21 Sep 2017

'Kids with interpersonal skills come from homes where there are rich conversations'

From Nine To Noon, 11:27 am on 21 September 2017

Employers say many of today's graduates are low on innovation, creativity and interpersonal skills.

So what can parents do to encourage children to think for themselves?

Explore, debate, play and don't focus on academic performance too early, says parenting consultant Nathan Mikaere-Wallis.

A lot of parents think National Standards is the New Zealand curriculum, when it is actually an assessment structure imposed over the top of the curriculum, MW says.

"What's happening in New Zealand is teachers are feeling the push to National Standards and getting kids ready for that test, rather than teaching to the evidence-based document - (in the case of primary schools) the Key Competencies."

While assessment is helpful for early identification of students that are struggling, it shouldn't lead the curriculum, he says.

National Standards are appropriate by the age of 9 or 10, but if your child is under 7, fostering a good attitude towards learning and good self-esteem matters much more than whether they're hitting scholastic targets, he says.

"I think it's damaging asking a six-year-old what reading group they got up to."

Parents can make it clear to both their children's teachers and children themselves that a love for learning, creativity and diversity of thinking is what they value over performance.

If your child is under seven, instead of asking right-or-wrong questions, ask open-ended questions which encourage their right-brain, he says.

New Zealand parents seem to want to strictly focus their children on high-status (left-brain) subjects like maths and science and creative extracurricular activities (right-brain) are in danger of being dismissed as a distracting waste of time.

Yet the countries that traditionally produce the top mathematicians – Hungary, Netherlands and Japan – all have compulsory music education, too, he says.

"Exercising the right brain actually makes them better at a left-brain function like maths."

When it comes to play, stop taking charge and let the child lead. They're the experts, he says.

"We jump in, as adults, with testing questions… 'What colour is this?' Unless you're pretty sure the person knows the answer that's just setting them up for low self-esteem. You don't hear adults say that to each other in conversation."

Be wary of preparing your child for their next stage of development rather than being with them where they are, he says.

"I often joke with parents 'How many of you spend the weekend practising with a Zimmer frame? Not really anyone does that."

The students who get all the 'excellences' in school are rarely the ones who go on to become great leaders and innovators, and it's often the skills learnt from right-brain activities that make you employable, he says.

"If you're really successful at school you've learnt to be very compliant, you've learnt to jump through the hoops, you've learnt to do exactly as you're told … whereas when you go out to the workforce what people are wanting is innovation, thinking outside the square."

Parents can encourage this by creating a home environment where the child feels confident articulating, sharing and debating their ideas, he says.

"Kids that have interpersonal skills come from homes where there are rich conversations which have helped hem develop the ability to think and articulate ... You either come from a home where you learnt those skills from your parents. And if you didn't, it's not likely you're going to get it from school."

Educator, researcher and parenting commentator Nathan Mikaere-Wallis is the director of X-Factor Education.