Many of the students we work with at True North Expeditions have long histories of difficulty in school and learning differences. When they become adolescents, we see many of these issues manifest into behavioural outbursts, poor academic performance and inadequate attendance.
Every school is different. Some preach the need for teaching knowledge while others talk about increasing a student’s critical thinking abilities. An interesting point is that these different approaches go hand in hand.
If I asked a student to think critically about World War II, he would really have to have some factual knowledge about World War II. Factual knowledge is required to allow us to think critically. But we also need to teach what critical thinking means and how to do it.
Before thinking about a school’s approach to teaching, we need to back up in order to understand what is happening when our children feel apathetic towards gaining knowledge and becoming critically aware.
A student can begin falling behind at a very early age. When this happens, catching up in the classroom becomes even more challenging. It develops into an issue that requires support way stronger than forced study time and punitive consequences. It is an issue that can be solved by appreciating how the brain really works.
Our brain is so incredible due to its ability to control our functions with such limited effort. Just consider how we always know which tap on our sink controls hot water and which controls cold. We never have to think about it. This is the same with driving a car.
All of these reactions are stored in our ‘long-term memory’. I do not need to think about plumbing or hot water systems to know which knob controls the hot water and which is controlling the cold. It is forever stored in our brain. Our brains love this but it can get us into trouble.
If our brain loves categorising these memories, think about what happens when given a task that we do not understand. We give up. What happens when it’s too easy? It’s not worth it. The key here is that a task we know that we can finish motivates us. We know that we can become successful and that feels great.
I love the analogy of using puzzles from the newspaper or magazines. I find it amazing that some people can solve crossword puzzles with relative ease and find a positive feeling from doing so. I, on the other hand, struggle with those but love a logical puzzle like Sudoku or navigating with a map and compass.
Remember the topic of having knowledge on World War II. If I have some background knowledge, I’m more likely to succeed. I know that I can complete a Sudoku so I can give it more effort. But I know that I struggle with Crosswords so I tend to never try them; or if I do, just for five minutes than stop because I know I will fail.
So imagine a child with constant difficulties in school. It is not at all surprising they find little interest in English and Maths. If a child starts early with limited gratification from school, they are likely to continue demonstrating this in their academic performance.
Our adventure therapy work gives us a fantastic opportunity to work with teenagers on these core academic belief systems. We are able to focus on unique learning styles, while helping them find positive associations to learning and problem solving.
The key is finding your child’s strengths and understanding their characteristics. Sometimes we get frustrated because saying things like, “Pull your head in” or “You need to focus” do not seem to work.
What we can do for our children is take the time to identify their key character strengths in order to know exactly what could benefit them the most. When we can match our parenting styles, role modelling tactics, and emotional support to exactly what our children needs, we will be nourishing their positive growth.