Children are multifaceted and overflowing with potential. There is so much more to fulfilling who they are as human beings, than just focusing on academics and building program related skills. In a world that is constantly placing challenges on our children’s mental, social and emotional well-being, we all need to consider the WHOLE child when planning our programs and curriculums. The following are just a few things Pathways considers when designing programs for children.
Emphasize Emotional Well-Being:
When designing programs, we all want children to progress in the topic area we are teaching. However, in the 20 years I have been developing and teaching after-school programs, I have learned there is so much more to teaching than gaining competency in skills. We certainly are not equipped to play the role of psychiatrist, but we are human beings who can relate to the need everyone has to feel seen, heard and validated. The world can be a stressful place to begin with, but add the anxiety and uncertainty of the COVID pandemic, and many of us are in dire need of more compassion and emotional support. As adults, we need to care about and listen carefully to our children both in what they are saying and not saying. More than ever, we need to place additional emphasis on the importance of emotional well-being and helping our children to feel more supported and valued.
Yesterday, I challenged the children in one of our robotics classes to be creative and make a boat that could get through a water gate they built. Instead of making a boat, one of the children made a squid. It was beautiful and he was so proud of it. The squid did everything the boats did, but it looked different. My first inclination was to have him remake his project to look more like what I had envisioned. I stopped myself and asked the child to present his ideas to the class. I introduced him as somebody who had had outdone himself in his creativity. He giggled in pride as he presented his squid. Everyone laughed with him and he was beaming because the class appreciated and validated his creative self-expression. That squid did infinitely more for his emotional well-being than any boat in my curriculum could have!
Incorporate Social and Team Building Activities:
Having been quarantined, masked, and forced to practice social distancing, many of us are craving social time! While carefully following COVID protocols we have put extra team building projects into our programs. One of the greatest skills we can teach our children is how to build strong, diverse, and healthy relationships. Pathways’ programs are inclusive. There are children of all ability levels participating. The goal of these team projects is to help everyone creatively participate, learn to adapt to diverse needs, and determine how the team can win collectively. It can be as simple as understanding that a child in a wheelchair will feel more included when we all sit in chairs at their eye level, rather than standing above them. All of these soft skills and learning empathy will also help the children later in life to as they reach adulthood.
Look for Opportunities to Build Leadership:
Explore every opportunity to help children practice leadership. For example, we encourage our coaches to have children, even as young as the age of three, lead warm up stretches and other simple activities during our sport practices. The children love to raise their hand, pick their activity, and stand next to the coach to lead the team. Everyone claps for them when they finish and they are smiling ear to ear! The goal is not to do the activity perfectly but to have the courage to stand up and lead something. Not many of us look forward to public speaking, but at the age of three, these kids are already doing it. The children are never forced to lead, but they keep trying in small ways as they feel comfortable.
Putting in a little extra time into program development can amplify the outcomes for children and exponentially help them to grow emotionally, socially, and in their leadership potential. Think about how your programs can help children not only develop the skills to progress in competency, but the human qualities to become the people they aspire to be both for themselves and others!
Try a few of these ideas in your programs and share with us what you are doing to incorporate the WHOLE child into you’re your programs and classes. If you would like to watch a video of this training click on the picture above. If you would like to listen to the podcast click here.
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