Schools across America are preparing to reopen. What the 2020-21 school year will look like (in-person, all virtual, or a mix of both) varies by state and in many cases by school district. But regardless of what their local school system is doing, parents are worried. They fear learning will be scaled back, teachers will struggle to impart even the basics, extracurriculars will be canceled (or at least curtailed)…and in the long run, kids will be the ones who suffer.
I have a different perspective. Parents should look at this school year not as an obstacle but an opportunity. This year will be your big chance to help your kids master the attitudes and skills they will need to succeed in a rapidly changing world. They may have a little more time, and, depending on your work situation, you may be around more to help them.\
The world is changing so rapidly that, for quite some time, it has outpaced schools’ capacity to equip students with the skills they’ll need to compete. The Digital Age is fundamentally changing the way we work. As technology becomes ever smarter, it’s predicted that almost half of U.S. jobs will be automated in the next ten years or so.
That means your kids will have to be able to “outsmart” technology. They’ll need to be masters at the things computers can’t do: thinking innovatively and critically, emotionally connecting and engaging with other people, and solving complex problems where there is little data. They’ll need to be able to make decisions in the midst of uncertainty. They’ll need to work well as a member of diverse teams.
Preparing for a meaningful career in the Digital Age is not about knowing content. It’s impossible for a human to know more than a computer. In fact, your children will need to excel at not knowing. They need to become enthusiastic lifelong learners so they can keep upgrading their skills as the world advances and constantly reinvent themselves.
So, parents, your job is to create kids who find learning exciting and meaningful…kids who are open-minded and resilient…kids who have the courage of explorers…kids who are able to think like scientists, make like engineers, and create like artists.
This may sound like a tall order, but there are a lot of simple things you can do over the upcoming school year to get your kids headed in that direction.
Helping Your Child Excel in the Real World
Check Out Experiential Learning Opportunities
• Assign older kids a quick video to watch or article to read daily. There are a lot of free material out there, from TED Talks to webinars to lectures to documentaries to virtual tours of museums, national parks, and faraway countries. Send them the link and find a few minutes each day (perhaps at lunch or dinner) to have them teach you what they learned. (If daily seems too much, adjust to a frequency that feels right for your child.)
• Register them for online courses and activities. These exist for kids of all ages at, for example, Khan Academy, the Smithsonian, NASA, Google, National Geographic, and many gamification sites designed to teach learning skills. It is amazing how your children can reach out to the world through technology.
• Help them create mini-courses on specific subjects. If your child is drawn to, say, ocean conservation, guide them in tracking down videos and articles on the subject. Likewise, if there’s a topic you want them to absorb—ethics in business or community engagement, for instance—challenge them to find news stories, blog posts, presentations, etc. around the subject. If possible, incorporate a “real-world” piece. If your child is exploring ocean conservation, you might arrange a saltwater marsh kayaking trip or him or her them fundraise for an ocean clean-up nonprofit.
• See what your community offers in terms of experiential learning. Some communities have innovation labs or maker spaces that can be avenues to “learn by doing,” which is the best way to learn. Take full advantage of such resources. Much of this will have to be done virtually now, and many of these labs have good plans for virtual learning.
• Pair kids up with a mentor. There are lots of professionals out there who want to give back, many of whom are retired and have free time. Have your child reach out to someone in a field that interests her and ask if that person is willing to virtually connect.
• Join a homeschooling group. Depending on how much classroom time your kids are getting, they may need more social interaction. Meeting up virtually with a homeschooling group will help them get to know new people.
• Encourage older children to find on the Internet an organization that is bringing together people to solve a problem or learn a new skill together. Learning how to build relationships with new people will be an important Digital Age skill. So, help your kids learn how to connect with others and work as part of a team.
• Hold dinner table conversations around all that kids have learned. Focus the discussion on emotions. Ask your kids, “How are you feeling?” regarding a particular topic and share what you are feeling as well. Ask them, “Who did you thank today?” and discuss why thanking others is important. Ask, “How do you get ‘unmad’ when you’re upset about something?” Discuss various ways to do this.
These are just a few ways to take full advantage of a school year that promises to be different from any preceding it. But remember: In terms of preparing kids for the future, “different” is a good thing. In a strange way, this may turn out to be a meaningful and highly productive year, if only parents will help kids frame it in a positive way.
Edward D. Hess is author of Hyper-Learning: How to Adapt to the Speed of Change (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, September 2020, ISBN: 978-1-523-08924-6, $29.95, edhess.org) and professor of business administration, Batten Fellow, and Batten Executive-in-Residence at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business. Professor Hess spent 20 years in the business world as a senior executive and has spent the last 18 years in academia. He is the author of 13 books, over 140 articles, and 60 Darden case studies. For more information, please visit edhess.org.