Education methods have always aimed to ensure future generations are fully prepared to contribute to the working force as adults. But what about preparing children to also function as social members of society? More recent approaches to education are now focusing on developing wholesome, happy children with the ability to develop healthy relationships and persevere through the trails of life.
1. Teaching Grit
Is there a trait that can be taught, to help a child succeed into adulthood? Research suggests the answer is, “yes.” Students who have ‘grit’ are more likely to overcome challenges in life and accomplish big goals. Grit contains several traits and behaviors that ultimately shape a person’s attitude and approach toward life:
- Goal-directedness: Knowing where to go and how to get there.
- Motivation: A strong will to achieve identified goals.
- Self-control: Avoiding distractions and focusing on the task at hand.
- Positive mind-set: Embracing challenge and viewing failure as a learning opportunity.
The mindset of persistence and drive can be developed in children as early as age three. Through structured play, written and verbal rules help children learn self-control and focus. Children are also taught to achieve goals through careful planning, envisioning success and navigating obstacles. Understanding how their goals relate to their interests helps students maintain a personal obligation to reach their ambitions. Teaching a growth mindset is also important to teach grit. Students who have a growth mindset believe that intelligence and talent are developed and improved through hard work and dedication. Those who do not have this mindset are convinced that these qualities are innate and stagnant. Activities that occur outside of school life are also crucial to helping children relate perseverance to the ‘real world.’ This may include sports, dance, or music, which are structured and require self-discipline, overcoming challenges and provide opportunities for improvement. Having grit ultimately provides students with the attitude and tools they need to succeed through the ups and downs of life.
2. Social and Emotional Learning (SEL)
Both classrooms and workplaces are diverse with people from different backgrounds and cultures, giving strong reason to develop prosocial behaviors in children. Social Emotional Learning (SEL) provides a foundation for positive learning, which research has shown increases academic achievement. Effective SEL help students develop five important skills:
- Self-awareness: Understanding one’s own emotions, goals, values, limitations, strengths, and how they are all interconnected.
- Self-management: The ability to regulate emotions and behaviors to manage stress and impulses.
- Social awareness: Empathy and compassion for those who are different, while recognizing social norms in various situations.
- Relationship skills: The ability to maintain healthy and rewarding relationships by communicating clearly, actively listening, cooperating, resisting inappropriate social pressure, resolving conflict and asking for help.
- Responsible decision making: Learning to make choices by considering ethics, safety, risk, consequences and other people
One approach to teaching SEL is by directly creating lessons that describe social and emotional skills, followed by opportunities for students to practice these skills. SEL instruction can also be implemented into English language arts, social students, or math. Positive teacher-student interactions also model positive social-emotional behaviors for students, while promoting engagement. SEL essentially teaches important social and life skills that help children be mindful when interacting with others and the world around them, promoting long-term mental health and happiness.
3. Reggio Emilia Approach
“What children learn does not follow as an automatic result from what is taught, rather, it is in large part due to the children’s own doing, as a consequence of their activities and our resources,” stated Loris Malaguzzi, the founder of Reggio Emilia approach. Rather than a student being spoken to by a lecturer, Malaguzzi understood learning as a more multifaceted process.
This philosophy includes three teachers:
- Parents: Are active partners and help guide the child’s education.
- Classroom teachers: Acts as a researcher, seeking and chasing the child’s interest (perhaps spontaneously) and engaging them in meaningful work and conversation, instead of following rigid curriculum to replicate outcomes.
- The environment: A setting to be functional, beautiful and reflective of learning.
Children studying under the Reggio Emilia philosophy are seen as inquisitive beings who thrive through the exploration of their interests. Parents and teachers encourage and guide the learning process and are seen as thriving learners as well. Rather than providing students with answers, they provide the tools, direction and additional learning opportunities for students to find the answers to their interests themselves. Art creation in a designated studio is also a very important aspect of this approach and teachers collaborate with each other to promote learning across classrooms.
4. Early Childhood Longitudinal Studies
Long-term studies following children into adulthood are now being implemented to analyze and improve educational methods. These longitudinal studies will provide insight into patterns over time with accurate data on educational trends. In addition, they are flexible and allow for the focus of the study to change during its course.
One longitudinal study followed low-income children for 40 years after they received a high-quality preschool program. These disadvantaged students were provided with excellent instruction, weekly home visits, health and nutrition information, training for parents and more. What they found was that four decades after the program, those low-income students ended up living their adult lives within the standards of middle class. This longitudinal study helped reveal what may be an educational formula for success.
One clear challenge with longitudinal studies are that they require a lot of time. Following any educational trend for decades equates to a lot of data in order for patterns to emerge. That time also requires commitment from a large study group to participate and can be quite costly.
Formerly known as STEM, ‘Art’ has now been added as a necessary subject of focus to create ‘STEAM’ (science, technology, engineering, art and math). The original idea behind STEAM focusing learning was to help prepare youth for future job needs, in turn helping the nation remain globally competitive. STEAM jobs have been increasing in the U.S. since 2010 with the growth of 3D technologies, artificial intelligence, alternative energy sources and more.
With the arts now considered a major part of academia, researchers believe both sides of the brain will be developed more equally in children than with the previous STEM focus. A study conducted by the University of Florida found that students who studied the arts for all four years of high school scored roughly 98 points higher on the SATS compared to those or studied the arts for half a year or less. Those who specifically student music appreciation scored 61 points higher on the verbal section and 42 points higher on the math section. Similarly to the skills gained learning cursive, music also gives learners the opportunity to develop motor skills, make decisions, problem-solve and build confidence. These skills can then be applied to other subjects and situations in a student’s life, making art an integral part of STEAM learning.