The school year is coming to a close. Kids are getting excited about summer free time. I look forward to the time of transition with joy and trepidation. I have a lot going on in my life, and I like the variety and flexibility. I have two part time jobs, Wildewood Learning is my business, and I parent four teens. I also enjoy that all my work involves kids and adults learning, sometimes together. I truly love to learn, teach, and to see the light bulb go on for people when they’re learning something new. My jobs are my calling, my purpose, and my “why” in life. All my jobs this past year have allowed me to find a niche over the past few months.
One of my jobs is working with middle school students in an after-school program sponsored by 4-H that focuses on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). I love working with middle school aged children. Call me crazy; I just enjoy their energy. The middle schoolers used the engineering process in a variety of different projects throughout the six after-school sessions. The STEM projects demonstrated that the engineering process can be used in all sorts of situations. One group I organized was a Minecraft Club where the kids were the leaders in developing the challenges of what the team built and the elements needed to be included in each challenge. Another group of middle schoolers, called the Design Crew, had a variety of different hands on building challenges. One of the challenges was to create a model trebuchet that had to accurately sling a ball in to a bucket.
My take-away from working with these kids across our county? Kids love to learn through creativity, design and challenge. Teens love to problem-solve, knowing that there is not just one right answer to the challenge! All learning, all fun, all cooperative team based and they wanted more!! One student chewed me out when I had to cancel Minecraft Club for that week because I was sick. The next week he saw me he said, “Don’t you ever do that again!” On the final day of our time together, several students asked, “Will you be doing this again? Are you coming back next school year? Will you be doing STEM club this summer?”
On the last day of our club, I invited parents to see what we were doing at STEM Club and to join in on the project. The parents that were able to come were rolling up their sleeves and right in there with the kids learning the design process. I saw the adults asking the children questions and I saw kids asking the adults questions which allowed both to think about the possibilities of the challenge. It was so much fun to see!!! Adults and kids working together and both being challenged to think outside of the box.
The middle schoolers in the after-school program were finding their spark. I knew it was their spark because the projects at STEM Club interested them, brought them joy, and they lost track of time while working. I didn’t have to motivate the kids each week because they came ready to take on the next challenge.
Spark! Do you know what spark’s your teen’s interests? Brings them joy? According to Peter Benson, past CEO of the Search Institute, only one-quarter of the 80 million children in the United States are on the pathway to human thriving. The pathway to a life of quality, not quantity.
Benson asks “What is the vision for America’s kids?” As he asked adults about the aspirations for their children, the responses were not about reaching a benchmark in math or acing a big test. The responses he received were:
Kids who are likely to be kind,
Kids who experience joy,
Kids who are connected and engaged,
Kids who are happy.
How can you help your teen find that spark? That thing that lights them up inside, where they lose track of time, and that brings them purpose.
As the age of the child goes up, I notice less young people are aware of their spark. Research from Gallup mirrors my observations, as the grade of the student increases, the percentage of students engaged in learning goes down. Negative messages from other adults, institutions, culture, and the media taints young people’s ideas of what sparks them until it is nothing more than a pile of cold ashes. Parents need to be the fire lighters for their children and this starts from the elementary age on up. We must work with our young people to keep the spark glowing, and never let the fire die out. Be the fire tender for your teens. Allow them to thrive in today’s world and see in them their unique spark.