By EVA CHRISTODOULOU AND ROSHAN THIRAN
At Leaderonomics, we have a blueprint on how leaders are developed. We call it the ‘Science of Building Leaders’. You can read all about it here.
Essentially, this roadmap is based on research that identified key elements which need to come together at different stages of one’s life, to assist an individual in developing into a well-rounded leader.
The journey starts at a young age – from birth, in fact. Therefore, much of early leadership development relies not just on the individual, but his or her support system and the environment in which they exist.
This includes parents, guardians, teachers, extended families and the community they are surrounded by. A huge part of early formative leadership, including intelligence development, early role models and initial success stories, depend on parenting and childcare providers.
To understand what parents’ value and how they work on them with their children, we conducted an in-depth survey between April and May, asking parents a series of questions. The majority surveyed (78%) had more than one child who ranged from infants to young adults.
Both Eva and I are parents – each of us have two children – and we found many of the insights from this survey applicable to young parents in their quest to grow their children into leaders.
Here, we chose to focus on three questions asked in this survey.
Q1: How do you think your child learns best?
Most respondents answered that their child learns best through experiencing and experimenting in different areas. This was followed by watching/observing parents, teachers and peers by example, and through discussions, dialogues and questioning.
One parent said that both her children had different strengths with differing ways of learning – one being visual and artistic, while the other more mechanical and wanting to know how things work.
She still makes sure to teach them using other methods and styles so that her child does not just rely on a single way of learning. She does, however, revert to their preferred learning style when they cannot grasp the lesson.
Research has identified that there are seven general learning styles.
These styles are derived from the multiple intelligences theory and these preferences may change over time, or between various subject matters.
The idea is that everyone’s preferences are different and in a learning setting, and that teachers should ideally incorporate methods that appeal to all levels of intelligence.
Personally, when I (Roshan) have to teach a classroom of youth, I use varying methods which include having the children read, watch videos, getting folks to narrate or role play, or getting the students to work in a group, present back to the class, act out skits, or even make diagrams, models, or touch certain items.
Eva likewise, when dealing with her children, takes time to recognise her child’s learning style and generally teaches according to their preference. She also exposes her son and daughter to a variety of learning styles early in life to enable them to become comfortable at receiving and processing information in different ways.
Everyone has different preferences of learning styles and techniques. Some people find that they have a dominant style of learning, with far less use of the other styles. Others may find that they use different styles in different circumstances.
There is no ‘right’ mix, nor are styles fixed. Using multiple learning styles for learning is a great approach to develop flexibility and adaptability in children.
Traditional schooling uses (and continues to use) mainly linguistic and logical teaching methods. It also uses a limited range of learning and teaching techniques.
Many schools still rely on classroom and book-based teaching, repetition, and pressured exams for reinforcement and review. This results in us labelling those who are dominant in these learning styles and techniques as bright.
Children using less favoured learning styles often find themselves in the ‘not as smart’ category, with various not-so-complimentary labels and sometimes lower quality teaching.
This can create positive and negative beliefs on what constitutes ‘smart’ and ‘dumb’.
Research by Restak (1979) and Thies (1979) found that more than three-fifths of a person’s learning style is biologically imposed, but not hereditary. This means the formative years and the child’s environment play a huge role in their learning.
This explains differences in the academic performances of siblings, or differences from the parents’ preferences, for example. The other two-fifths or so of learning styles develop as an outgrowth of students’ experiences.
Preferences for learning styles change over time. However, during a period in which an individual has strong style preferences, that person will achieve most easily when taught with strategies and resources that complement those preferences. Everyone can learn, but we just learn differently.
Q2: What are you doing to ensure your child is developing well?
To this question, most respondents said that they guide or coach their children when necessary and when they feel that it is right to intervene. 21% of parents mentioned that they make it a point to identify different areas their children may be interested in and help them develop those.
The table below provides other areas stated by the parents:
|What are you doing to ensure your child is developing well?||%|
|Guidance, coaching, discussions, support||38|
|Awareness and understanding for the purpose of growth / push to grow in specific areas||21|
|Education and knowledge / learning||29|
|Exposure in all aspects, connecting with right people||15|
|Monitoring / observation / awareness of what is going on||13|
|Spend quality time with them||10|
|Giving them room / freedom to try different things||9|
|Be there with / for them||9|
|Be a good example / a role model||6|
|Providing everything for their all-round development||4|
|Space to make mistakes and learn from them / learn through failure||4|
|Provide materials and support||2|
|An appreciation of their culture and roots||1|
|Keep my promises best possible||1|
|Keeping technology a healthy distance away||1|
|Attending parenting care courses||1|
Intentionally creating leadership activities for children helps them:
- Boost their self-esteem
- Improve public speaking and communication skills later in life
- Teach them to identify their strengths and weaknesses
- Help them develop organisational skills
- Teach them to work with others
Community service activities are a great way to promote leadership qualities and give children the opportunity to share their leadership skills with the rest of the community.
A number of years ago, I took my children over to Shelter Home in Petaling Jaya to help paint and fix up one of the homes there.
To prepare, they had to choose a few of their favourite toys to give away to some of the children in the home. This forced them to explore the meaning of giving and also to be involved in making a difference in a small way. We had some great conversations on giving, love and justice.
Conversations such as this are critical for the development of young children. Such activities, when designed for your children, help them develop their character and also expose them to early leadership experiences.
Eva sent her son for a sports class at a very early age. This helped him to not only exercise but also to develop his social and teamwork skills.
But more importantly, the conversations she had with him after practice encouraged him not to give up when he experienced defeat and loss.
Allowing children to experience loss and failure early in life teaches them how to pick themselves up and keep going.
Q3: What activities do you do with your children?
Outdoor activities were the most cited activity. This includes outdoor sports and athletic activities. Playing together was also another common response, followed by movies and reading.
Holidays and travel, sports, and having meals together were also mentioned a substantial number of times, followed by conversations, discussions, and imparting knowledge and skills.
A respondent shared how she reads books to her children to expose them to the outside world, and she makes it real to them by not sugar-coating the harsh realities of the world in the process.
It is reassuring to see that the activities parents do with their children as well as what they do to ensure their child is developing well does not contradict learning styles theories and in fact, assist their children in learning by offering the practice, exploration, observation as well as discussion and guidance around topics.
Keeping the intentionality in mind constantly could help to make these interactions even more fruitful in terms of ‘teaching’ children about different aspects of life.
As parents, every interaction that we have with our children is an opportunity to mould them and impact their growth in some way – yet the majority of time, it is instinctively done, not intentional.
The key for parents is to intentionally allocate time to spend with your children. As my son and daughter were growing up, I started to allocate weekly ‘Papa Time’ with them. This would be time for us to do stuff with me that they generally never did.
We set-up a lemonade stall and made lemonade to sell to our neighbours during one such session. We have even created our own game. Occasionally, we write stories and compare them. Through all these activities, they have my undivided and that is key – spending time with your child.
Apply these insights to your parenting style
Here are a few things to remember, when dealing with young children (up to 12 years):
- They can learn through talking about themselves, their families and their lives.
- They are curious to learn and discover new concepts on their own.
- They like to use their imagination to discover things.
- They naturally need to touch, see, hear and interact to learn.
- Because their attention span is limited, they need engaging and entertaining activities to keep their interest and engagement.
- They like to cooperate and work in groups.
- They need support and encouragement while learning.
- Parents/teachers need to work with each child individually because they need guidance.
- They need play. There’s no wasted time in play time and it’s not just to fill up time either.
Some children learn best when they learn a few small facts at a time, and figuring out how to put the pieces together – a part-to-whole sort of style.
Other children learn best when they first have an overview of how things work and fit together; then they fill in the details with the smaller facts – a whole-to-part sort of style.
The traditional school approach favours the part-to-whole learner. It’s an incremental approach that builds over time.
Phonics instruction tends to work well as a beginning reading strategy for this type of learner, and traditional math instruction can work well.
A whole-to-part learner, on the other hand, needs to see the larger picture and understand how new knowledge fits into what he or she already knows.
Learning sight words tends to work well as a beginning reading strategy for these children, with phonics coming in a bit later as a strategy to conquer new words.
For this type of learner, it’s only after knowing how to read the words ‘rat’, ‘cat’, ‘sat’, and ‘hat’ that it makes sense to explain how those words are put together as combinations of letters that represent specific sounds.
Dealing with children younger than 12 years of age:
- When introducing an idea/concept, relate it to examples from their family/friends – try to draw out examples from their experiences, especially those that exhibit what you are trying to instil.
- Design activities and interactions with them that bring out the values you intend to teach.
- Use role play, skits, hypothetical scenarios, storytelling, and treasure hunts.
- Use simulations, videos, field trips, group activities, and lots of play.
- Get them involved in group work, delegation of roles, and collaborative projects.
- Make use of praise and recognition, acting as a coach, and guiding and directing when necessary.
- Find time for one-to-one talks to tackle specific issues and areas that are not understood.
- When attempting to instil a new idea, start by explaining how this idea relates to the overall issue, or how it is important in their lives.
Adolescents between the ages of 13 and 19 have a different set of interests, criteria, and expectations and thus, it would be good to bear these in mind when trying to provide lessons to them. It is worth remembering the following:
- They are in search for personal identity.
- They are looking for activities that meet their needs and learning expectations.
- They become disruptive when they lose interest in the lesson or feel bored.
- They prefer help and support from their friends.
- They need constant constructive feedback.
- They draw upon a variety of resources in the learning environment, including personal experience, the local community, and the Internet.
- They need the teacher to build bridges between the syllabus and their world of interests and experiences.
- They can learn abstract issues and love challenging activities.
- Their personal initiative and energy are moved into action through meaningful involvement with relevant and current content.
- Their social circles and peer networks influence their learnings. If the learning environment among peers is highly competitive or with a lot of comparison, it may bring a different learning outcome as opposed to a supportive and collaborative environment.
- A young adolescent brain can hold seven items of information, plus or minus two items, in working memory. Show them how the information fits together.
- The addition of emotion can help students remember. The young adolescent brain does not have a fully developed frontal lobe (which houses higher-level thinking) so many times the thinking gets accomplished by the amygdala (which typically stores emotional memory). Emotion can also work against learning – no learning occurs if a student feels threatened. Something as simple as being called on to answer a question or asked to read aloud can produce a threatening situation for some adolescents.
- The brain is social and requires interaction to fully develop.
- Practice/rehearsal is critical to long-term learning. Usage of the Socratic Teaching method (asking questions) will allow feedback and verification of understanding.
When dealing with adolescents:
- Be a role model and be relatable.
- Keep activities relevant to them by referencing examples of their current interests.
- Find ways to change topics often to keep excitement levels up.
- Be careful in the words used when providing feedback and do it in a facilitative manner rather than instructive.
- Get them to share related stories and examples that they have on their own.
- Link what you ‘teach’ back to their lives and how it affects them, or how they should ‘use’ a piece of knowledge or skills you are teaching.
- Provide a limited amount of information at a time, in a manner that is easy to retain – story telling, mnemonics, reciprocal teaching (think, pair, share), using visuals/graphics, hands on activities, role plays, skits and models, simulations, rhythm, rhyme and rap, chunking – and show how it all fits together.
- Story-fy, but also provide a non-threatening environment, without fear of being put on the spot. Allow for wait time (time to process information before asking for a response).