The image of a terrarium many of us created as children illustrates what could occur in a child’s life if all of the various influences on their education work together to help the child grow. Conversations surrounding education naturally turn to the schools and teachers and curriculum, yet, there is one key influencer on a child’s education that is key: the home.
For some children, this home influence is a positive link in a child’s educational chain. For many others, this influence of the home reverberates in their lives and society in a devastating way.
Wrap-around services for impoverished neighborhoods in which educators and other sources come alongside the home are key. The U.S. Department of Education has funded a grant program called Promise Neighborhoods that “serves distressed communities by delivering a continuum of services through multiple government agencies, nonprofit organizations, churches, and agencies of civil society. These neighborhood initiatives use ‘wraparound’ programs that take a holistic approach to improving the educational achievement of low-income students.”
Yet, educational struggle is not a symptom only found in impoverished neighborhoods. While there are a myriad of reasons for the struggle, there are interesting studies looking into how we view education and talk about it with our children that might help to reframe the struggles many children and families face across economic lines.
Jim Stigler is a professor of psychology at UCLA who studies teaching and learning around the world, and through his studies he has found remarkable differences in how learning and education are viewed in different cultures.
"I think that from very early ages we [in America] see struggle as an indicator that you're just not very smart," Stigler says. "It's a sign of low ability — people who are smart don't struggle, they just naturally get it, that's our folk theory. Whereas in Asian cultures they tend to see struggle more as an opportunity."
How often do only certain children hear that they are ‘smart?’ Sadly, what many children hear is that their ability to learn is hindered by something outside of their control, when in reality, the process of learning could be seen as an opportunity which is hindered only by their efforts. This nuanced view of how we even speak about learning can have a powerful effect on how children view learning and themselves.
One popular learning website, Class Dojo, offers incredible “growth mindset series’ of videos in which ideas such as the brain being a muscle that can grow or the magic of mistakes encourage children (and parents) to lean into what could commonly be seen as a struggle. Children are encouraged to learn and grow and even make mistakes, because after all, the brain is a muscle that can be flexed and taught to learn. Even the mission of Class Dojo to “to reinvent classrooms by bringing teachers, students and parents closer together” speaks to this amazing harmony, which can occur when parents, children and school join together.
Children hear what we say and what we do not say, especially from those with whom they spend the great majority of their time: home and school. It is imperative that children not only hear, but also see and experience at home and at school that they are people of worth and that educational success is within their grasp. When children are encouraged at home and at school, children find that they have a voice. It is this kind of partnership that creates a cohesive learning terrarium in which children are nourished, encouraged and given the perfect environment for them to grow and thrive. And this harmony has an effect on all of us!