Sunday, December 06, 2009

Nurturing youth to create their own "Flow"


The after-school programs touted as "successful" are often the ones who claim to create leaps and bounds in academic achievement and have figured out a way to prove their claims. I, too, have always thought our After-School Academy students' scores increase as a result of being in our programs, but instead of emulating schools to achieve this, I tend to strive toward creating programming that involves a lot of learning, without all of the drilling on individual skills that seems to be typical of a lot of schools these days.

Over the last few years, I've decided that we are much more like a parent than a school. But the other thing I've decided is that parents are educators in a much more meaningful way, oftentimes, than the schools. As a parent, you can teach your child math skills by opening a checking account. You teach them the value of nutrition, budgeting money, math skills, and the importance of following instructions by cooking with them. You can teach good sportsmanship, taking turns, math and reading skills, and so much more by playing board games with them. Life has so many practical lessons. Maybe that's why home schooling has become so popular with some parents.

So, when Terrence told me about the middle school boys who have now captured his heart, I was reminded all over again.

Evidently, these middle school boys have wreaked havoc in the past. They were throwing rocks at the windows in Teen U when Terrence first caught them. After using a bit of reverse psychology on them, the boys continued to return to the Teen U on a regular basis. They would usually hang out there long enough to create trouble and get kicked out for the day. However, Terrence noticed their obvious interest and began to capitalize on that. Last week, he created a special program for them on Saturday mornings and told them to show up at 10:00 a.m. Nine showed up on time and ready to find out about their new opportunities.

As Terrence explained to me how he connected with the boys--encouraging some, dismissing two (with the knowledge that they could return next week *if* they followed the rules), and letting a latecomer know he had to get up earlier if he wanted to be a part of something cool--I thought about parenting again.

Kids want to be a part of something. They want people to expect things of them. And they want their brain to be stimulated.

We all need to be stimulated. We need to have things that interest us so much that we lose track of time while doing them. We need to have a purpose so that the things we do have meaning. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi addresses this in his book, Flow. He poses that how parents interact with a child has a lasting effect on the kind of person that child becomes.

To help them create their own "flow," he suggests kids need:
  • Clarity--knowing what is expected of them
  • Centering--a perception that parents are interested in what they are currently doing, their thoughts, and their feelings
  • Choice--possibilities and options...including breaking rules and knowing they face consequences for their actions
  • Commitment--trust that allows the child to get involved in and interested in something unselfconsciously
  • Challenge--dedication to provide increasingly complex opportunities
The Education programs provide that...sometimes to augment what parents are already doing...other times to step in where parents can't, don't, or don't know how.

More and more, I hope that we see our students grow...not just to become college graduates or "successful" business people, but to be people who know their purpose and have a intrinsic ambition to work toward their goals.

Those who have a "why" to live, can bear with almost any "how." Friedrich Nietzsche

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