Teach Your Children Well So They Will Thrive

Here are a few questions that we should all ask as educators and parents . . .

“How do we create environments in which children thrive? How do we help them find, and keep, the sparks that kindle deep interest and real engagement with learning? How do we help them to live up to their potential? Advance their abilities to contribute? Find meaning? Develop their most genuine selves? These are the questions we need to ask, to think about, to work on. Given all the time, money, concern, and love we expend on our children, let’s make sure that we’re focused on the questions that really matter.”

That’s a passage from Teach Your Children Well by Madeline Levine. She helps us find ways we can nurture and develop the talents that we see in our children. She calls their natural talents, “superpowers” and notes that kids can have several.

Find the Superpower

“These are the skills, talents, and interests that come naturally to children and that give them pleasure. While we may rejoice over a kid who has a superpower in math and worry about the kid whose superpower is being on the phone for long periods of time figuring out the social problems at school, both of these aptitudes have the potential to contribute to a life of meaning and satisfaction—whether you’re an engineer, a mathematician, an organizational psychologist, or a mediator.”

Name and Celebrate It

“Name and celebrate your child’s superpowers—it will feed his sense of being known and understood, will encourage him to stay engaged with learning, and will fortify his relationship with you.”

Here are a few more passages I took note of as I read this great book.

Let Our Children Lead The Way

“Children will be most successful when they decide which interests and talents to pour their hearts into. This is the work of growing up, to choose a life’s work (or as we go forward, more likely several kinds of work) and to understand that some interests become hobbies and some become passions and ultimately we allocate our resources accordingly. For some kids these passions turn into a medical degree from Harvard, for others a teaching credential from Bank Street College, and for others a stint in Hollywood learning the ropes of the film industry.”

Encourage Outdoor Play

“The outdoors, which is free, is rarely considered a learning environment. But in fact, it is one of the most important learning environments available to our children. “Go out and play” may have gotten us out of our own mothers’ hair, but it also encouraged us to figure out how to socialize with our own “tribe” as well as how to appreciate the natural world. No educational toy in the world can hold a candle to creek walks and abandoned lot expeditions.”

Limit Extracurriculars

“But David Elkind, the godfather (well, actually the maven) of healthy child development, says that children of this age should, at most, have three extracurricular activities—one social (Scouting, church or synagogue youth program), one physical (Little League, dance), and one artistic (piano lessons, drawing)”

This is something to consider. I know plenty of families that are constantly shuttling kids around from activity to activity. Kids need time to play and explore. They don’t have to be constantly entertained and engaged in some activity. We do them a disservice when we don’t give them free, unstructured time.

As Levine writes, “The lack of unstructured play for youngsters is associated with less enthusiasm for learning, diminished creativity, and poorer social skills.”

Older Children Need Meaningful Work

“The widespread boredom reported by teens could easily be ameliorated if parents, schools, and communities provided opportunities for meaningful work for teens. Jobs, chores, mentoring, and volunteer work all contribute to teens’ sense that they have something unique and important to add to their community. Participation in these kinds of activities helps teens develop competence, independence, connection, and real self-esteem. It gives them a sense of being relevant, and helps them to construct an identity greater and more robust than the sum of their test scores and trophies.

But community service is certainly not the only way that kids advance their sense of identity in adolescence. This is a time when teens actually have the physical, cognitive, and emotional capacity to embark on deep exploration of the things that interest them, whether those things are athletic, intellectual, or entrepreneurial. Summer internships during high school can strengthen an interest and bring high school students into a mentoring relationship with an adult already established in the field.”

Parenting Always Asks a Lot

“The fact is, parenting isn’t a job, it’s multiple new jobs every couple of years. You’re the parent of an infant, a toddler, a child, a preteen, a teen, a young adult, and an adult. While there are great commonalities to the job description at each of these stages, there are also profound differences.

Parenting continually asks us to grow and develop. There are three things that stand out as being critical to our ability to adapt and grow along with our children. The first is self-reflection, that is, truly understanding our histories and ourselves. The next is the ability to tune in to another’s state of mind, or empathy. And finally, flexibility ensures that we have a repertoire of parenting skills so that we can bring our best game to the parenting table.”

This was a great read. I took more notes that I shared here too. Perhaps I will write a follow up piece here or over at Know School.

My 2021 Reading Log – with dozens of book reviews like this