10 July 2010

Begin by Giving Young Children Competent Skills


Modern child raising and educational approaches emphasize "self-esteem" for young children, but fail to give young children the practical competencies that they need in order to feel confident about their own abilities. The result of such educational malpractise is children with high "self-esteem" but no practical skills or genuine self confidence. We are seeing the result of these generations of life-long incompetents in today's shrinking job markets and government offices. But there may be a better way:
According to research released by the Royal Horticultural Society last week, the children who garden will do better at school. The report, commissioned by the RHS from the National Foundation for Educational Research, has spurred the RHS to start a three-year campaign to promote the benefits of gardening as a way to help children focus on schoolwork.

“This report gives a very persuasive set of evidence that children who garden are better able to engage with the learning process and take more responsibility for their own learning,” says Simon Thorton Wood, director of science and learning at the RHS.

...Ten-year-old Joshua Kenyon, for instance, has helped create two magnificent mixed borders at home. He caught the gardening bug at St Leonard’s Church of England Primary in Lambeth, south London, where the late 20th-century buildings are surrounded by potatoes, tomatoes, sweetcorn, cabbage, onions, strawberries and blueberries.

About 50 per cent of the pupils at Joshua’s school enjoy gardening so much that they take their skills and enthusiasm home. Over the past three years, Joshua has transformed the family’s muddy back yard into lawn with two borders where hydrangeas and clematis mingle with mint and jasmine. He has had some help from his father, Billy, a freelance TV editor.

Another of the campaign’s success stories is Neasden Primary School in Hull, north-east England. A cornucopia of beans, carrots, beets, tomatoes, strawberries and potatoes surrounds the 1960s building at the heart of a housing estate.

Neasden pupil Jessica Barrett, 10, and her four-year-old sister Sophie persuaded their father Frank to help them start their own gardens at home.

“Jessica pestered and pestered me and so I made one bed for each of them, 2x1 metres each, like the beds at school,” says Frank, a builder and joiner who put a fence around the school allotments.

Last summer Jessica brought one of her home-grown turnips to school for her class to share – raw – because it was supposed to taste like melon. Apparently it tasted more like turnip but Jessica is undaunted.

“Gardening is fun even though you get mucky. I do the watering. Sophie did the watering once but she got absolutely soaked. She likes growing beans but she doesn’t like eating them. I like eating them,” says Jessica. “Every night we go to our allotments at the bottom of our garden to see if there are caterpillars on the cabbages and then we tell our dad when he gets home.

“We grow strawberries, five different sorts of peppers and cucumbers which have prickly skins – so we take the skin off before eating them. And carrots. And the tomatoes are taking over the garden. We grow lots of herbs: mint, bay, chives, chilli peppers.”

At school, Jessica’s allotment is still going strong, with the help of Neasden’s committed caretaker Graham Johnson, who is teaching the children how to overwinter onions, cabbage, beets and salads such as mitsuma.

... At St Leonard’s, one of those who give a lot of spare time to the gardens is deputy head Tony Pizzoferro: “Gardening is my hobby and so I have always encouraged children. Five or six years ago the RHS was promoting gardening with children and, three years ago, they streamlined it with this campaign. The website’s good for teachers and children and the free seeds are helpful. Gardening is wonderful because it covers so many things, including emotional development. We make sure that gardening is fun and interesting so they will do it at home. The children all garden at playtime and lunchtime.” Pizzoferro reckons that about half of his pupils take their gardening skills home.

Joshua’s gardening skills have gone even further – abroad to his grandmother’s garden in central France, where he has helped to grow giant cauliflowers, tomatoes, ornamental gourds and “very, very, very big sunflowers”. Says Joshua: “I love gardening.” _FT

Gardening is not the only competency that lends itself to childhood enthusiasm and imagination. But it is one of the best connections to the real world. Another is the care of young or sick animals. Or learning to cook, or to build and repair machines. Sailing, canoeing, rock climbing, bird watching, and mushroom hunting and ID, are other common enthusiasms of children -- if parents take the trouble to get them involved.

Children love the idea of being competent in both fun activities and in areas of relevance and importance to the real world. But you need to get them involved at an early enough age. If you leave their upbringing to video games, television, government schools, and peer groups, your children will slip through your fingers -- perhaps into lifelong incompetency, but certainly beyond your reach.

Learning to develop skills and competencies involves the executive functions of the frontal lobes of the brain. Executive functions are best developed between the ages of 4 and 7. If you wait too late, you and your child will pay the price.

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Blogger Hell_Is_Like_Newark said...

Learning to develop skills and competencies involves the executive functions of the frontal lobes of the brain. Executive functions are best developed between the ages of 4 and 7.

Given the large number of single mom households, with the mother overwhelmed and not naturally inclined to do activities that a man would do: what kind of society will we have a generation from now?

What I mean by 'inclined': It was my dad who introduced me to sailing, tools, building stuff, etc... not my mother. As a contractor, I am still sometimes shocked at the men, my age or younger, who have no manual abilities what so ever. As a contractor, it makes it a bit difficult at times to work with them since they understand so little. Older men (60+ years old) are often a different story.

Saturday, 10 July, 2010  
Blogger CarlBrannen said...

I'm reading a biography of Newton. Having a fairly normal childhood didn't set him back any. Apparently he began learning arithmetic at 16 and invented calculus at 20.

As a boy, he spent his time making little machines mostly out of wood. You would have thought he'd have grown up to be an inventor.

But my point is that he did fine without having parents hovering over him and making sure he had a better education than everyone else.

Saturday, 10 July, 2010  
Blogger al fin said...

HILN: Right. Boys learn about tools and mechanisms from their dads, generally. If there's no dad, or the dad is absentee in a significant way, the boy's training is short-changed.

Carl: Yep. Too bad all children aren't like Newton in that sense of being self-directed.

Of course giving kids competencies and useful skills is the opposite of "hovering" over them. It is giving a power so that they can take it and run with it.

Sunday, 11 July, 2010  

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