It's almost August so I can't help it. I'm not rushing the summer but I can't help thinking about the next school year. Especially since I have a new kindergartner. I know I'm not alone when I wonder....have we done enough to prepare the kids for academic success?
I was intrigued by this article from The Atlantic magazine which suggests that the number one thing we can do to prepare our children for a successful educational career is to instill in them a sense of curiosity:
The power of curiosity to contribute not only to high achievement, but also to a fulfilling existence, cannot be emphasized enough. Curiosity can be defined as "the recognition, pursuit, and intense desire to explore, novel, challenging, and uncertain events." In recent years, curiosity has been linked to happiness, creativity, satisfying intimate relationships, increased personal growth after traumatic experiences, and increased meaning in life. In the school context, conceptualized as a "character strength,” curiosity has also received heightened research attention. Having a "hungry mind” has been shown to be a core determinant of academic achievement, rivaling the prediction power of IQ.
According to the Atlantic piece, "curiosity is underemphasized in the classroom, but research shows that it is one of the strongest markers of academic success."
So how do we foster creativity and thereby academic success in our kiddos? According to Kathleen Burke, Director of Admission at Academy Hill School in Springfield, the number one thing you can do at home to prepare your child for a lifetime of learning is so simple.
"Read! Read, read, read to them," Burke said. "Read and answer their questions."
Burke oversees admission at Academy Hill -- a school for grades PreK through 8 where students are encouraged to find and focus on their passions. Her bullet list for encouraging curiosity at home:
- Instill a love of reading
- Point out interesting things while on errands
- Answer their questions (even for the 100th time) thoroughly. If you don't know the answer, figure it out together.
- Ask them questions 'why do you think that happened?' or 'what do you think will happen next?'
- Encourage their passions: dinosaurs, weather, outer space, comics. If your child has a targeted interest in a topic help them run with it.
- Take them new places. It doesn't have to be fancy -- on a hike, to a new museum, explore a new neighborhood.
According to The Atlantic:
"[O]utside of the classroom... the role parents play in fostering in their children an affinity for science by exposing them to new experiences that make them curious, for example, like taking them to museums. They found that such activities helped children develop an intrinsic motivation for science (e.g., “I enjoy learning new things in science; I like to find answers to questions in science”) and teacher ratings of student academic performance.
"Most importantly," said Burke, "you want to encourage your child's love of learning and make sure they know learning does not only happen in the classroom. Every day you have opportunities to teach your child."
Developing the following social skills is also an important part of early school success:
- ability to lead and follow
- willingness to try new things
- willing to accept correction
Many of these skills can be nurtured at home through board games played fairly -- where the child does not win every time. By holding children accountable for doing chores around the home. By letting them plan an activity for Saturday afternoon. Let preschoolers help in the kitchen and share responsibility for family pets. On the next trip to the grocery store, let them pick out a new-to-them fruit or vegetable and research together how its grown or its country of origin.
We're all born with an innate sense of curiosity and as long as we nurture the question asker inside, that reasoning should stay with us and grow as we do. If we can encourage our kids to love learning throughout life, school can become less of a chore and more of a joy.
According to the Atlantic article:
Yet in actual schools, curiosity is drastically underappreciated. As Susan Engel has documented in her book, "The Hungry Mind", amidst the country’s standardized testing mania, schools are missing what really matters about learning: The desire to learn in the first place...Stimulating classroom activities are those that offer novelty, surprise, and complexity, allowing greater autonomy and student choice; they also encourage students to ask questions, question assumptions, and achieve mastery through revision rather than judgment-day-style testing.
And this is what Academy Hill aspires to offer its students every day. As a current parent recently shared, "I value the opportunities that Academy Hill provides for our children to follow their curiosity through the Good Morning Show (daily K through Grade 5 presentations), our three-day Clusters and class projects that support greater depth of knowledge. As it has becomes increasingly more difficult in today's classrooms to provide the space and resources to pursue students' interest and curiosity, Academy Hill does a great job honoring this important trait."
Academy Hill School currently has openings for the 2017-18 school year. If you'd like to learn more about its unique program, please contact Kathleen M. Burke at 413-788-0300 x131 or email@example.com.
*Photos courtesy Academy Hill School.