Life is continuously changing, that it is a fact and everyone knows it. Our customs, our traditions, the way we dress, we eat, we travel… we all find new ways to improve our lifestyle and sooner or later we try to include this as part of our daily routine. We pride ourselves in getting the latest technologies, and we use all those new words for sending SMS or chatting.
We change our gifts to our children; instead of a traditional old toys we buy them video games, so they can play at home, maybe unsupervised but it’s safer. Then we send them to school and we complain they don`t learn anything, they can’t write properly, they never seem to have homework and they are struggling to make any friends to play with. On the other hand, we have the teachers complaining because the children come to school with no energy, they’re aggressive sometimes, they don’t seem to care about education and very rarely do they bring their homework.
I can see a problem here. We accept all these changes, but do we take part in them? Or do we just take whatever has been done for us, something that we can buy? Do we want to blame someone else for our children’s learning difficulties, or do we want to take action about it?
I still remember that advert “If you need help writing an essay - you can always ask to write my essay online”. Well, certainly we can`t buy our children’s education. We can put them in the most expensive well known private school, but learning as we all know, takes place everywhere and at anytime, and the most amazing thing is that it never ends. We just need to be aware of this, and use it towards benefitting our children.
Teaching and learning are two words that can’t be separated. We, parents and teachers, try to teach our children everything they need to know to “survive” in the real world… but is that the real world they know, or is it the world we knew when we were younger? Do we review our teachings constantly according to the changes in society, or do we just use the same old method saying that it’s nothing better than the old school style?
Here is when we realize that before we teach, we need to learn. We need to look around and know that children use different toys to play with than we did, that they eat different food, and they socialize in a different way… why should they learn in the same way than we did 20 years ago? Why should we waste our energy fighting against something as simple as life changing?
When you were a child, what were the types of things that you had? I remember having great fun catching lizards on the farm, inventing games with my sisters and cousins, making cars using old tuna tins and mostly playing outside. They were some of the best times of my life. What we didn’t have, we didn’t miss.
Nowadays the majority of children spend more time sitting down now than years ago. They do a lot of mental activity but less physical exercise. This affects the way they learn. Because they are so used to sitting down to play, their minds associate sitting with playtime and therefore they find it more difficult to sit in a lesson and remain focused for a whole hour without any “fun” activity. The solution is very simple, we just need to change the way we teach them. It’s not to say that children today don’t enjoy the old games that we use to, but after a while they want to return to their normal routine and this includes video games.
Not long ago, my sister asked me to look after my niece and nephew for the weekend. I had had them before, but only during the school holidays. As usual, we looked into possible activities we could do with them, outdoors if the weather was good, and indoors in case it rained. Then when she got here, she told me that they had to study for their exams in the next week. They had plenty of time through the week but they had wasted it playing and messing about and now they couldn’t play with the Nintendo or Playstation, and of course they couldnīt go out either…
“It should be easy for you to look after them actually, seen as they can’t do anything else but sit down and study quietly. You only need to supervise that they don’t talk to each other, as all they do is argue”
“Ok!?” I couldn’t think of a worst way of spending my weekend than just “watching them”.
As she went away, I decided that we were going to have to change our plans slightly. We wouldn’t do anything they weren’t allowed to do as I’ve found it confuses children when one adult tells them not to do something and then another adult does exactly the opposite.
We gave them clear instructions, study first but in small doses. We divided their studies in small ‘blocks’. They study a certain number of pages and we would help them if necessary. The first child finished would then have to help the other, without arguing!
The first block didn’t go as we expected, they took longer than what we thought, and they couldn’t help each other without fighting. I then realized why they reacted like that. It was only the beginning of what they thought a very long and boring weekend. They were frustrated as well as unmotivated. We told them that after the second block they would have to help us to do our activities. They looked even angrier, not only did they have to study their books but also had to help us. We didn’t tell them what our activities were and they were a little bit curious, especially my nephew. So, they finished the second block of Maths, and then we told them we needed their help to do our Wii activities (my sister didn’t mention the Wii). They were stunned.
We chose games where they had to keep a track of their score, and add their scores to the one from the previous game… without noticing they were playing and doing maths. They studied in blocks and as they changed subjects, we changed the type of game. We played hangman and Scategories after they study literacy, Pictionary after Science… By the end of the weekend they finished all the “homework” and they actually enjoyed themselves too. When we took them to my sister’s on the Sunday night; she was surprised to see them so happy.
“Have they been good? Because if they haven’t, they’re not getting their videogames back!” she told me. Now, I was the one surprised; I thought that the main issue was for them to study (Notice the difference, behaving well or studying well to learn).
If you take away something they enjoy and tell them to sit quiet and don’t do any fun activity until they study, automatically “study” becomes an obligation, something big and horrible that prevents them from having fun.
I asked her then if she could remember what it was like when she went to school, did she like it?
“Of course not, no one likes school, you go because you have to. I remember my days at school as being very boring, and pointless. I had to go there and sit for hours. In Primary School I learnt that if you are very quiet and behave well, automatically the teacher seems to think you are learning, and doesn’t hesitate to tell your parents you are a good student (instead of a good child who behaves but doesn’t learn). Then I got to Secondary School, with the proper exams and even more boring lessons that were based purely on the text books. Every now and then I tried to discuss some aspect of a subject with the teacher, and got a punishment for “answering back”. Then I would try to clear my doubts by asking to the person sitting next to me, I also got punished for “disruptive behavior”. Eventually I gave up, spent most of the lessons drawing, sitting quietly at the back of the classroom and only had to study the night before the exam to pass and get a good report for being “a good student”.
By the time she finished, she realized she asked the wrong question and to the wrong person. She then turned to her children to check what they have learnt. They were hesitant to say they played while they learnt because they thought that was a bad thing.
It’s easier than we think to look around children, watch the way they play, the way they learn and use it when teaching them. Learning doesn’t have to be a long task that they have to do by themselves after extensive explanations. It can be something we do with them, in small tasks to keep them focused, using different activities including games to keep them motivated.
Children’s education is not something static that never changes. There is not a “magic spell” for the perfect student. What used to work with children 20 years ago doesn’t necessarily work now, and it is not because children nowadays don’t know how to behave or can’t learn anything. It’s because as everything else, children’s learning needs to change, therefore we also have to revise and update our teaching methodology.