Empowering Children

The DIFFERENCES Between an ACTIVE and a PASSIVE Childhood can Last a Lifetime.

Empowering children now will inform empowered adults later.

Warning! I am about to make a huge generalization. It is true, every child is unique, just like snowflakes. But, I view them from the perspective of an educator. I have had the opportunity to objectively and comparatively see hundreds of children over my lifetime. And in time, patterns among children do seem to form.

My first job in a classroom was in 2005. I started as an assistant who was then encouraged to work toward a teaching certificate. My first lead teaching job was in 2008. Since then, I’ve had the opportunity to work at schools possessing very different demographics and very different types of childhoods. Kids who have varied in background, in household dynamics and of course experiencing different styles of parenting.

No matter the background, one thing seems to be consistently true. If a child is encouraged to live an active childhood, they tend to be harder workers and better problem solvers. If a child is allowed to live a passive childhood, they tend to be more difficult to motivate and will often look to others to solve their problems.

What do I mean by active vs. passive childhood? An active childhood is one where a child is encouraged to create and to think for themselves. They are expected to carry their weight at home, to share chores and be responsible for their own learning. Even more, they are given free, unstructured time just to be alone, to be still.

A passive childhood would then be the opposite.

Living Within a Virtual World

Passive to me is an over-scheduled childhood. One who has no say in how they spend most minutes within their day. They are simply running in and out of their parent’s minivan, being pointed in the direction they need to go.

At home, the messaging is inconsistent. They might be asked to help out with chores but little consequence follows when they don’t complete them.

When they aren’t on the run, they spend a lot of time sitting on the couch. Or worse yet, sitting in their bedroom alone. Only, they don’t realize they are alone. Instead of living in our three-dimensional world, they are living in a virtual one. Wasting away hours on the device of their choice.

And they don’t want you to tell them, “5 more minutes.” Instead, they get agitated and angry, maybe in a way you have never seen your child react before. They need their fix.

Case in point: This year my class was 100% Virtual over the winter holidays. Under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t encourage a show and tell of gifts received. But, being virtual and away from friends, I did whatever I could to try to keep their spirits up. A student asked if each could show their favorite new gift to the class. I thought, why not?

During that show and tell session, I noticed another pattern. The kids in my class who have proven themselves to be more independent, to be better problem solvers and to come up with more creative ideas were the ones showing off creative gifts (and not expensive ones). They were excited for art supplies, cameras, lego and embroidery kits, cross stitch. They spent their days off outside, or planning creative projects for the new year.

The kids in my class who struggle to be independent, who lack motivation, weren’t showing off those kind of gifts. They were talking about video games and gaming consoles, about new devices and Smartphones. They spent their days off sitting on the couch, playing games in a virtual world.

To Screen or NOT to Screen, that is the Question

You might also notice a pattern developing within my blog posts. I am not a fan of screens. Before the pandemic, I strongly advocated against screen time. This is true ESPECIALLY in my physical classroom.

Mandated Reading and math ‘interventions’ looking like video games? Hogwash. If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is.. (a duck?)

Go back and read earlier blogposts, like SCREEN TIME. You will clearly pick up on the fact that I am looking forward to the day when we need to rely less on screens for education. That’s right, I said LESS. Much less, despite the educational trend in the other direction. And here’s why.

The Device Pandemic

I’ve noticed a major shift in children over the last 15 years. I started to first notice this shift around 2010-2011. For myself, this was the first year I broke down and bought a Smartphone.

I’m not going to lie, I now depend on my phone in ways I couldn’t anticipate. Sometimes it’s difficult for me to ignore it, to put it down. I sneak texts out pretty much everywhere I am, no matter what I’m doing. I often think to myself, thank goodness we didn’t have these things when we were growing up. Atari was more than enough.

And then I started to notice the kids. More and more started showing up to school with Smartphones. At first, it was ‘for emergencies.’ Such as, “I’m home alone after school for an hour, so my parents want to be able to get a hold of me.”

Fair enough. However, I can’t help but look back on my latchkey childhood days. I often think to myself, we survived without mobile phones when we were kids, why can’t kids today do that too?

Montessori Blog - Empowering Children - Grumble Services Learning Resources Blog Post

I can’t help but look back on my latchkey childhood days. I often think to myself, we survived without mobile phones when we were kids, why can’t kids today do that too?

Then the notes started to come in: “Can my child bring his Kindle to school? He refuses to read anything else.” Hmmmm.

I started to hear stories about pre-schoolers being able to navigate iPads or similar devices better than most adults were able. I saw younger siblings waiting on the playground after school with their parents, focused on the device in hand while other kids played on the tot lot.

And then one day, about two years ago, I left school around the same time as the kids for an appointment. While pulling out of the teacher parking lot, I saw a 4th grade girl jetting out onto the sidewalk in front of me.

Like a zombie, her eyes were fixated on her Smartphone, bigger than I would ever have. I hit my breaks to avoid running into her (okay maybe not that dramatically, but I did hit my breaks). And.. she didn’t even notice! She just walked on by, eyes glued to her phone screen.

SIX Strategies for Empowering Children

Independence sometimes feels like a lofty but unobtainable goal for your child. I’m here to tell you it isn’t! If you are reading this blogpost in the first place, you probably are the type of parent already doing a lot of things right. But, maybe your child isn’t quite there or something is a little bit off. Maybe, you just need a few reminders.

By providing just the right amount of support, space, challenge and positive feedback, you can nurture your child’s drive toward self-reliance and an effective adult life. Empowering children can be tricky. Here are six strategies for empowering children:

1. Significantly limit your child’s screen time. 

Screen time is an unavoidable reality of modern childhood, with children of every age spending hours upon hours in front of tablets, smartphones and televisions.

Too much screen time impedes the development of the abilities caregivers are so eager to encourage. The ability to focus, to concentrate, to be attentive, to sense other people’s moods and to communicate with them, to build a large vocabulary—screen time harms all of these.

According to recent research, 97% of youth play video games; nearly three-quarters of them have an online social networking profile (Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, etc.); 91% have a mobile phone; and the typical teen sends an average of 10 text messages per hour!

It’s no surprise to me that I repeatedly hear kids complain about how boring school can be. Compared to its competition, formal education doesn’t even come close to holding a student’s attention. Experts are beginning to believe children are even exhibiting some key signs of addiction.

2. The older your child gets, the more helpful they should be to you.

If your child has been doing chores around the house since they were little, you are well aware of how beneficial this has been for your family. At these ages, your child can handle even more responsibility.

Ask yourself, What chores are important for my child to learn? What are they capable of doing? Remember they are capable of much more than you sometimes think!

Some age-appropriate responsibilities 
for elementary aged children might include:

  • Be responsible for their own homework
  • Have complete responsibility for bedrooms on a daily basis (Make bed; put clothes, toys, & projects away;  straighten dresser drawers & closet, etc.)
  • Do more difficult cleaning projects around the house (Scrubbing the kitchen floor, windows, doing laundry, etc.)
  • Make grocery lists, put away groceries and help prepare simple meals
  • Take care of younger siblings with a caregiver at home
  • Do unsupervised yard work: (Lawn mowing, shoveling, edging, clean-up, gardening)
  • Handle small sums of money ($10-20) & plan budgets for activities
  • Work summer jobs  (Lawn mowing, dog sitting, babysitting, odd jobs for vacationers)

3. Empowering Children means allowing time each day for unstructured, unsupervised creative play. 

Structured play, also known as goal-oriented play, generally involves using logic to solve problems, while unstructured play or free play is creative and open-ended. Both are necessary to your child’s development and will cultivate traits encouraging lifelong learning.

However, in the day and age of screen time and over-scheduling, children are losing the opportunity for critical unstructured play. Unstructured, unsupervised creative play allows children to make independent choices, to be bored, to develop curiosity and to explore possibilities.

Find a safe environment where your child can explore and reflect without constant adult supervision. No one needs to be entertained every moment of every day!

4. Empowering Children means giving Them Choices!

Let’s be honest. Being a kid means feeling very little power or control over one’s own life. During a highly restrictive pandemic, that sense of power lessons even more.

You can counter feelings of powerlessness by giving children opportunities where they regain a sense of control. This, in turn, helps them to feel more empowered. 

From a young age, encourage children to make decisions directly relating to them. Choice and voice go together. Allowing your child choice gives them a voice in what directly relates to them and their daily life.

These can be small things, like the ability to choose activities to complete, or an opportunity to share with others what motivates them or what their interests are.

Montessori Blog - Empowering Children - Grumble Services Learning Resources Blog Post
Shedd Aquarium, Chicago 2017

5. Do everything you can to get your child to sleep earlier and to sleep more soundly. 

Everyone does better after a good night’s rest. In fact, I firmly believe the solution to most child challenges is one of the big three: Good sleep, good meal, or good exercise. Current research suggests that exercise may be the strongest positive influence among these.

Unfortunately, too many things can get in the way: Snoring siblings, too much light, going to bed too late, a messy or non-restful sleep environment, over-exhaustion, too much screen time too close to bed, diet and exercise. All these things affect your child’s ability to sleep.

Power off regularly to help your child understand the clear boundaries between the virtual world and the real world. 

Store all devices in a neutral location each night away from your child’s bedroom. Make sure you know they are stored away each night and not going to bed with your child. Depending on your child, you might even consider keeping devices in your bedroom at night.

Is your child still struggling to get out of bed on time for school? Try setting the alarm 10 minutes earlier each morning. Despite the popular trend, children do need to be at school on time.

6. Empowering Children means giving them specific and authentic feedback. 

There are times when we have to dig deep to find an appropriate feedback response that will not discourage a child’s learning. Rather than “good job” or “you’re so smart” say, “you must be so proud.” or “I can tell you put a lot of effort into __.” Giving specific and authentic praise supports your child’s development. That is, the belief that intelligence is not fixed but instead can be enhanced by hard work and effort.

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Try to take things one day at a time. Little changes today can have big impacts on tomorrow. Allow your child to make mistakes and try to keep in mind that you don’t have to fix everything for her or him. As an adult, you can make mistakes too! We all do.

Also try to remember you are not alone and many people are invested in your child’s experiences and development. The old adage states, “it takes a village to raise a child.” The village is here to help you whenever we can!

Together we can explore even more ways to help in empowering children.

Do you have more suggestions for empowering children? Do you have a suggestion for another blog topic? Please send me an email with your ideas and experiences at grumble.services@gmail.com.

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Involving Children in Our World

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References & Read More:

Kids Talk Newsletters

Teens, Social Media & Technology Overview 2015 by Amanda Lenhart

20 Ways To Provide Effective Feedback For Learning by TeachThought Staff

Giving children authentic and specific praise and feedback

The Center for Parenting Education