HOW TO NURTURE YOUR CHILD'S STRENGTHS AND DEVELOPMENT
BY JOANNE ZAMMIT
When I was studying at university, very early on we were asked, what is our why? Why do we want to be teachers. For me, it was easy and still is today. I want children (and adults), to know their worth, to share their true individual gifts with the world, make a difference with their gift and know their purpose. This for me goes deeper, I want people to know that they are special, everyone is, we all have our own gifts, this increases self-esteem, self-worth, inner peace and then, in turn, makes people happier. And less jealousy, right? When people are in their own lane, focusing on bettering themselves to serve others, jealousy and envy are chucked out the window.
My first term of teaching a new year I would spend doing two things; building solid, trusting and meaningful relationships with my students and discovering their strengths (unique gifts). Luckily for me, one of my gifts is being able to pick up on what other’s strengths are quite quickly. I want to give you two scenarios of two different students I taught (for privacy reasons, I’ve changed the genders and their skills/abilities of the story). Two very different students in terms of cognitive development. Student A (let’s call him Tom) and student B (let’s call her Sarah). Tom was a special needs student and Sarah was a gifted and talented student (genius). Both hated school and hated learning, both were always in the Principal’s office. Every teacher before me would say the same, you won’t get them to learn. Wiping all labels aside, Tom and Sarah needed the same approach, they needed to know someone believed in them, they needed to be nurtured, they needed to share their strengths (then work on their weaknesses). Often as teachers and parents, we go straight to the problem and try to fix it, we spend 90% of our time focusing on the weakness that we forget about the strengths. How many times have you gone “my child is struggling with…my child can’t…their teacher says they are having trouble with…” I want to hear more often “my child can….my child excels in….my child loves to….” and it often starts as babies, “they won’t sleep, they won’t eat their vegetables, they won’t listen”. You need to focus on the positive, find the gratitude skill, I like to say.
Tom loved anything to do in the garden or making things. And he was really good at it. 7 years old, he could fix a lawnmower and even build one from scratch. What??!! I would pay good money for someone to fix my lawn mower, and this kid is labelled special needs. Jeez, I must be special needs too, because I wouldn’t know where to start on how to fix a lawnmower. Just because he may not know how to read yet or count, doesn’t mean he has learning difficulties in all aspects of life, otherwise, we should all be labelled as special needs. So we started a passion project. It was guided by me but created with him and it was his reward after he had done some spelling and maths (which he struggled with immensely). Sarah was the same. She loved computer games. She created her own game on YouTube. I used this as the basis of her passion project too. With both students I started with this, asking them questions and giving them leadership. After a while, the project became their whole learning framework. I incorporated spelling (Tom started with gardening specific words and Sarah started with gaming words). We incorporated mathematics into each project (Tom created the school’s veggie patch – he needed to budget to buy the soil, the seeds, the equipment, he needed to put other students on rosters to help him build it and monitor it. Whilst Sarah needed to work out down to the second the transitions of the game – she was doing Year 10 algorithms and she was in Year 4). Both students, were the first ones at school, the last to leave, never step foot into the Principal’s office, came off their antidepressants (yep!) and Tom no longer received E’s on his report card in 5 years and got his first C and Sarah was starting to do pre HSC work heading into year 5.
Why did this work?
Because learning was purposeful. It was tapping into their strengths, building relationships and then once that foundation is solid we worked on the areas of needs which all can be done through a passion project and how you speak to your children.
STRENGTH-BASED LEARNING IS:
• children’s learning is dynamic, complex and holistic
• children demonstrate their learning in different ways
• start with what’s present—not what’s absent—and discover what works for your child
It isn’t neglecting areas of weaknesses or areas of need, it is firstly encouraging what they can do, get them to master that, teach that, share that, celebrate that (this increases their emotional intelligence and confidence which is the foundation for learning – without it is very difficult to work on weaknesses).
You will have to alter the instructions, the activities, the learning outcomes with different age groups but the principals for all age groups (even adults!) are the same. These steps can be used in your business with your employees too. Every single situation, child, adult, is different, but if you use these principals your child will be on the road to success (on so many levels).
Full potential can’t be achieved if the brain is stressed. Creating relationships that are safe, understanding, stable, open and consistent is key.
Boundaries need to be very clear, from the beginning. Your approach to this will vary greatly on the age group as will the language you use. It is important that you spend double the amount of time on positive reinforcement as you do consequences. The more you focus on something the more it develops (just like going to the gym, eating healthy etc). Some children may need boundaries and expectations/consequences created from the beginning. For younger children, you can use my traffic lights model. Same principals apply for older children, it can be verbal. Make it clear what your expectations are (people or children shouldn’t have to guess), work together in what consequences are for negative behaviour and most importantly what rewards can be put in place (rewards can be sharing their work with siblings – aim to work on the intrinsic motivation, but extrinsic is ok for the beginning).
Show interest, understanding and dedicate time. Learn from them too.
Three simple questions:
1. What do they like to do (choose 3 things)
2. What comes easy to them (choose 3 things)
3. How do others describe them or come to them for help/advice
(This can be started as young as toddlers – depending on development)
Choose a topic/area of interest/strength eg. Cooking
Ask a question (what do they want to learn more about or discover). Try “I wonder questions” “I wonder….” “I wonder how to make a chocolate cake” develop further “I wonder how to make a healthy chocolate cake” etc
Learning style (very important step and once this is discovered – doesn’t just have to be one – use this for all learning especially areas of need)
Develop a plan, including what resources you will need and a timeline of how long (this is great to teach and instil organisation skills)
Sharing. How will they share their findings (Eg. Create a movie, make a cake for the family, create a book). It is very important that this step isn’t missed. The ‘celebrate’ step is imperative of all learning.
Reflection. 3 things you learned, 1 thing you are still wondering about or want to learn more about (this can be the basis of the next project), how can I link this to other areas of my learning? (Eg. Spelling/sight words/sounds – make a song using all cooking based words, write the words in flour, Maths – how long do I need to bake the cake (teaching time), measurements and costs of ingredients etc). Get them to rate their efforts and their success rate. If they have siblings or cousins or a friend also doing a project, they can rate each other’s work.
BONUS TIPS TO HELP ALONG THE WAY:
Create a daily gratitude journal (could be electronic, a website where they share or a written journal)
Teach and practice mindfulness and do meditation at the end of every day or learning activity
3 stars and a wish (3 positives of the day or learning activity and 1 thing they want to work on – you can also use this as a reflective model, 3 things I learnt and 1 thing I want to discover next).
Have all the materials of the project in a box, a special place for it and step by step instructions or materials ready so they continue on with it whenever or have clear expectations when they do their project (Eg. After lunch, whilst their brother naps, Saturday morning etc).
The opportunities are endless. I encourage you to have a go at the following first and see what you come up with. But don’t be scared to ask your child and let them lead the way. You will be surprised what they may already know or what they want to learn about. You will have to adjust your language and guidance for the age/development levels. A good starting point for a toddler is “what areas are they drawn to, how do they like to do things (sing, make, build, talk, dance, show affection) what are they always asking ‘why’ about – this is their I wonder question”. You can incorporate so many different aspects (Eg your faith, emotions) just depends on how big you want to make it. Remember learning is fun, ignites passion and helps to discover purpose and self-worth. Don’t worry if the first project doesn’t go to plan use these principals and steps as guides to develop a love of life long learning.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Joanne Zammit is a mother and an educator, obsessed with guiding others to find their purpose + live a life of gratitude. You can follow her on Instagram @storyandco or on her website storyandco.com.au.