A couple weeks ago I had a conversation one evening with education reporter Sanne Godfrey about what kids need to be doing to be learning.
If we look at nature for parenting guides, grizzly bear females take care of their cubs, hunt, fish and provide shelter for three years — and they do it alone, as single parents. The same goes for mountain lions and hippos.
On the other hand, there are also plenty of species, like otters, wolves and horses, that co-parent or raise their families in co-operatives. And each of those is responsible for finding food, providing shelter and raising their young.
So the idea that we can be parents and providers is all around us. We can hunt, fish and forage; provide shelter, care and attention; and spend time engaged in play with our young animals. It is about creating a balance of needs and prioritizing our needs in their true order of importance. It is also about having a team mentality, such as working with the teachers around you and the staff and the team of players in your life that can help support and take responsibility for some of those pieces.
At the end of each day, the lessons that our kids are learning are about being human beings, together in family groups and larger social groups, who are able to survive in the world and eventually provide food, life and shelter for themselves on their own and for their families. That is really the role of parents throughout nature. (And if you need more inspiration watch The Lion King on Disney+ a couple times and give yourself space to reflect on what your role is.)
Learning is not simply about academic success. Emotional learning is about character: teaching qualities such as humility, integrity, honesty and kindness. Physical learning takes place in sports, physical activities and play. Spiritual learning takes place any time we go through a test of our character and our endurance. Learning can be on a personal level or part of a greater social event like war or a natural disaster such as a drought or tsunami flood.
We experience a wide range of learning throughout our human lives. Education is a route for success but sometimes people put an overemphasis on academic achievement. If we’re encouraging creative, emotionally smart, physically and musically talented children who have a lot of gifts, academic achievement is one of many paths students will take in their learning.
Life happens on a spectrum. Especially as Americans, we have a lot of privilege and choice that allows us to focus on the best: the best education, the best quality of life, etc. But humanity happens on the lowest end at survival. It is inside those personal and intergenerational moments when we experience loss, hardship and pain that our life lessons appear. These are our teachers and the tests of our character and resilience. Showing your learners your own great character is modeling for them the qualities of self that will contribute to their best skills and success in life. Educating them to be good people. Not to cheat when you’re losing, but to have fun. Not to be mean to someone else when you feel lousy, but to laugh or find another way to lighten up. To be positive and create success where you’re failing. These lessons are what will stick with your learners long into their future.
These last few weeks of writing for families using some form of virtual learning has been such a great adventure. In my daily work with students and families, it is awesome to see a student or parent feeling confident with their program and the technology. I hope all of you parents and learners are feeling this way now with confidence in your ever-growing skills. I also hope you feel supported in your community and that these stories have kept you in good company these last few weeks. I wish to thank you and send you a farewell and good voyage on your learning paths.