How you can raise resilient children who see more than what’s at face value.
I created an experience each year with my new students, teaching them the value of questioning and taking their learning into their own hands.
I discovered that children are becoming less capable of being curious, which parents and teachers should be concerned about.
“Curiosity killed the cat” is a proverb used to warn us about the dangers of unnecessary investigation or experimentation. It also implies that being curious can sometimes lead to trouble or misfortune.
I agree with the dangers of unnecessary investigation. Who wants to poke at a box that has wires dangling from it? We have people trained to do that.
How can you tell if your child follows the ‘masses’ and doesn’t ask questions, accepting what authority figures say at face value?
Are they lazy? Do they not understand to question why they are doing what they are doing?
As a teacher or parent, we should know the reasons why we teach our children the things we teach them.
Knowing how to properly ask questions and take action doesn’t just apply to these strange times we are in. It can set them up with a more robust perspective and resilience during uncertain times.
Test Your Child
I test my students each year when meeting them for the first time. Upon our initial interaction, I speak only French when they enter the classroom!
Yes, they are shocked, and their faces show pure surprise, fear, and even disbelief that their teacher is teaching in another language.
I write on the board a challenge question.
“Où se trouve le plus ancien fossile trouvé sur terre?” I write it in cursive regardless of age to add more difficulty.
The gauntlet is thrown. I mark the time on the board.
The test begins!
Initially, you will see students squirming in their chairs. Our extroverts will blurt out their exact feelings, while the introverts just watch everyone else’s reactions or retreat inside their desks for comfort.
“Ms. Holmén, we can’t speak that language?”
“This is crazy town. I think I’m in the wrong classroom.”
“Oh, no! What if she does this all year?”
9:04 a.m., I write the time again. Minutes tick by, seemingly lasting for hours.
They start to get restless, but they accept their circumstances. I am not speaking until they ask a question.
9:05 a.m. Finally, they asked me a question. I only answer in French.
9:06 a.m. A collective murmur begins. It’s time to chafe the germ from the wheat!
The curious ones will try to decipher what I am saying, guessing at similarities in our language. I touch my nose and point to them if they get it right. They understand sign language perfectly! Some ask more questions.
Others start to dance around their chairs, while the quieter students watch for any facial reaction from me that their behavior is unacceptable. Some are better than others picking up adult social cues.
I smile or shrug my shoulders, depending on the actions or questions.
9:08 a.m., typically, a rambunctious child or self-learner will come up and whisper if they can look up the words in a book.
“Bonne ideé!” I state.
They rush to the books, only to get overwhelmed on where to start. They at least tried to figure it out!
9:09 a.m., and we now have a winner!
Clay asks me if he can go to a computer to see what he can figure out! I touch my nose, then clap at his gumption to take his learning into his own hands!
The class, at this point, will typically rush to the computer centers I have scattered around the room.
Suddenly, they understand when I say, “Trois étudiants par ordinateur, s’il vous plait!” and hold up three fingers. They make groups of three.
They are abuzz with excitement! This is what authentic learning should look like!
The introverts are now scrambling to help by typing. The extroverts are exclaiming in grand whispers what they think the answer is.
We have groups that type in the sentence exactly as it is written, and they discover Google Translate for the first time. They now know what it says! Other groups are still trying to decide who gets to type.
Another uproar of eagerness as groups read out loud what they found.
“The oldest fossils were found in Australia and date back to 3.5 million years ago!”
I clap and exclaim, “You did it! You taught yourself how to learn in my classroom!”
They sigh a great relief when I speak in English and return to their seats.
Then it’s time for THE TALK.
“Can anyone tell me why it took so long for you to ask me a question?”
“Some of you seemed uncomfortable and watched my reactions ? What was that about?”
“Do you need to be led to learn, or can you take your learning into your own hands?”
“What does it take for you to become more involved in your learning?”
The discussion afterward is powerful.
Fear Shuts Down Their Ability Learn
Nine minutes is a considerable amount of time when students are not engaged in their learning. Nine minutes of waiting for an adult to intervene is not an ideal scenario to find your children in.
Most teachers are taught to give students 30 seconds before intervening. That is also a mistake.
Students will learn to wait it out for an answer to be given them. It means they’ve been trained to wait and be saved by the adult in the room.
A scary scenario on many levels.
✄ Most students have never been allowed to explore and take risks during their learning and make mistakes. They are usually told how to do it someone else’s way.
✄ Observing your student/child gives you ample information on their learning style, coping style, how they handle stress, and behavior and social skills.
✄ Do it the teacher’s/ parent’s way seemed to be the mantra of almost every answer in these discussions.
✄ So many students explained how they “felt afraid’ to do something that might not be approved of, then I asked, how do you find out if it’s okay or not?
✄ Children do fear making mistakes, but teaching them that taking risks and allowing mistakes to occur will only make them smarter.
✄ Students in my classroom learned to ask more questions during their year with me, and they knew I would often ask a question in return, never answering their question until they gave it some effort.
Here are some tips in teaching your child to initiate their learning and become a self-starter.
Let Them Take The Lead
Of course, you are the adult, and you understand your child’s safety, so please consider each task.
If your child tends to wait for you to initiate their following action, have them take the lead.
Take them on a drive and have them tell you the route, regardless of whether they ask you to take the wrong turn. (Yes, safely, please.) Each wrong turn is a teachable moment.
Jump on a local bus/train/Uber and have them decide where to go using the map/phone. Have them take the lead of when to get off and on. Discuss what to do if they accidentally stayed on the bus/train or get off without you. What should they do?
Have them create a game/challenge with three rules to follow. Play the game and talk about what worked and what didn’t. Let them see their mistakes, but make it a learning experience and not wrong.
Have them plan a family meal from each planning stage. Make a list, plan the stores to visit, and even cook the meal. Cooking is a great skill to learn independence. Discuss how it went, good or bad.
Have your child plan an outing with each parent. Let them choose the venue, dress, and even the time to leave the house. Discuss what went well and what they might not have planned well.
Trust Your Gut, Then Speak Up
How many times as adults have we known when something didn’t feel right? I shared stories with my students when I regretted not following my gut.
We talk about our body’s response to an uncomfortable experience, physically and neurologically, and how to question those around them when they feel that way.
Of course, my speaking French made them worry, but my demeanor put them at ease.
When have you felt uncomfortable with a person or situation?
What did you do?
Do you wish you behaved differently?
How can you question an adult while being respectful?
Practice asking questions appropriately. ‘May I ask you a question?’, “Is this a good time to ask a question?” etc
Watch your child’s interaction with adults and see if they follow blindly or are aware of their surroundings.
Putting your child in various situations can help build their ability to discern their environment. Children that are given room to explore, make mistakes, and grow become more resilient learners.
Science [and learning] can flourish only in an atmosphere of free speech. ~ Albert Einstein
Deborah Holmén, M.Ed, NBCT, a 25-year veteran educator and research writer, shares her experiences in and out of the classroom and in life.