Declaration of Independence

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. - That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

Friday, August 30, 2019

Thriving at School or Merely Attending

            Families, communities, and nations are stronger when children and youth thrive at school and not merely survive. Parental attitudes, expectations, and assistance can make a difference between a child thriving or merely going through the actions. When parents are enthusiastic about learning, children most often follow their examples – but there are exceptions.

            I remember being excited to go to school. I had to wait until I was nearly seven years old before I started school. There was no kindergarten in my school when I was five years old, and the age to start school was six years old. Since my birthday is mid-winter, I was way to young to start school in September. I remember telling everyone I met that I would be going to school. I was so excited, and I thought that school would never start that year.

            I continued to be excited for each school year. I loved going to school and spending all day with my friends, but I always loved to learn new things. That love for learning continued with me even after I graduated from high school. I am one of those people who read encyclopedias for the fun of it. I suppose that my life-long love for learning is why I am working on a college degree in my later years.

            My children also love to learn. One of my daughters read the entire set of encyclopedias over one summer break – and remembered much of what she read. All my children are college graduates and five of the six of them have master’s and/or doctorates. Five of the six spouses also have masters. All the children and spouses continue to read and study to learn new information about whatever they are interested in – finances, vacation spots, etc.

Loving to learn does not necessary translate to love of school. One of my sons hated school from the time that he started kindergarten. Whenever I asked what the favorite part of the day was for him, he would always say “coming home.” His next favorite part was lunch time, and his third favorite time was recess. I think that you can see how he felt about school. However, he graduated from high school with honors and recently earned his master’s degree.

I do not know how much influence parental habits have on children or whether love for learning comes from nature or nurture. I often saw my mother reading a book at the end of the day. I knew that reading was one of the few luxuries that she allowed herself, and I was anxious to learn to read. I love reading to this day, my children love to read, and now my grandchildren are developing a love for reading. How much of this love for reading from through the genes, and how much came from parental example? We will never know, but we know it is a blessing.

Lois M. Collins wrote an interesting article titled “Back to school: How to make sure your child is ready to launcha successful school year.” She includes quotes from both parents and experts who suggest some ideas that I did not consider.

One family attended “a school-sponsored scavenger hunt” and practiced “walking to school and crosswalk safety.” They also “tried hard over the summer to keep mealtimes and bedtimes consistent” to make the transition to school easier. The most important thing that they worked on was nurturing excitement and enthusiasm for school.

Some experts say academic success starts not with what you learn, but what’s in your mind to boost learning, including tools to self-calm, a sense of wonder and gratitude.

Gratitude releases dopamine and serotonin, relieving anxiety and depression. When you feel grateful, it’s easier to focus on things that are going well and see positives, rather than dwelling on negatives and what has gone wrong, says Anne Grady, author, speaker and resilience expert from Austin, Texas. While lots of parents focus primarily – even exclusively – on grades, Grady says social well-being is an integral part of doing well in school.

She suggests figuring out what success means in your own family, then working backward from there to achieve it. Such a journey will inevitably have highs and lows, but that’s not something to fear. Parents need to help instill a mindset that struggles, challenges and even failure are not just bumps in the path to success, but building blocks to it, “because they are how we grow and strengthen ourselves,” adds Grady, author of “Strong Enough: Choosing Courage, Resilience and Triumph,” among other books.

Grady also emphasizes self-care and says parents have to model it themselves. Good self-care includes being physically active, but also taking time to meditate and practice mindfulness. That’s a major help to student academic success, as well.

“It sounds touchy-feely, but it’s really brain training,” says Grady, who notes that meditation involves focusing on the present and being attentive in the moment, skills most people lack. “We think so much about everything but what we are doing right now. When your child talks to you, put down the phone and give 100 percent of your attention. … Be where you are when you’re there.”

            I found Grady’s suggestions to be interesting. I would never have thought that teaching gratitude to my children could help them to be better students. I also like the idea that “struggles, challenges and even failures” are building blocks. 

            Another idea suggested in the article is for parents of students who struggled the previous year. Tell the children that it is a new year and a new opportunity to succeed. Another is for students who have difficulty separating from parents: put a picture of the family in the lunch box so the student can look at it whenever they need reassurance. Another suggestion is something will help students who feel different – such as speaking a foreign language: “reframe anything that might make a child feel different as a superpower that makes them unique.”

            One mother gave the “most important advice for parents to ensure kids thrive is to listen to the kids. She says it’s a priority to spend at least 15 minutes one-on-one with each of her kids and let them talk about whatever’s on their mind.” Another mother says, “Always send kids off with a smile and greet them with a smile.”

            Other topics that the experts suggest for parents is about safety at school (everything from how to cross the parking lot to the possibility of terrorists coming to the school), grief for a loss (parental divorce, death of a loved one, move to a new area, loss of a friend), and bullying.

My daughter who is nearing 50 recently told me that she did not realize the strength that she received as a child and teenage by my being home when she got home and being willing to listen to her drama. She meets numerous people through her personal and work experiences who did not have that blessing, and she feels that many of their struggles later in life could have been eliminated if they were able to share their youthful drama with somebody who loved them.

            My counsel to parents is to be actively involved in the life of your child or teenager without being too involved. If possible, be there when they come home from school because this is the best time for them to share what happened during their time away from you. Parental attitudes, expectations, and time can determine whether a child merely attends school or thrives from the experience. Helping children and teenagers to thrive from their school experiences can strengthen families, communities, and nations.

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