Let’s teach children why they are such quick learners

An excellent newspaper article on adult learning recommends adopting the mindset of a child to help in acquiring new skills. We know that young children are exceptionally quick learners, with an insatiable appetite for new knowledge and skills. But is there an argument for teaching them why they are such good learners?

The journalist and author Tom Vanderbilt has published a Long Read article in The Guardian called The child’s gamble: Why beginners make better learners. It is well worth a look. His description of learning a new skill alongside his daughter (in this case, the game of chess) will doubtless resonate with many parents, and there is plenty for people involved in educating children and young people to reflect on as well.

Vanderbilt is a champion of lifelong learning, highlighting not just the intrinsic benefit of acquiring new skills but also the positive impact on mental acuity and general wellbeing. The trick, he argues, is to think like a child:

Children, in a very real sense, have beginners’ minds, open to wider possibilities. They see the world with fresher eyes, are less burdened with preconception and past experience, and are less guided by what they know to be true.

They are more likely to pick up details that adults might discard as irrelevant. Because they’re less concerned with being wrong or looking foolish, children often ask questions that adults won’t ask.

Tom Vanderbilt, The child’s gamble: Why beginners make better learners

The Forum for Life-Based Learning also focuses on how children learn. We believe that children’s learning will be better if they are taught how the brain itself learns.

Let’s teach children about the role of the senses and sensory uptake, and about different types of memory — short-term, routine, working, operational and long-term.

But there is an important emotional dimension to learning as well. The current National Curriculum turns too many children off learning rather than engaging and motivating young minds and instilling a love of learning.

We need to combine what Vanderbilt refers to as “the spirit of the novice” — the open mind, the willingness to have a go, the courage to fail — with oodles of praise and encouragement. We need to make learning a pleasurable and rewarding experience, not a disagreeable chore.

The Mind is one of the nine life-based learning themes through which we believe 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.

If children know why they are such effective learners, they are more likely to carry that knowledge and that mindset into their adult lives — exactly in the way that Tom Vanderbilt advocates.

The Mind

Find out more about the Mind learning theme

Life-Based Learning

Learn more about what life-based learning involves

An Urgent Priority

Why we need a long-term strategy to improve children’s learning

Image at the head of this article by Anna Ventura from Pixabay

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.

Taking an active interest in nature will transform children’s mental health

One of the undoubted positives to come out of a year of unprecedented difficulties, challenges and misery is the abundance of evidence that an active interest in nature improves mental wellbeing. This needs to be properly reflected in the school curriculum.

Millions of people, their everyday lives and routines suddenly on extended pause, found themselves with plenty of time on their hands — time to look around, go for walks, get stuck into gardening or just nurture some seedlings in a window box. Time, in other words, to interact with and appreciate nature.

In a post in May we highlighted a Royal Horticultural Society poll in Britain that found that 71% of respondents felt that gardens and outdoor spaces had helped them with their mental health during the first Covid lockdown.

In the same week The Guardian reported that people were discovering that “growing plants does wonders”. It referred to a 2018 study which found that gardening produced similar benefits to cognitive behaviour therapy.

The article also quoted Dr Alan Kellas, of the Royal College of Psychiatrists: “There is considerable evidence that 120 minutes’ exposure to nature a week is a key factor in maintaining positive mental health.”

This surely applies as much to children as it does to adults. Our children need to be learning about plants and about nature more generally, including the impact on mental wellbeing. We need to engage children’s interest in direct ways so that learning about the world around us is ‘hands-on’ and experiential.

This might include looking for locally grown produce in supermarkets, linking plants to diet, cookery classes and flower science. All children should also be given experience of growing vegetables in the school garden.

The Merged Action Curriculum, an example of a life-based curriculum, has Plant Life and The Emotions as two of its nine curriculum themes — prioritising an appreciation of nature and mental wellbeing.

Image at the head of this article by congerdesign from Pixabay

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


History in schools can heal divisions and create a more tolerant society


It is crucial that children learn about what makes British society what it is today and their place in it.

The Guardian reported in October on research from the education charity Teach First, which found that children could complete their GCSEs without having studied a single literary work by a person of colour.

The same article quoted from the ‘lessons learned’ review of the Windrush scandal, which spoke of “the public’s and officials’ poor understanding of Britain’s colonial history, the history of inward and outward migration, and the history of black Britons.”

Black History Month, which runs every October, is now well established in Britain. ‘Themed’ days and weeks (and even months) can play a part in highlighting important issues, raising public awareness and galvanising people into action — provided that the message is not all but forgotten once the occasion is over. On the other hand, if a ‘theme’ is of such importance that it merits its own week or month, it is surely a legitimate question to ask why it is not embedded in the curriculum rather than being an add-on.

Amanda Spielman, Ofsted’s chief inspector, touched on these issues in remarks introducing Ofsted’s 2019–2020 annual report. She spoke of “efforts to commandeer schools and the curriculum in support of worthy social issues and campaigns.” Arguably, neither ‘commandeer’ nor ‘worthy’ are neutral terms in the context of her remarks.

With regards to growing calls for a more diverse curriculum, she posed two questions:

Is it because there is a fundamental issue with the national curriculum that limits exposure to diversity in literature, history, or geography? Or is it because there’s a widely held and justifiable assumption that changing things in school is the key to changing wider social attitudes?

Amanda Spielman, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Schools

Life-based learning was first developed as a response to weaknesses in the National Curriculum. Community is one of the nine learning themes of life-based learning. It is an attempt 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.

At the Forum for Life-Based Learning we believe that the study of history should give children a sense of what makes British society what it is today and their place in it. They should learn that they are part of a country with a rich and vibrant history.

The use of the ‘community’ concept to frame learning in history, social geography and citizenship deepens children’s understanding of — and strengthens their commitment to — society.

You can read more about the community learning theme here.


Image at the top of this post credited to Contraband Collection/Alamy, retrieved from this page on 19 December 2020

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.