When looking to improve the educational experience of our children, we often search for the perfect curriculum, ideal program, or most dynamic teacher. We spend a lot of time seeking the best solution to grow our children academically, but what if the key to educational success lies in the most easily accessible place of all: home?
It is at home where children build deep connection with the adults who care for them the most. “Parents at home have the singular opportunity to watch how children make sense of their world, how they attack a puzzling situation—in short, how they learn. This allows the adult to be a learner, too,” writes Clonlara School Founder Pat Montgomery about the educational bond between parent and child.
Home is where children first begin to develop emotional competencies such as self-esteem, identity, self-confidence, empathy, collaboration, and interconnection. “We think these skills are taught and learned in schools,” explains Clonlara’s Spanish Program Assistant Director Angélica Pineda Franky, “but they are taught and learned in our families.” She describes the family as a “creative place,” a “learning environment” where parents impart to their children life, protection, and strength.
Emotional Development as a Precursor to Cognitive Development
According to the Neufeld Institute, a family’s development of their children’s emotional proficiencies may be the most important factor in cultivating their cognitive development.
In a panel discussion on home education, child development counselor and author Deborah MacNamara underscored this idea. “Neuroscientists will tell you emotional development is as sophisticated as cognitive development,” she said. “In fact, cognitive development is predicated on the development of the emotional system.”
When children possess curiosity, a sense of agency, and the ability to learn from mistakes and process dissonance, they also possess what Gordon Neufeld describes as the “teachability factor.” Yet, traditional education systems often emphasize academic/cognitive growth over emotional maturation and make teaching more difficult by not focusing on the socioemotional skills children need to thrive.
The Paradox of the Pandemic
In her private counseling practice, MacNamara notes that “anxiety kind of dried up as the dominate concern” for children upon their extended stays at home during the pandemic. Emotional health improved when children and teens had more space for relationship and emotional expression.
A study of two schools in Australia during COVID lockdowns aligns with the experience of MacNamara’s clients. Students’ anxiety dropped when at home, and they displayed creative, adaptive ways of learning even through the educational constraints imposed on them.
Indeed, at home with the adults who care deepest for them, some students flourished during the pandemic. “Schools don’t have the luxury of sitting down with each and every student to identify their interests and curiosities or [learning] barriers,” Neufeld explains. “Where can the best pedagogy be delivered? Home!”
Social-Emotional Education in Schools
Of course, many families face uncertainty and stress in the home environment that can impact students’ academic and emotional growth, and schools can play an important role in promoting well-being and cognitive development. Many schools recognize this crucial need and formally implement social and emotional learning (SEL), and various organizations exist to ensure all students have access to such programs.
For students in unstable homes who lack meaningful connection with family members or other caring adults, SEL programs in schools may help to foster the important socioemotional relationships that lead to positive growth and development. Calls to get children back in schools for their social and emotional health after extended pandemic closures often cited concern for children in these unfortunate conditions.
When schools reinforce the sense of connection children build at home, they boost students’ self-confidence, feelings of security, and trust.
Parents and Schools as Partners
“Schools and parents should be a team,” says Angélica, who recently attended the International School Choice and Reform Conference in Dublin, Ireland, to present her answer to this question: Why do parents in the 21st century need to be change agents and guides in the emotional education of their children?
“We forge a better bond between parents, students, and educators to live a different kind of education where we can put children at the center of the learning process,” she explains. “This is exactly what Clonlara does!”
Personalized learning at Clonlara begins when families meet with our teachers and/or advisors to uncover each student’s strengths and interests. With a plan in place, students direct their own learning with the support of caring adults and mentors in their lives, working together to create joyful, authentic, relevant, personally challenging learning experiences.
Fostering Educational Success at Home
We know parents want their children to apply mathematical and scientific concepts, understand history, and communicate succinctly, but what use are these academic skills without the confidence, knowledge, and ability to figure out what to do with their learning?
Starting at home, parents help children not only acquire knowledge but also apply it. Angélica describes how parents can be “change agents” by cultivating supportive home environments that give children confidence to answer questions such as: What should I do with my education? How can I serve others with the knowledge I gain? How can the skills I learn affect the world?
Parents and families play a vital role in their children’s healthy development and educational success. Through the foundation of emotional and cognitive growth that begins at home, children mature into adults ready to embrace success and overcome obstacles during their school-age years and throughout their lives.
How have you found “home” to be an important factor in your children’s academic growth?