In case you missed it, Pam Allyn recently hosted a free webinar titled “7 Strengths for These Challenging Times.” Watch it here.
In these unpredictable and confusing days, our students will experience many of the same emotions we find ourselves also facing as adults—the fear and anxiety that come with a rapidly-changing world and uncertain future. But know, too, that children are still growing, still hungry for learning, still in the midst of their own major changes, from a lost tooth to wanting to make new friends. With every passing day, they can either leap forward or fall back as readers, writers, and learners.
Right now, everyone’s routines have been altered, as families seek ways to simplify the long, unstructured hours at home. Let’s try to make the world as normal as possible for them. Caregivers know that food and exercise are essential to their children’s health and spirits, but may not realize the importance of social-emotional nourishment in the form of language and literacy. Let’s help give kids a safe space at home, and later, in school, through the knowledge that reading is a joy, a comfort, and a way to find worlds of possible.
Our children need the comfort of predictable routines, a sense of belonging to an expansive community beyond the family home, and deeply engaging worlds of learning, possible through the books they love to read. Yes, it is a matter of creating robust learning lives for our children, but also promoting hope and humanity through reading, as well as the courage that we will survive and thrive.
This morning, I woke to an unexpected snowfall. The trees were covered with sparkling snow, and the sun was shining. I felt a surge of gratitude for the simple pleasure of looking out the window to see such an ordinary, yet remarkable, sight. Our children are built to see the world this way; the gratitude of a moment is natural for them. The times we live in now are not natural. There is nothing natural about being separated from school, friends, routines, and the ways our children have been oriented to learning. And yet, children are still fundamentally predisposed to gaze upon the world the moments of joy in this world. They are hungering for them. So, life must continue for them.
How do we honor students’ growth, while grappling with all that we’re facing as a society? We can be the beacon they long for and need, now more than ever. We can say that learning continues. The human spirit always wants to learn. It is a singular desire that continues throughout life. Reading, writing, storytelling—these are the foundational tools of learning.
But learning is not just academic. Learning is in the layers of relationships, interactions, encouragement, challenge, resilience, resistance, and love. For this reason, learning is more complex and multidimensional than people might think. This is why children at home may now be looking for something that previously existed, in a special way, during school hours. As educators and caregivers, we have the power to give them a compass, a guidepost for how to find themselves, each other, and a sense of community in this uncharted territory.
Working alongside children and young adults in some of the world’s most challenging places and circumstances, I’ve seen how quickly children can adapt. But in order to do that, they must have a sense of journey, a way to continue to learn no matter what. For this reason, I have outlined “The 7 Strengths,” a social-emotional literacy learning framework to help teachers and families support children as they navigate the world boldly, courageously, and with confidence. It can apply at home, today.
- Belonging: Inviting, including, and welcoming all voices. Co-create with children what the home learning space can look like. It can be a small space such as a corner of a table, but make this space feel like their own. Make clear commitments to the idea of belonging, allowing room for everyone to voice an opinion. Affirm risk-taking by making sure that children feel like they can have ideas about their schedules, routines, and the books they choose to read. Value your own school and family stories, and encourage children to talk about what they love about school, what they look forward to again, and what they love about learning at home.
- Curiosity: Celebrate the power of the child’s mind by trusting their imaginations to inquire. Ask: What are you wondering about? What do you want to learn? What more could we do to make our learning grow? In any way possible, give children access to multiple forms of learning, both online and in books in hand—learning about the natural world, history, human nature, and more. Encourage children to be deeply observant and ask questions, looking closely at the objects in their environment or the faces of their loved ones.
- Friendship: Reassure children that they are going to see their friends again. If they have access to the internet, they can do video calls together. If they don’t, invite them to keep a journal to record daily ideas, questions, and memories of their time spent at home.
- Kindness: As Mr. Rogers said, make sure you point out all the helpers, whether in the news or in classroom magazines or in the community. This is a very scary time for all of us, and our children internalize this. Focusing on acts of kindness can be a solace. Point out the helpers in children’s books and stories—the friends who extend their hand. That is what we are all doing by staying home. We are helping others, not just ourselves.
- Confidence: This is a really important time to notice and affirm the small steps our children are making academically, socially, and emotionally. Try creating a daily affirmation chart, stickers for small increments of growth, or rituals such as small chants and songs to commemorate growth moments.
- Courage: It’s going to take courage to get through the weeks and months ahead. Our children will realize that they are not going back to school this year; they will worry about their parents and about getting sick. They will worry about all the things adults worry about, but they will worry in their own ways, at their own developmental levels. It takes courage to overcome fear and to navigate a new world. Let’s use the books we read aloud to create space to talk about courage, to see simple, ordinary efforts as courageous, and to invite children to name their own acts of bravery during this difficult time.
- Hope: One of many extraordinary things about children is their capacity to PLAY. The imagination is a muscle and children are uniquely equipped to exercise this. It takes imagination to get out of a difficult situation, to create a story, to build a world and to solve problems. It is perhaps children’s greatest capacity, and it’s our responsibility to nurture this. Let your children draw and write often. Let them create perfect worlds, imaginary universes of hope and delight.
The poet Dana Levin once wrote for the Academy of American Poets: “During these extraordinary days in which we find ourselves enclosed, the capacity to hold nature in the mind, to revisit light by means of the Muse—by which I mean the Imagination—is a crucial and beautiful human gift. It offers shelter.”
Reading, and books themselves, are a form of shelter. Let’s make sure our children have access to this now. Let’s make sure they’re able to feel the delight of their days, of the moment of the snow on the trees, of the nearness of a read-aloud, and let’s keep the learning continuing forward.