If you have a school-aged child, even in Prep (or whatever you call the year before First Grade), you probably already know all about Literacy and Numeracy. Education systems seem to be so focused on teaching kids to read, write and work with numbers they cut Music classes, Art teaching positions and other “non-essential” subjects and put enormous pressure on children with standardized literacy and numeracy tests.
In Australia, there is now something called NAPLAN – National Assessment Program for Literacy and Numeracy, officially described like this: “Every year, all students in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9 are assessed on the same days using national tests in Reading, Writing, Language Conventions (Spelling, Grammar and Punctuation) and Numeracy”.
This means that absolutely NOTHING else matters to most of the teachers and parents of students in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9. After having quite a bit of fun in Prep and Years 1 and 2, the poor kids in Year 3 are taught things by the book, tested every week, deprived of play time, music, art, sport and extracurricular activities and subjected to constant pressure to perform. State Education ministers go nuts from it, so Department of Education executives go nuts from it, so principals go nuts from it, so teachers go nuts from it, so students go nuts from it.
The same thing happens all over again 2, 4 and 6 years later.
And that is really bad.
Because learning should be fun and because all that stress actually blocks learning.
Think back to your time at school for a moment, particularly to 3rd Grade. Could you study well when you were tired? Could you concentrate in class when you were hungry or when you had to go to the toilet? Was it easy for you to work with numbers after witnessing your parents having a big fight the night before? How well did you do on exams when your dog died or your best friend moved away?
Not too well, right?
School systems are just like conventional medicine – they focus on the symptoms, ignore the personal context and completely miss the underlying issues. They do it because the symptoms, literacy and numeracy in this case, are easy to test and measure. It stands to conventional reason that by teaching more reading, students’ reading will improve and by administering more math homework, students will get more practice and get better with numbers.
Ronit and I see just how wrong this approach is with every child that comes to our assessment service. One after the other, parents bring children aged 5 to 14, asking for help with their performance at school. One after the other, these children reveal gaps in their learning due to emotional traumas and communication style incompatibility with their past or present teachers. Ronit advises all of their parents to handle their emotional wellbeing first and one after the other, they pick up speed in their studies as soon as they are able to smile and feel free.
We have seen close correlations between gaps in reading, writing and math skills due to the illness and death of a father. Would you care how much 2 + 5 was if your father was dying?
We have seen gaps in academic performance due to frequent changes of teachers. Young children look up to their teachers and idolize them. That is why they trust their teaching and follow their instructions. Would you be able to trust your 6th Grade 1 teacher after being “deserted” by the previous 5?
We have seen children whose mother or father had a mental disorder, which forced them to help extensively at home and gave other students at their school plenty of bullying material. Would you be able to motivate yourself even to go to school if this were your situation?
When a child is overwhelmed by strong emotions, pressure to perform only makes things worse. The child feels ignored, abused, rejected and belittled. They lose trust in teachers, parents and sometimes even in “grownups” in general. So they hide their challenges, which makes them even harder to detect, and they go on missing more and more spelling, grammar, arithmetic, shapes, money, graphs and all those other things that show up later as low test scores.
What kids really need to learn is not literacy or numeracy, it is “emotionacy”. They need to learn how to recognize and manage their emotions. They need to be encouraged to express themselves, to explore and to learn what and how they like. They need to be valued as people-in-the-making (my kids have an awesome music teacher who refers to her students as “short people”) and to be developed based on their own choices.
Reading something interesting is far more beneficial than reading standard text. Sure, it is not as easy to monitor and regulate, but kids who follow their heart LOVE to read. They read without any external pressure, they learn far more from what they read and they read so much that their level of literacy is actually better over those who are forced to read standard boring stuff.
Give any child a cool science project where they need to measure quantities, calculate fractions, draw a graph and analyze numerical data and they will jump for joy at each discovery and conclusion. They will remember the experiment forever, keep the results in their room for months, show it to everyone and proudly EXPLAIN the math to anyone who will listen. In the context of something exciting, kids have all the skills for math.
Pay attention to how a child learns – by writing and drawing, by listening and talking or by doing – and adapt your teaching to it and all of a sudden, a “slow” child seems “bright”. Suddenly, they like coming to class or doing their homework, they love the teacher (or you, their parent) and their scores improve dramatically.
Find out how a child feels, no matter how long it takes and how difficult it is for them to describe (particularly at a young age), help them feel better and you will get a bundle of joy that finds little in class challenging. Use stories, symbolic play with dolls, drawings or any other non-verbal method and you will discover the blocks to natural learning. Give affirmations, touch, quality time, little presents and helpful services and you will see moping turning into energy and a long face becoming a smile.
When you need to teach a child something, present it as a game. Learning happens much better when it is fun and then, the child wants to learn even more, because it is fun. Kids would play games all the time if they could, so just let them. Use their endless energy and fill their games with useful learning and they will be unstoppable.
Academic performance is natural for children when they can “afford it” mentally. When they are too busy surviving emotionally, they can learn nothing, but no matter what their top potential is, they will get a lot closer to it when they are happy.
So check your child’s emotionacy and help them get better at it. Write your local representative and speak out at parent-teacher meetings and parent-body gatherings. What your kids need is emotional intelligence and the rest will follow.
P.S. A good starting point is to work on your own happiness, because happy parents raise happy kids.