There is a lot going on in the world, and this stuff is impacting students. Kids get all sorts of signals: from friends, news, parents, and social media. Pandemic, natural distasters, and stressful electoral politics mix with economic uncertainty and not just students, but also adults, are emotionally charged.
When the brain feels great big emotions, it is hard to think. That’s because the emotional center of the brain, whose job it is to identify and respond to threat, is in overdrive. The thinking part of the brain that reasons, uses data and evidence, and seeks perspective is diminished, and we find ourselves acting on emotions instead of thinking through problems, identifying concrete steps to meet challenges, and even finding opportunities. That’s normal – emotions overcome thinking every time. Managing emotions to get to the thinking brain is super hard.
At this time of upheaval, please consider that if you are stressed, so is your kid. They may not be in prime learning mode. You cannot expect them to simply learn as much as they would in an optimized environment.
So what to do? How to make the most of this school year?
First: in education there are two main objectives for students to develop: skills (ie reading, note taking, writing, math processes, etc) and knowledge (content learning, such as history, insights in literature, scientific facts, etc). This is a great year to focus on skills and let the content learning go. Prioritize skills that accumulate, meaning you have master something before you can engage in learning something else. Math and languages are prime examples of this. The other skills to consider are those that a student already has and that you don’t want them to lose, primarily reading and writing. So, if all your kid does this year is keep up in math, read books, and write every day, it will be a very fruitful year. Don’t worry if they aren’t able to memorize all the bones in the body – they can do that later!
Second: Set up a brain-friendly school schedule! Based on what I just said, you can request the schedule includes math, reading, and writing. Then it’s a great time to add in active classes like art and PE. If the kids are active, creating, and moving, these classes will provide avenues for decreased stress. This will ultimately enhance learning! Ideally, students could also do these classes with friends to get the social dimension. Later, once the world takes a breath, the kids can get back to focusing on other academic classes, but for now, you are likely to have a happier and more successful student if you limit academics to reading/writing/math and flesh out coping with art, PE, and socialization. Set up this ideal schedule now, at the beginning of the year, while you have the chance!
Third: this is a great time for students to focus on developing their systems, routines, and habits around getting things done! The skills involved in getting things done are collectively referred to as Executive Functions. These can include planning, prioritizing, focusing, managing time and energy, getting tasks started, etc. These skills are not fully developed in the teenage brain, and these are the skills that employers will want to see in future employees. Executive Function skills also allow students to be able to adapt to uncertain times and new situations. To develop these skills, consider Family or one-to-one academic coaching. That’s what I’m here for! Reach out and we can consult on your situation.
Good luck with the new school year – and remember, the kids are going to be okay!