Teachers and administrators who’ve been in the field for a while will likely agree that how kids learn and what captures their attention has changed drastically over the years. Yet, due to budget cuts, legislature, and even parental concerns, education and childcare has largely remained the same. Now, society is seeing the effects firsthand—as many young adults entering the workforce struggle with decision-making, leadership, and creative skills.
As this realization washes over the general public, we’re seeing three trends that are important areas of focus for the coming year and beyond. In planning improvements and programming for the 2017-2018 school year, these topics can play an instrumental role in developing a more successful, ready workforce, while protecting a child’s right to be a child.
As a society, our perception of risk has changed greatly since the 1950s, 60s and 70s. Back then, it was common for children to walk to school by themselves and explore the neighborhood without parental supervision. Today, even when parents see no harm in letting children discover the world around them on their own, others may see this as irresponsible or even criminal. Is it because the United States has become more dangerous? No. In fact, crime across the nation is at an all-time low. But due to heightened awareness of crime in the media, fear of legal repercussions, and over-regulation there is an increased sense of risk in our society today.
As such, parents and teachers go out of their way to protect children and prevent negative outcomes, and in doing so, remove many opportunities for children to experience risk. From restricting freedom to explore and increasing supervision to enforcing more rules and eliminating competition, these actions—though done with good intentions—can inhibit proper child development and creativity.
What can you do this year to change this? Encourage a variety of structured and unstructured opportunities for kids to take risks and either experience success or failure. Instead of eliminating risk all together, teach kids about risk and how to make their own decisions. Recess, for example, is a great opportunity for children to determine how they want to play and how much risk they want to take—do they want to climb higher or spin faster? They decide. Reinforcing basic conduct rules and ensuring your playground equipment meets safety standards will help reduce the chance of accidents.
Another trend that could be a contributing factor to young adults’ changing skillsets is the decline in popularity of organized sports since 2008. From teamwork, social interaction, and leadership to problem solving, error and success—sports help teach kids these important life lessons through experience, practice, and trial and error. They keep kids active, healthy and off the streets. Sports have been a gateway to outdoor play for many years, but now more than ever children are choosing to spend time indoors. Football and soccer have seen a decrease in participation, and the percentage of children lacking any physical activity has increased.
Many youth sports coaches believe there’s less interest in sports because there’s no “reset button”, meaning that when faced with adversity kids can’t just start over like they can in a video game. Although certainly technology has changed the way kids view the world, this problem also stems back to our perception of risk and failure.
But there are many more obstacles to participation in youth sports. Cost is one of the most common barriers, as team fees, equipment and training expenses exceed what many households can afford. Additionally, increased specialization (dedication to a single sport) demands a larger time commitment, gives multi-sport athletes less “game time”, and has eliminated the fun for some children.
Teachers, parents and coaches alike can help remove some of these obstacles and encourage children to participate in organized sports again. Increasing access to sports, reducing expenses or providing financial support, and teaching kids about healthy competition from an early age are some ways we can begin to reverse this trend. That’s not to say there shouldn’t be specialization or highly competitive teams, but there should be many levels of opportunities available.
In order to build a better workforce and remain competitive in the global economy, many leaders have recognized the need to fundamentally change our approach to education in the classroom. While industrialized learning and rote memorization produced the workforce we once needed, it no longer meets the needs and goals of the post-industrial world.
Instead, some business and educational leaders are supporting a movement for 21st Century Learning. The idea is to move beyond a basic understanding of traditional academic subjects, introducing global, financial, life and career skills by creating a learning environment that focuses on creativity, critical thinking, communication and collaboration. You can read more about the concept and join Playworld as a member of the movement at p21.org.
While a complete overhaul of a district’s curriculum won’t happen overnight, you can start introducing these topics and creating these learning experiences organically within your current framework. By introducing more group learning activities, forming scenarios for critical thinking, and providing the time and freedom to be creative and explore, you can begin developing more well-rounded students.
The turning of the new year has always been a time for personal reflection and resolution. It’s also a great time to look at trends within your industry and adjust to meet the needs. We believe that some of the problems we face today can be attributed to becoming a largely indoor culture, and that getting kids back outside can begin to address some of these trending topics. The outdoors inherently inspires challenge—it’s an unpredictable environment and the home of most of our fears. It is here we face real experiences that take resourcefulness, calculated risk-taking, and problem-solving to conquer. Where we learn to accept failure and choose whether or not to try again. And it’s in facing these situations head on that our children will learn to be better leaders and more creative thinkers.