January is upon us, and within the next couple of weeks, children in South Africa will start to embark on a new school year (our school year runs from January to December). But what are our responsibilities as parent/s? How can we have a positive influence on our children’s education? What kind of environment can we as parent/s provide to support our children to develop in to adults who are creative, curious, critical thinkers, problem solvers, innovative, collaborative, inclusive, motivated, and have purpose?
When I (Rachel) think back to our son being 3-years-old, he was naturally curious. Zac would ask endless questions, which we, as parents, would do our best to respond to appropriately; not always giving an answer, sometimes asking him what he thought, or asking another question to provoke him to go deeper and stretch his thinking. Observing and listening to him as he explored through play revealed a rich imagination and incredible creativity, as he searched for solutions to the situations that he faced or had constructed himself. We, as parents, did not need to teach him these skills, as Wagner highlights:
‘…human beings are born with an innate desire to explore, experiment and imagine new possibilities … to innovate.’Wagner T., 2012. Creating Innovators, p.26.
As Zac moved in to the school space he wanted to learn to read and write, he had a desire to develop the more formal skills of communication and had an inquisitive mind when it came to numbers. He learnt as he explored and played with others. So, as I reflect on my own experiences as a parent, and think about establishing quality education for others, I wonder what can we do to encourage and nurture these ‘child-like’ qualities, if our children are naturally curious, wanting to experiment and learn?
Wagner, in the writing and development of his book Creating Innovators, spoke to a number of parent/s of children who have become innovators and entrepreneurs, both in the social sphere and in the field of science, technology, engineering, mathematics (STEM); parent/s who all supported their child’s interests and natural curiosity. Through his research he found many commonalities in the way parent/s supported their children, including:
- providing home environments where children were free to discover, to experiment, to explore their questions and find answers
- providing toys / activities / resources that supported their child’s imagination and creativity
- encouraging risk taking and learning through trial and error
- not over structuring their children’s time after school, so children had space to explore, play, discover etc.
- encouraging reading for pleasure
- spending time as a family
- supporting their children as they pursued their interests
Above all, what these parent/s had in common was a deep respect for their child’s interests and abilities; embracing who their child was. They were intentional in offering different activities related to their child’s interests and passions. Parent/s believed in their child’s dreams, encouraging them within this, rather than worrying about a career. They listened to their children’s ideas, dialoguing with them as they explored challenging areas and developed the value of giving back and making a difference.
Reflecting on Wagner’s research, there are definitely areas where I want to improve, so I can support my son (now 18-years-old), as he seeks to pursue his dream and fulfill his potential.
Maybe this has touched on something that you – whether you’re a parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle, and so on – would also like to develop in the year/s ahead; if so, why not spend a bit more time reflecting on the last two paragraphs (above)…
- Take the time to read through the last few paragraphs again.
- Highlight the areas where you are doing well.
- Highlight one area which you know you need to focus on in order to support your child, grandchild, nephew or niece etc. Break this down. Decide one thing you can do in the next few days and build on it.
‘As a parent, what is most important is to respect your children and to listen, but not to be too free. There have to be limits, boundaries, structure. But too much of this – of teaching them to be obedient – can kill the creative impulse. The challenge is to balance respect for authority with constructive engagement and constructive rebellion – teaching your kids to be strong, but giving them the walls to push against. You can’t separate innovation from disobedience. But you can’t be an innovator and rob banks’Semyon Dukach