‘They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel.’
As I write this, we are in the middle of a global pandemic and families have been given the sudden responsibility and the frustrations and joys of home education! These words, attributed to Carl W. Buehner, have often been in my head. For all of us, the world is sometimes a frightening and unknown place, but in recent months it has really been rocked and shaken for our children: its surface has broken beneath their feet. While these experiences could leave cracks and crevices that might scar, it could also shape their attitudes, values and their futures. Although things can seem dark, there is much to be hopeful about!
Over the last decade, educators have learned so much more about the effect of stress upon children’s lives. Life throws us curveballs sometimes, causing disruptions to normal functioning, schooling and general routines. Whether causes are big ones, like bereavement, accidents, violence and illness, or more personal, smaller ones, they disrupt normal functioning and can cause children to feel lost, helpless and overwhelmed.
The good news is that we know how to deal with anxious children, so for families faced with stressful situations, and possible disruptions to usual schooling – here are some ideas.
Firstly, we need to fill those cracks. Fill them with fleecy blankets, warm drinks and the warmth of human touch; tell stories, read books together, sing songs, play games. This is a perfect time to just be with your child. Help children to be still and in the moment. Psychologists call this Attuning, which means empathising with someone’s emotional state. Your children, depending on age and stage, know that everything has changed, and they have heard and felt the anxiety of their loved ones. Tell jokes and don’t forget to laugh – often the best of medicines!
The next stage is Validation. Listen to your children and acknowledge their fears, worries, dreams, thoughts and hopes. If we try to shield children from the realities of now, they will worry even more, perhaps turning to social media to find out. Those cracks beneath their feet will get even deeper. If they ask, tell them – gently, but truthfully and with hope. If age-appropriate, share children’s news sites – and don’t forget to teach about bias!
And now the exciting part – Empowerment! You can fill those cracks so that all manner of wonderful things can begin to grow! Home educating provides a wonderful opportunity to:
- Get children to make alphabetical lists of birds, of trees, of animals – open their minds to the variety of life. Use books and technology to research. Draw them, sketch them – if you are lucky enough to have a garden, go out and find them! Why not try the Collins range of i-SPY books, which can be used to spot exciting things inside and outside the house?
- Read! Talk! We know that children with greater vocabularies do better in all areas of learning and are more likely to lead more fulfilled lives. Share books and stories. Read to them, and don’t worry too much about them reading if they don’t want to. Play vocabulary games. Have a new-word-a-day activity. Above all, name feelings. It’s hard to talk about anything if we can’t name it.
- Find your child’s passion and encourage it! If it’s music, work together to make up songs. Listen to great composers and different types of music: jazz, hip hop, soul. If it’s history, research your local area or even your family tree. Facetime a relative to listen to their real-life stories and memories. If it’s English, easy! Read poems together and listen to stories online. Write stories together. Make storyboards.
- Explore the world together with atlases and maps! Talk about countries, their people, their culture. Help children to see how we are all the same, despite our differences. Draw maps and colour in the sea together!
- Find the learning in everyday life: in shopping – lists and costs; in gardening – life cycles and growth; in cooking – nutrition and chemical changes. Everything is a learning opportunity!
- Let them play! Facilitate their play, don’t direct it. Let them create: dens, paintings, plays, models and potions. Through play, children make sense of the world about them. Make learning into games. Healthy competition, adding in some jumping and skipping and ‘playing detective’, can make the most mundane of learning tasks fun!
- Talk with them about the positivity of humanity! Everywhere in crises, there are examples of kindness, of unselfishness, of love. Make lists of positive human attitudes. Reward your children for kind words and deeds. PSHE teachers know that values should be at the heart of all learning and it’s attitudes like compassion, kindness, friendship, trust, generosity and honesty which will fill those cracks with new growth!
Do this WITH your child. Psychologists call this being a co-explorer. Not only will the cracks heal, not only will new things grow, but the surface of your children’s world will become stronger. This is resilience – bounce-back-ability!
All ordeals and shocks have things to teach us, causing us to examine our wants and needs and forcing us to understand the importance of community and how we are connected, locally, nationally and globally. Talk with your children about what we really need to be happy and successful in life. Their generation will make the decisions in our brave new world. It will be our young people’s attitude to learning, their values and their emotional health which will be important.
When our children look back at times of adversity and change, let’s ensure that the feelings are good ones. Let’s hope that they remember being loved and nurtured, inspired and empowered but also, a time when they had space to learn about themselves and opportunities for learning which were wide, and which filled them with passion. As Maria Montessori said, ‘Education is not the filling of a bucket, but the lighting of a fire.’
By Karen Thompson
Karen is an experienced primary school teacher and PSHE consultant