If there was one practice you could do to almost guarantee an upward climb in your child's growth and learning, it would be for you to engage in the simple act of reflection.
The act of reflection means to take a moment, stop, look back, give thought to, consider, ask questions, gain understanding in order to plan for next steps. Thorough reflection involves viewing situations at a micro level, examining the little things that worked or didn't, while bearing in mind the 'Big Picture' of what we are building towards.
Every time we interact with our children, whenever we seek to teach, whether they seem to absorb the content or not, they are learning. They learn as they listen to us explain important academic facts. They learn as they watch how we react to various situations.
Some days are great days. But some days we wish we could erase. We have all had our fare share of both. It is only natural because we are imperfect human beings dealing with another imperfect human being - both on a journey of discovering ourselves and the world around us. But mistakes are never the end. In fact, if we courageously add mistakes together with positive reflection, it = a recipe for growth, enjoyment of our kids, deepening of relationships and learning.
So let's walk through snapshots of the learning journey of our children. I am going to use an example to walk us through the process. I will also give various ideas that will hopefully inspire you to try something new.
Let's pretend our child brings home homework worksheets that has to do with converting fractions into decimals. They are struggling to understand how to convert it. They are struggling to concentrate and focus. We become worried and frustrated at their inability to show competence in this skill.
Let's use our imaginary phones and snap a selfie in this moment. We're going to put this on imaginary Instagram. But not before applying a few layers of filters to complete the process of our reflection. Indulge with me for a few moments as we use an Instagram Selfie analogy for this reflection process. I call this the Selfie Reflection.
Filter #1 - How are we effectively teaching them subject content?
This is probably the main focus of every parent and educator when we teach our children. We want them to GET IT and GET As. So how can subject content be taught when they just don't seem to get it?
Back to our example of our child's homework in converting fractions to decimals. What ways are we using to help our child learn how to convert fractions to decimals? Drilling facts? Memorising? Using flash cards? Use rewards and punishments? ("I will buy you something if you can get all these questions correct") Maybe.
Are there other ways for them to engage the content? Can we make it meaningful and purposeful? Something that is applicable to their lives? Something that will help them build further Math skills? Let's reflect further.
When do we use fractions and decimals in our daily lives?
Lots of different ways. We use decimals when we use money. We can show them receipts to help them understand that decimals are just another way of showing that one full whole is broken down into something smaller. We can also link it to percentage and explain to them about the GST (!!) and how 6% looks in decimal form. We can talk about temperature. We can use recipes. We can talk about fractions when we eat pizzas and what decimal / percent they just ate.
Beyond just their worksheets, how can we bring to life the things they are learning? It takes some reflection but bringing worksheets to life allows greater engagement and learning.
Let's also consider diverse learning styles. It helps greatly to take a moment and reflect on how your child learns best. Presenting information in a way that is appealing is a great motivator to learn. How do you draw out their strengths by understanding their learning styles? How many ways can the information be translated and imparted?
Back to our example, depending on your child's personality, let's reflect on ways we could engage them in their learning style to help them learn fraction to decimal conversion.
Could you try to let them draw it out because pictures help them understand? Create an information sheet that would be helpful for another person? Could the facts be made into a rhyme or a song (scour youtube so you don't have to reinvent the wheel)? Do they need to observe you carry out a few examples first before trying it not their own? Does it help if they worked with a friend because the discussions deepen their understanding? Could you get them to teach a younger sibling how to do it?
The above is just to name a few. Many people have gotten very creative in engaging with their subject content. It just takes reflection, and maybe some Googling to be inspired.
Reflect on your child's personality. Some children like detailed instruction. Some children only want you to show them once and enjoy figuring out the missing pieces on their own. Some children gain greater understanding when they have to teach another child. What is your child is like?
For certain children with lower cognitive abilities, we would want to reflect on whether this particular skill is necessary and useful. What about decimals, fractions and percentage will they need in life? What are things they will not really benefit from? How can we teach it to them in a way where they can understand and use in life?
Let's pretend the child from the example also has low cognitive abilities and is non verbal. What do we do then?
We try to make it as functional as possible. We can teach the child to pour only half a glass of water with picture cues and gestures showing them 1/2 as a fraction and/or also 0.5 in decimals. We could have them ask for "1/2" or "full / whole" (through PECS) when referring to fruit, cereal bar, water in a glass..etc. We could teach the child how to share 1/2 with a friend and keep the other 1/2. Functionally, it would benefit them to be able to understand that 0.5+0.5 become a 1 because it builds their money concepts. Help them understand how to use fractions. Use it in many different settings so that they can generalise the skill.
What's important, what's functional and how to go about presenting it all require lots of tries and a ton of reflection.
Filter #2 - How are we equipping them to be independent learners?
As much as we want to impart knowledge, to raise well rounded learners, we need to teach them ways to find out information themselves. Inquisitive, curious children will start asking lots of questions. They will start exploring on their own. Are we equipping them with effective strategies to find out more?
Back to our example. As we engage with our child and explore ways which we use fractions and decimals, they may start to be curious. They may ask questions like "Is there such a thing as 2.5 people?" "Which is bigger - 0.1 or 0.18?" "Why do some improper fractions give us numbers without decimals?" "If we can cut up shapes into fractions, can we also cut up shapes into decimals since they are the same?"
This is the perfect time to find out these answers together to show them HOW they can find out. It is even better if you don't know the answer yourself so you both learn something and you show your child that we are never to old to learn.
Google up questions together. Brainstorm what keywords you would use to help find the answer. Are there other ways alternative to just using the internet? Can we use some "pre-internet" strategies?
Show your child that they can explore on their own. The child could draw and cut up cardboard shapes or jelly (jell-O) into fractions. Examine measuring sticks/rulers - does that help them understand fractions and decimals? Use their Lego blocks to build and break apart 'wholes' into 'decimals/fractions'. Can you set up your home to be a conducive to independent learning? These are things to reflect on.
**Please childproof your web browsers on your computers and iPads before allowing your child to explore independently. Do not take your child's safety for granted.
For children who are non verbal, start thinking about picture symbols you can use (and have readily available for them) so that your child can communicate when they are curious about something they have learnt. Have whiteboards and marker pens ready for those who communicate via writing. Especially if you're teaching them "Wh-" questions, encourage them to ask you questions. Don't underestimate an individual just because they are unable to speak clearly. Open up ways for them to communicate, be open to understand and you will be surprised to learn how much they know, think, feel and can do.
Filter #3 - How are we building character into them to become effective learners, workers and people?
As we reflect on what it takes to be a successful adult, there is no doubt that good character comes into play. Knowledge and IQ alone do not guarantee success. Doing well in life and career requires so many elements. One of them being self-discipline to finish tasks we don't necessarily enjoy. Diligence and perseverance to keep going when things get tough, to not give up. Resilience and tenacity to keep going when we make mistakes and are told we are wrong. Being open to learn from others though we may be "Tops" in a specific field. To understand principles of organising and prioritising time and resources. To exercise self-control in balancing time for work and leisure. To work and learn well together with others.
Is a child ever too young to learn these things? How are we building these principles and virtues into their lives through the everyday?
Back to our example, we can teach them prioritising of their time and resources. If their excitement and curiosity peaks to do something else, and they have lost interest on their worksheets, this would be a great time to teach prioritising. We can list out the things that are due the next day and tasks that don't have a due date. We can guide them to plan out their time so that they get to do fun things but also ensure they have completed their work.
If the child struggles to focus and concentrate, try breaking down their work into smaller chunks and make it into a mini challenge to finish that small chunk before getting a short break.
From working with kids, I've found that when getting a child to focus for an attainable task goal (example: 4 questions), even a 1-2 minute break in between before going back (to maybe the next 4 questions?) is sufficient. They don't have to get off their seat, the break can consist of asking them a simple question (i.e.. "Who did you have recess with today?") before preparing them for the next task ("Okay, are you ready for the next 4 questions?" "We're going to concentrate and try our best until we finish 4, okay. You can do it!")
Slowly stretch their focus time. Talk to them about why it is important to be able to focus and finish up the targeted task. Encourage them, believe they can do it. This is a great time to think about your child's personality and reflect on how this can best be done.
Talk to our children about these important character traits and virtues. We may feel that they are too young to grasp, but you would be surprised at how much they learn.
I had a friend post on Facebook a picture of her 4 year old's homework from kindergarten. He had to write tiny 't's and 'f's to fill up his square grid exercise book. It was a 9 X 9 so he had to write the letter 't' and 'f' 81 times. Now, without arguing whether this activity is appropriate for a 4 year old or not, this situation can be used to introduce perseverance. I believe that even at 4 years old, we can teach SO MUCH by what we choose to focus on. We can focus on teaching simple things like trying our best with every task we are given. We can teach them to keep going, even though its difficult and not as enjoyable. And help them finish a task before we rest (again break it into smaller chunks).
If we can set it up so that a 4 year old can take pride in their work and understand excellence (not perfectionism - that can have detrimental effects of inflicting fear and shame), perseverance and prioritising, that 4 year old is being set up to be an effective learner and a successful worker and person.
What are we teaching children when we bribe them with physical rewards to complete tasks? Are there other ways to motivate our children that develops them as a person?
What do we say in front of a child with special needs assuming that they don't understand? How would it make them feel if you realised they understood you?
Lots to reflect on.
Lastly, how does your SELFIE look like?
This portion is not something we like to think about, but we must because of how much it affects us and our children.
For so many of us, our children are a reflection of ourselves. When they excel, it feels like we excel. When they achieve awards, it feels like we are the recipient of that award.
Although when they fail to perform, it feels like we have failed to perform. For certain competent moms and educators dealing with children who learn at a different pace as we would expect, we come down hard on ourselves, and especially on the child. This is something we have to be extremely careful with.
In our reflection, we need to ask ourselves, are we projecting ourselves on our children? Are we allowing them space to learn, grow and make mistakes without a constant comparison to other children? Or are we driving them to academic perfection because it makes us look good? Or are we sincerely wanting them to be the best they can be, though at times if we compare with other children, they aren't on par? These are difficult questions to tackle but it makes a world of difference to our child.
Some children are compared to other children for most of their lives that they LEARN that their worth and the love they receive is only dependent on how they perform. It is not a good motivator, neither is it healthy.
What are we teaching our children through our reactions? How can we realign our own goals to be for our child's learning and not just for us? Its a difficult selfie to reflect on, but having the courage to turn the camera around on ourselves will bring clarity and help our child on their learning journey.
Dr. Brene Brown, from her book Daring Greatly said, "Perfectionism is not the key to success. In fact, research shows that perfectionism hammers achievement. Perfectionism is correlated with depression, anxiety, addiction, and life paralysis or missed opportunities. The fear of failing, making mistakes, not meeting people's expectations, and being criticised keeps us outside of the arena where healthy competition and striving unfolds."
This speaks to us and our children.
The great thing about reflections is that mistakes are okay. In fact, mistakes help us understand ourselves and our child in deeper ways. I have made countless mistakes in the past when teaching. It is okay to say you're sorry to your child. Teachers, its okay to say you made a mistake to parents of students. Through reflection, I've allowed it to help give me understanding. Its uncomfortable and I cringe every time. But it's necessary. My hope is that we will not be caught up with the frustration of teaching but learn to enjoy our children and grow together in that journey.
Let's grow together,