actually an Opportunity to Prepare for the Future
Schools across America are preparing to reopen. What the 2020-21 school year will look like (in-person, all virtual, or a mix of both) varies by state and in many cases by the school district. But, regardless of what their local school system is doing, parents are deeply worried. They fear learning will be scaled back, teachers will struggle to impart even the basics, extracurriculars will be canceled (or at least curtailed)…and in the long run, kids will be the ones who suffer.
Parents should look at this school year, not as an obstacle but an opportunity. This year will be your big chance to help your kids master the attitudes and skills they will need to succeed in a rapidly changing world, They may have a little more time and, depending on your work situation, you may be around more to do it with them.
The world is changing so rapidly that, for quite some time, it has outpaced schools’ capacity to equip students with the skills they’ll need to compete. The Digital Age is fundamentally changing the way we work. As technology becomes ever-smarter, it’s predicted that almost half of U.S. jobs will be automated in the next ten years or so.
In order for our kids to succeed in life in the future, they will have to be able to “outsmart” technology. They’ll need to be masters at the things computers can’t do: thinking innovatively and critically, emotionally connecting and engaging with other people, and solving complex problems where there is little data. They’ll need to be able to make decisions in the midst of uncertainty. They’ll need to work well as a member of diverse teams.
Preparing for a meaningful career in the Digital Age is not about knowing the content. “It’s impossible for a human to know more than a computer. In fact, your children will need to excel at not knowing. They need to become enthusiastic lifelong learners so they can keep upgrading their skills as the world advances and constantly reinvent themselves.
Parents, your job is to create kids who find learning exciting and meaningful…kids who are open-minded and resilient…kids who have the courage of explorers…kids who are able to “think” like scientists, “make” like engineers, and “create” like artists. This may sound like a tall order, but there are a lot of simple things you can do over the upcoming school year to get your kids headed in that direction.
“Assign” older kids a quick video to watch or article to read daily
There’s lots of free material out there, from TED Talks to webinars to lectures to documentaries to virtual tours of museums, national parks, and faraway countries. Send them the link and find a few minutes each day (perhaps at lunch or dinner) to have them “teach” you about it. (If daily seems too much, adjust to a frequency that feels right for your child.) The idea is not so much to teach them content but to make learning a daily habit and to show them how much fun learning really is,” says Hess. “You’re helping your child become a lifelong learner.
Register them for online courses and activities
These exist for kids of all ages, for example, Khan Academy, the Smithsonian, NASA, Google, National Geographic, and many gamification sites designed to teach learning skills. It is amazing how your children can reach out to the world through technology.
Encourage them to choose subjects that interest them, as people learn best when they have autonomy and choice. Urge them to seek out novelty and the different, rather than only going deeper into subjects they’ve already explored. Being willing to go into the unknown and learn is one of the key skills your children will need in the future.
Help them create mini-courses on specific subjects
If your child is drawn to, say, ocean conservation, guide them in tracking down videos and articles on the subject. Likewise, if there’s a topic you want them to absorb—ethics in business or community engagement, for instance—challenge them to find news stories, blog posts, presentations, etc. around the subject. Don’t do the work for them. Send them off on a quest to find these stories or videos and ask probing questions on what they’ve learned and what opinions they’ve formed.
If possible, incorporate a “real-world” piece
If your child is exploring ocean conservation, you might arrange a saltwater marsh kayaking trip or have them fundraise for an ocean clean-up nonprofit. If you’ve “assigned” a community engagement mini-course, have the child attend a town council meeting (even if it has to be virtual right now). While options might be more limited during COVID, there are a lot of options to supplement with real-world learning. The good news is that the opportunities for virtual learning are limitless.
See what your community offers in terms of experiential learning
Some communities have innovation labs or maker spaces that can be avenues to “learn by doing” (which is the best way to learn). Take full advantage of such resources. (Much of this will have to be done virtually now, and many of these labs have good plans for virtual learning.)
Pair kids up with a mentor
There are lots of professionals out there who want to give back (many of whom are retired and have free time). Mentoring is a great way to do it. Have your child reach out to someone in a field that interests them and ask if they are willing to virtually connect.
Personalized, frequent, real-time feedback from teammates, teachers, coaches, and facilitators really helps people learn,” notes Hess. “Plus, working with a mentor helps your child gain much-needed relationship skills.
Join a homeschooling group
Depending on how much classroom time your kids are getting, they may need more social interaction. Meeting up virtually with a homeschooling group will help them get to know new people.
Teach them the scientific method and have them design experiments around it
1. First, they create a hypothesis (e.g., I believe if I do X, person Y will do Z. Or, if I do X, Z will happen). 2. They then ask themselves:
What must be true for that to occur?
What would make my hypothesis false?
3. They then design an experiment to test the hypothesis, looking for confirming and disconfirming results. 4. They then find relevant data (e.g., through interviews or research) to test the hypothesis. 5. They ask themselves: What did I learn? An experiment can be anything that they want to try to do. Ask them: What is the goal? What are you trying to do? Build something? Cook something? Solve a problem? How do you propose to do that? Okay, try it. What happened? What did you learn? What do you need to do differently to achieve your goal?
Encourage older children to find on the Internet an organization that is bringing together people to solve a problem or learn a new skill together
Learning how to build relationships with new people will be an important Digital Age skill. So, help your kids learn how to connect with others and work as part of a team.
Hold dinner table conversations around all that kids have learned. Focus the discussion on emotions
Ask your kids, “How are you feeling?” regarding a particular topic and share what you are feeling as well. Ask them, “Who did you thank today?” and discuss why thanking others is important. Ask, “How do you get ‘unmad’ when you’re upset about something?” Discuss various ways to do this. Kids need to be able to connect and engage in positive ways with other human beings. That will require both high emotional intelligence and ‘Otherness’—the ability to build caring, trusting, and compassionate relationships. These dinner table conversations can help them understand their emotions and how to manage them, and the effect they can have on other people’s emotions also.
These are just a few ways to take full advantage of a school year that promises to be different from any preceding it. But remember: In terms of preparing kids for the future, “different” is a good thing.
Kids need to be comfortable navigating the unknown, and, frankly, the unknown is unfolding around us,” notes Hess. “In a strange way, this may turn out to be a meaningful and highly productive year, if only parents will help kids frame it in a positive way.
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