“Oh my gosh, Mom, I was so bored in school today. It was oration presentation day and I thought I was going to die!” These are actual (only slightly paraphrased) words spoken several years ago by my Dayspring high school daughter. The dramatic flair was tinged with humor, but the struggle was real. My reply? “Remember, sweet girl, boredom is a choice.”
The generation of children that are in school currently is being raised by the first generation to be saturated in technology. Most parents of young children today do not remember a time without the internet. Facebook came into existence the better part of two decades ago, but video games, the favorite pastime of many a Millennial, burst onto the scene in the late seventies. And since the mid-nineties, electronic media has been accessible in our pockets, and this generation does not remember a time when they were disconnected from the rest of the world. So I suppose engagement is not really the issue. We are always, perpetually, engaged!
I have been a teacher for over three decades, and I can tell you that though human nature has not changed, the nature of tolerance for boredom has. Children are more restless, less long-suffering, and sometimes militantly impatient. In their free time, information is instantly accessible, and entertainment, the monster that has replaced play, is available round the clock. So if a parent is not intentional and proactive, they can unwittingly train a child to be unfocused and unable to engage in anything that is not coming at them in controllable, frenzied sound bites. Teachers and college professors have some pretty unhealthy competition.
Yes, it is important for a teacher to teach lessons that are engaging, interesting, and even fun. But it is not the responsibility of a teacher to make sure his or her students are engaged. That is the responsibility of the student, and it begins with training from the earliest phases of life.
Let’s face it, for a child, especially a boy, school can be boring. Sitting, sitting, more sitting. Listening, listening, more listening. Then after school, more sitting, reading, writing, thinking. A child can be trained to view school tasks as necessary evils if a parent decides to train them in such a way that their child feels entitled to entertainment. But though the rigor, long periods of sitting and listening, and the seemingly endless juggling of responsibilities of school are necessary to the process, they are certainly not necessary evils! Sitting at the feet of a master is of God, and Christ commended Mary for doing it well! Diligence is also of God, and is rewarded (just read the Proverbs!).
So to the question of how to keep your child engaged in school: It begins with us as parents. It begins with training our children to see the beauty in learning and the necessity of work. All learning, all truth, is from God. Showing your child that anything he learns is something God has created or thought about or instituted or ordained can make them eager to learn more. Showing your child that the Gospel is absolute reality and that there is wonder beyond comprehension in every lesson-yes, every single lesson-could help them to sit up a little more attentively and attribute what they are learning to the Creator who created them and the concepts in the lesson they are being taught! Teaching them that their diligence pleases their parents, their teachers, and Christ may help them to grease up their elbows a bit more. Pointing out the value of hard work, and the pleasure and peace it brings to their life will hopefully compel them to remain engaged and eager to want more of the reward that hard work brings.
Practically speaking, how do we swim against the tide of constant information and entertainment and teach our children to engage in the hard work of learning? Here are six suggestions that may help train your child to be a diligent, engaged learner.
1. Be engaged yourself. We are all busy. It’s tempting to leave the educating up to the educators. But as Webster points out, “immense responsibility rests on parents and guardians who neglect these duties” of educating a child. Know what your child is learning. Talk about it with him or her at the dinner table, or in the car, or at a designated time after school. Ask questions. Let them explain concepts to you. Be available to help your child with homework. Turn off your device and give all your time and attention to homework time, even when you are not helping them directly. Ask to see your child’s homework when it is finished, and compare it to the list your child has brought home, or in the case of Dayspring, to Renweb. Praise them when they’ve worked hard on a project or assignment. Point out how that good feeling they have when they have accomplished something is from the Lord. God has wired us to enjoy the reward for effort.
2. Be a Wonder Exuder! All truth, indeed, is God’s truth. So why would we want to miss a single moment learning about it? By his grace, he has left us endless ways to learn about his Creation. Bring the sovereignty of God into your view of learning. Show your child that the sciences exist to display the wonder, majesty, grandeur, minutiae, vastness, intricacy, opulence, sublimity, and genius of the Creator. Help them to recognize that History outlines God’s providence throughout the expanse of time. Nothing escapes his notice or his hand. Teach them to understand that English scrutinizes God’s primary way of communicating with humans, words (Hebrews 1:1–2). Teaching it should point students to the Word, which is Christ! And Math? Show them that God is a God of order and that nothing we can see or think about is separate from math. It’s part of God’s character, and even though it’s difficult at times, it is magnificent in its predictability and order.
3. Advocate for boredom. Teach your child how to be bored. Or rather, when they find themselves in boring situations, how not to be bored. There is always something to engage their minds. Teach them, first of all, to focus on the learning at hand. Teach them strategies to help bring their mind back from wandering. Place them in situations where they might be tempted to be bored. Keep them in the church service instead of sending them to Children’s Church. Avoid the expectation that long car trips mean being able to watch a video or play on an electronic device. Expect them to sit and join in the conversation in a restaurant, without a phone in their hand. Give them puzzles or board games instead of electronic games. Nowadays, teachers learn strategies for coping with the restlessness that comes from boredom. Fidget devices spin and click away, putty stretches, yoga balls replace chairs. There is a place for these things, certainly, but not pervasively so. What if we simply teach our children to deal with the fidgets? What if we just expect them to sit still in church, or in the car, or in the classroom? Though there are legitimate cases of ADHD that require specific strategies to combat it, the vast majority of children do not have ADHD and have no need to spin or click or stretch putty or bounce. Rather, they need training in the art of cheerfully and quietly suffering long.
4. Govern your child’s device! I will shout this from the highest mountaintop: Our children are not entitled to electronic devices! And if they have a device (say, for safety after they begin to drive), they are not entitled to twenty-four-seven access to it. And certainly not in their bedrooms or private areas of the house. Know their passwords. Set up accessibility and tracking software so you can see what they see at all times, and always know where their device is located. Educate yourself to the plethora of stealth apps that allow your child to fly under your radar. Set tight parameters around the times and places they use their device. I scratch my head in wonder of parents that shy away from taking authority over their child’s devices. Our children are not entitled to privacy. Studies are showing that students are coming to school exhausted from staying up late on their devices. It is hard to be engaged when you are tired. Setting parameters will avoid myriad issues that can hinder your child from productive engagement in school (not to mention set them up to sin).
5. Voice your complaints about school away from your child’s ears. You might not always agree with your child’s school, but your child doesn’t have to know that. Hopefully, if you’ve chosen a Christian school, most of your opinions align with the school’s philosophy and actions. But when they don’t, it’s not necessary for your child to be brought in on the issue. A positive view of school is essential to engagement. If your child’s teacher makes a decision that you disagree with, go to the teacher and express it, but avoid setting your child up to have a negative attitude toward their authorities at school. Openly partnering with our child’s school in words, activities, and service, will communicate positivity and advocacy, and foster engagement.
6. Allow your child to fail. Failure is a fantastic teacher. Your child’s learning is just that: his learning. If you set your child up for success at every turn, he will disengage pretty quickly. A child, like all of us, must own his mistakes. And, like all of us, he must own his learning from them. In fact, a child must be taught to own all of his learning. Parents, a child’s failing (or exemplary) grade is not a reflection on your parenting. It is simply a barometer of learning or effort. It is the learning that matters, not the grade. Help your child to see the connection between his effort and the outcome. Foster independence in learning as your child grows. After all, you will not be holding his hand in college or in the workforce.
An engaged student is a successful student. An engaged parent cultivates an environment of engagement. This world is hungry for men and women of character who will forsake pleasure and entertainment for diligence and leadership. Let’s train our children to go from engaged students to engaged citizens of heaven in the world!
Dayspring Christian Academy educates children from preschool through 12th grade. Dayspring is different from other Christian schools in Lancaster in that its rich and elevated classical curriculum trains the hearts and minds of our students to understand and apply truth. Our mission is to assist parents in providing a wholly Christian education for their children. If you would like to learn more, please schedule a tour or contact Karol Hasting at 717-285-2000.