Given pressures within the school environment, together with a seemingly constant barrage of challenging news stories, dogma and bigotry, it is vital that children are supported in developing emotional and mental resilience.
In the UK 1 in 10 children and young people suffer mental health problems including depression, anxiety and conduct disorder (often in direct response to what is happening in their lives), but 70% of them have not had appropriate interventions at a sufficiently early age. Students and staff can sometimes struggle to find any form of substantive professional support.
There are a number of different ways to approach this challenge, one of which involves bringing real world events into school and exploring them, thus enabling children to understand how they are relevant to their lives. A recent report by child development expert Dr. Jacqueline Harding examined the complex role of critical thinking, curiosity, emotional intelligence/resilience and metacognition, together with the function of creativity and imagination.
The study demonstrated that when real world news is delivered and explained in a way that stimulates curiosity, bringing current affairs into both the home and the learning environment can have significant benefits for child development. Beyond supporting “healthy minds”, engaging in discussion and giving children the tools to understand real world events has the potential to deepen academic learning and enhance cognitive growth.
Building on her findings, Dr. Harding recommends that there is closer co-ordination between home and school to help equip parents with the tools to talk about difficult subjects, to help children make sense of the world around them and to spark curiosity. Resources like current affairs magazine The Week Junior, for example, can help explain difficult but important topics in a simple and fun format, stimulating children at home and sparking interest in the classroom.
Harding’s previous research has shown that between the ages of 5 and 11 years, deep emotional needs must continue to be satisfied in order to gain full potential from cognitive skills whilst continuing to develop in a creative way (Harding, 2013). During this age range, the key is to form connections between creativity and cognition, dependent on the quality of stimulation from the environment.
Of course, there is not always an easy way to increase closer co-ordination between home and school. Another approach lies in teaching children values and modeling appropriate behaviour - providing the building blocks for how children will grow, continue to learn, work and interact within society as a whole. These are basics which help children both in achieving school targets and in setting them up for life as strong and resilient characters.
Values based Education (VbE), for example, provides an approach which underpins the curriculum with universal positive human values such as respect, integrity, honesty and compassion. Dr. Neil Hawkes argues that the ethical intelligence and vocabulary this helps to develop the foundation of a new universal narrative through which all human beings, irrespective of culture, religion or ethnicity can communicate, establishing trust and well being.
This article first appeared in the July issue of Education Today