Life – the new educational curriculum

April Dawn Griffin "Open Mic Night"
April Dawn Griffin "Open Mic Night"

by Dawn Marquette, guest blogger

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Is your child isolated?

Are they spending time doing math worksheets and learning state capitals?

Are they getting teased and bullied?

Do you spend more time getting them to start the homework than it actually takes to do the homework?

These things may not seem to be connected, but they are. They also have the same solution.

Every day our kids spend hours in school, learning. In grade school this is all about learning to read, write and memorize math facts. Some schools also have art, music, computers, science, and of course PE.

In kindergarten it is also about learning how to behave in school – the social rules of sharing, standing in line, raising your hand, keeping your hands to yourself and getting along with each other. Unfortunately that is where teaching life skills often ends.

In middle school and high school the subjects are more advanced but they are still presented in the same way. Kids are told what to do, how to do it and when they do it wrong.

Many schools use an educational style that focuses on getting our children to learn basic facts and passing state mandated testing. The focus is not on teaching them any of the life skills that so many employers lament are lacking in today’s youth: Problem solving, working effectively as part of a team and personal responsibility.

There are classes of course, usually in high school, that teach about cooking and maybe even one or two on personal finance, but these are not the life skills our kids so desperately need.

Teaching our kids about respect is a start, but it would be so much better to teach them how to find common ground with people that are different. Teach them how to build relationships and learn from others who have different skills. Teach them to see others as people, not objects or behaviors or problems.

Teaching our kids about responsibility is a start, but it would be so much better to teach them about the importance of taking care of each other. Being responsible enough to work on a worksheet in school is great, but taking the initiative to help another student who is struggling with the subject is even better.

Teaching them how to say something if an adult does something inappropriate is important, but how about teaching them to give constructive criticism to a peer. Learning how to encourage others and how to help others learn proper behavior, without being cruel is a skill they will be able to use for the rest of their lives.

This may sound like a huge shift in our educational system, but it doesn’t have to be. It is simply a shift in style.

It is time for parents and teachers to work together to create a better education that focuses on life skills, not worksheets and useless facts.

The expressive arts are subjects that are often overlooked. They can give a child a lifelong love for music and art. Often autistic children excel in these subjects. Creating music in a group fosters cooperation.

April Dawn Griffin "Open Mic Night"

April Dawn Griffin “Open Mic Night”

Simple things like seating students in pods of 4 or 5 instead of lined up in rows will naturally facilitate cooperation among students. Emphasizing cooperation by rewarding it will also drive behavior in students.

Asking parents to support a curriculum that emphasizes responsibility, integrity, kindness and problem solving by having them sign a contract supporting specific behaviors will ensure the curriculum is clearly understood by everyone. Parents need to understand that homework will not be required unless it is needed to master a skill or practice a life skill. Flash cards to learn math facts are one example of homework that may be assigned, but only until the student has demonstrated they have mastered those facts.

Writing instructions on how to make a sandwich, so they can teach the rest of their pod, is an example of another type of homework. They will have to learn a skill so well they can teach others. It incorporates the basic skills of writing with correct punctuation, grammar, spelling and complete sentences with the skills of teaching others. Take the assignment one step further and allow the student to pick a subject they want to teach to provide an opportunity for students to demonstrate skills they can be proud of. This can increase self-esteem and help other students to see them as more than a label.

The next level requires students to work together on group projects that utilize different skills. Helping students learn how to work together, assign tasks, follow up on these tasks and meet deadlines is far more useful than another round of writing essays on cute animals or model volcanoes.

As students get older they can be assigned real world problems that may be a concern in their school or community. They can learn how to interact with adults in a variety of situations as they work to solve these problems. Students will gain a sense of accomplishment while the get real world experience on solving problems together.

None of these ideas are new, but they have been implemented only sporadically. It is time for methods that have proven effective to become the norm, rather than the exception.

What life skills do you think our kids need to learn?

Dawn Marcotte is the CEO of www.ASD-DR.com, a website designed to help teens and young adults on the spectrum live to their highest potential. She is the parent of two children. Her eldest is diagnosed with Aspergers.

1 Comment

  • Your sandwich example is terrific, and really embodies your ideas.
    You could even extend it to use the idea of sandwiching different ideas inside of one another, or the way we can use positive things to surround constructive criticism…
    My G mostly needs to learn how to deal with what i call “the eye rollers” – but maybe that’s a separate subject…sigh.
    Anyway, fabulous points.

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