Any strategy for communities must look at what we teach children

Strong and vibrant communities are the bedrock of society. The actions of families, friends and neighbours during the Covid-19 pandemic have often demonstrated communities at their best. Sadly, however, for many people community breakdown is a fact of life, and its effects are perhaps more apparent than ever.

Any long-term strategy to build stronger communities must involve looking at what we are teaching children in school. Today, more than ever, we need to raise the profile of community education to ensure that our children have the knowledge, skills and values to contribute positively to community life — to the mutual benefit of both.

Vibrant communities nurture and enrich us as individual human beings. The website Reference captures this well:

Communities are important because they allow people to interact with each other, share experiences, develop valued relationships and work toward a common goal. Without communities, people would have to live isolated lives with minimal or no contact outside of their immediate circle. Getting to know new people is essential to the enrichment of a person’s life.

Why Are Communities Important?, Reference

Conversely, community breakdown damages us and breaks us down as individual human beings. Consider this analysis from psychotherapist Dan L Edmunds:

One of the most destructive problems is the breakdown of community, and it is this breakdown that has often led to the breakdown of persons. Though we may put many around us, we are alone. Relationships have become superficial, there is no longer concern for the other, and we are pressed by societal and financial pressures to focus on our own survival. We do not concern ourselves much with the plight of others except a few we may call family or friends, and even then, our concern and attention is waning.

Distress and the Breakdown of Community, Dan L Edmunds EdD, BCSA

Life-based learning raises the profile of community learning by treating it as one of nine equal themes through which all subject learning can be delivered.

Life-based learning organises learning to address the modern-day challenges we face. The Society area of life — how we interact with each other — is taught through the themes of Communication, Relationships and Community.

The Community learning theme aims to deal with our lack of social cohesion, with too many young people alienated, lacking a sense of purpose in their lives and contributing little to society in consequence.

Community

Find out more about the Community learning theme

Life-Based Learning

Learn more about what life-based learning involves

An Urgent Priority

Why we need a long-term strategy to tackle community breakdown

Image at the head of this article by Gordon Johnson from Pixabay.

Bold thinking to tackle the blight of relationship breakdown

Why we need to make teaching children how to build happy, healthy and emotionally rewarding relationships a priority.

It is an inescapable fact that relationship breakdown has terrible, life-changing consequences — not least on children, far too many of whom are caught up in, or witness to, child and domestic violence, sexual violence, partnership breakup, family breakdown and the fallout from workplace stress.

It is a tragedy when just one child’s life is affected by such events. The reality, sadly, is far grimmer. National statistics paint a sobering picture of relationship breakdown in the home, the workplace and the wider community.

Here are just some of them, detailed on my Fractured Relationships webpage:

  • There are up to 3 million cases of child abuse, involving nearly 5.5 million children
  • Something like 5.4% of adults – in other words 1 in 18 adults, or 2.4 million people – suffer domestic violence
  • An estimated 20% of women and 4% of men experience some type of sexual assault after the age of 16
  • The UK continues to have some of the highest levels of family breakdown anywhere in the world
  • According to a 2018 UK workplace stress survey, 49% of all working days lost in 2016-2017 were reported as being due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety. The Health and Safety Executive cites relationship problems at work as one of the main drivers of workplace stress.

It would be foolish to believe that such problems can be solved quickly. There is support available for those who need immediate help and to deal with the human consequences of relationship breakdown.

However, we also need a longer-term strategy, one that is sufficiently radical and ambitious to address the root causes of relationship breakdown rather than just its symptoms. Part of that strategy needs to involve teaching children — the next generation of adults — about how to build happy, healthy and emotionally rewarding relationships with family, friends and fellow pupils.

Relationships is one of the nine life-based learning themes through which the Forum for Life-Based Learning believes the individual subjects of the UK National Curriculum should be taught, in order to equip children with the knowledge, skills and values to tackle the challenges they will meet as adults.

The Relationships learning theme arms children with key skills as they begin to construct an ever-expanding web of relationships at home, in school and in the wider world, including — ultimately — the workplace.

Relationships

Find out more about the Relationships learning theme

Life-Based Learning

Learn more about what life-based learning involves

An Urgent Priority

Why we need a long-term strategy to tackle relationship breakdown

Image at the head of this article by Steve Buissinne from Pixabay.

The UK Primary School National Curriculum needs an urgent reboot

The gap between what is known and what is delivered to children in the National Curriculum is every widening. 

For example: children learning about and looking after their bodies (1), their emotions (2) and their minds (3).

(1) Physiology scientists know more about the body, yet the National Curriculum focus is not on the knowledge and the skills children need to be genuinely supported in learning about and looking after the body. 

(2) Psychologists know more about how to develop emotional resilience (EQ if you like), but the knowledge is not applied to the learning set up in a consistent and intentional way so children are not getting the emotional development they could be getting.

(3) Cognitive neuroscientists know so much more about how the brain learns and therefore, how teachers can facilitate learning so that children can learn the way the brain works – it is not happening

Given the urgent challenges facing individuals in today’s fast moving and everchanging society, the sooner the National Curriculum gets its act together the better.

Harnessing the curriculum to fully nurture children’s ability to communicate

Effective communication is much more than just being able to read and write well. We urgently need an approach to learning that recognises the role that all curriculum subjects can play in developing children’s communication skills.

The National Curriculum in England for 5- to 11-year-old children places a huge emphasis on reading and writing. This means that not only is speaking given a back seat but also all other forms of communication. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that English is seen as the pre-eminent subject, to be taught separately from other subjects whose own role in fostering communication is neglected as a consequence.

Life-based learning brings together each of the curriculum’s individual subjects under the umbrella concept of communication education, opening up the possibility for all subject areas to contribute to and enrich children’s learning about communication in all its forms — reading, writing, mathematical, verbal, dance, drama, music, graphic/art and multi-media.

Through the Communication learning theme children’s learning is boosted by focusing not just on English and mathematics but on all the various ways that ‘information and understanding is passed from one person to another’ — the dictionary definition of communication.

The expressive arts — art, dance, drama and music — increase the breadth of children’s communication skills and strengthen their connection to the cultural and creative sphere.

Science, design and technology, history and geography all have their own communication languages for children to discover and set about mastering.

Learning a foreign language broadens horizons and opens up a world of amazing cultural and language diversity. Computing, itself a language, is the bedrock of the modern digital world.

In the life-based approach to learning, communication is the glue that joins individual National Curriculum subjects in a focused understanding that proficiency in each different subject language enhances our ability to communicate with others in increasingly rich and varied ways.

At the same time, the opportunity is there for teachers to ensure that facility in the use of spoken and written English permeates all subject learning, with children constantly increasing their vocabulary and their ability to express themselves through highly interactive, broad-based activities.

Communication

Find out more about the Communication learning theme

Study Action Areas

Specimen content for the Communication study action areas

An Urgent Priority

Why it is imperative that we act to improve children’s communication

Let’s go for change as we move into the 21st year in the 21st century

A change in the focus by the UK government in the education of primary school children — aged 5 to 11 years — is long over due to meet the urgent challenges of the 21st century.

It is clear our children need to learn to speak, read and write English, be proficient in mathematics and have an all=round education in all the other subjects that make up the National Curriculum in England — science, history, geography, art and design, computing, design and technology, a foreign language, music, physical education and PSHE.

But must the curriculum be taught as individual subjects that have little or nothing to do with each other?

How is it that we have not moved on since education was first rolled out to the masses in Queen Victoria’s 1870s in the expression of learning as no more than a bunch of subjects to be mastered?

The Life-Based Approach to Learning brings meaning to the education of our children by teaching the subjects through vitally important themes: children learn to know about and look after themselves in areas critical to their development; acquire the communication, relationship and community skills to meet the social challenges the country faces; and gain a grounding in the how and why of living sustainably, as we must all surely learn to do.

Oh! … and by the way: children’s progress in the core subjects of English and mathematics [and all the other subjects] will be the better for a fresh approach to education that is more than a jobs market competition.

What is our response to the damaging effects of social networking?

The Social Dilemma docu-drama, available on Netflix, is a must-watch for parents and teachers — and a wake-up call for us all.

The Social Dilemma is a 2020 American “documentary-drama hybrid” which explores the rise of social media and the phenomenon of social networking. In its own words it “explores the dangerous human impact of social networking, with tech experts sounding the alarm on their own creations.”

Parents and teachers know the hours children spend on devices of one sort or another and how much technology is capable of eating into family life and home learning. Many schools have banned mobile phones, worried about the impact on learning in school.

However, there is a much more sinister side to social media, according to the documentary-makers. The damage it is causing — including to our children — is alarming and perhaps not what we might expect.

If you have access to Netflix, I highly recommend this 94-minute programme. If not, follow the links below to see excerpts and to watch a discussion involving some of the people who made the programme.

Official Clip 1

Official Clip 2

Discussion

As parents and teachers, we share a common desire — as well as a responsibility — to safeguard our young people. We want young people to be confident and creative users of information and communication technology. At the same time, online safety — especially in relation to young people and social media — is one of the major public health issues of our time.

In addition to safeguarding implications, social media also impacts on the way we communicate with each other and the relationships we form as well as on our mental health and wellbeing.

Life-based learning addresses those challenges directly. It prioritises giving children the knowledge and skills to look after their mental wellbeing, to communicate effectively and to create positive, long-lasting relationships in vibrant communities.

Click here to read more about the Emotions, Communication and Relationships learning themes.

It’s important for children to learn about non-verbal communication


The ability to communicate non-verbally is a key ingredient in strong relationships. It makes sense, therefore, that — from a young age — children should be learning all about what is involved in communicating effectively with others, non-verbally as well as verbally.

Non-verbal communication is the reality for all of us as we start out in life as new-born babies. And as we grow and our verbal communication skills develop, so the non-verbal develops as well.

The development of children’s understanding and effective use of non-verbal communication skills is crucial in their development of positive and lasting relationships.

Yet the non-verbal is largely ignored and, at best, misunderstood in the current UK National Curriculum for primary school children aged 5 to 11.

The life-based approach to learning, on the other hand, focuses on teaching children the importance of non-verbal communication.

Paralanguage

Body language

The Dynamic


The relationships theme brings research on paralanguage, body language and the relationship dynamic into the classroom to help children learn that interaction with others is made up of much more than merely the words spoken.

Click here to read more about how life-based learning will tackle relationships education as one of nine learning priorities for children aged 5 to 11.


Image at the top of this post courtesy of Tumisu on Pixabay


Fern Britton’s brilliant interview with Linford Christie

Teachers need to learn from Fern Britton’s excellent use of para- and body language in her recently shown BBC TV interview with Linford Christie.

I was as much taken by Fern Britton’s interview technique as I was fascinated by Linford Christie’s personality and achievements.

Fern oozes oodles of empathy in her body language with her warm and engaged facial expressions, positive gestures and body movement.

Her tone, pitch and speed of voice is spot on.

She gave the impression she knew Linford well. Whether she did or not, she was certainly very relaxed in her interactions with Linford – the mark of a true interviewer.

Not once did she falter in her interview technique, even when asking Linford about difficult times he faced in his life.

Of course, teaching a class of school children is not the same as interviewing. However, unconditional positive regard for children, positive voice, positive body language and use of language to obtain the best response from children still applies.

The Life-Based Relationship Learning Theme includes children knowing about and practising how to communicate positively in their relationships with others.

Image credit: What Is Paralanguage? by Ashish Arora

Why should KS1&2 music be taught with a communication focus?

The UK government’s National Curriculum subject of music for 5- to 11-year-old children is in desperate need of a boost as an educationally overlooked, but highly social, vehicle of communication between people.   

Music is a ubiquitous communication tool permeating society 24/7 through radio, television, stage productions and online digital platforms such as YouTube and Spotify.

Every country has its music identity and, if Andre Rieu’s concerts are the yardstick to go by, there is a shared identity across many countries and continents.

Music is a key component of religions and religious festivals such as Christmas and provides unique identity to religions — for example, Gregorian chant, gospel music, the Islamic call to prayer, or the wind and percussion instruments of Mahayana Buddhism.

The life-based approach to learning gives increased status to music in the curriculum.

Children learn an instrument to play to others, learn a song to sing to others, learn about different kinds of music to share with others and bring their experiences of music into the school to share.

Children learn the more varied their own tastes in music, the more opportunities there are in life to share people’s different tastes in music and the more they improve their options to communicate with others.

Through music, children’s confidence, self-esteem and emotional resilience improves as does their brain development and ability in other subjects.

The school itself models music’s powerful connection to others through class lessons, assemblies, concerts, choirs, drama productions and talent shows.

As previously posted on this website, the ‘Standing Ovation Project’ uses music and the arts to strengthen children’s sense of community.

Click here to read more about how ‘Communication’ is one of nine life-based learning themes through which all learning is directed.

Pressure on teachers to do more than teach the current curriculum

Life-based learning offers a solution to preserve the core educational purpose of education and meet the increasing social demands on schools.

Amanda Spielman in her address to mark the launch of Ofsted’s Annual Report 2019/20, identifies ‘the pressure on schools to do more than teach their current curriculum’

She adds, ‘The [Covid] crisis has really shown us how important schools are to the fabric of society, given how much they now do beyond their core educational purpose.’

She goes on to list the many demands on schools and raises the question, ‘Are we getting the balance right’ providing ‘the core job of education’ plus ‘extensive roles beyond education’

For me it is not a question of either/or. It is not one to the exclusion of the other.

The Life-Based Approach to Learning for primary schools children combines the core educational purpose with the greater demands of 21st Century living by teaching the subjects through life themes.

Follow the MAC link to explore indicative ways of enlivening the current curriculum.

[Life-Based Learning is an innovative and ground breaking approach to learning that meets urgent personal. social and environment challenges through the rearrangement of National Curriculum in England Key Stages 1 & 2 subject content.]