The traditional education system is failing both children and parents – it has been for some time – the pandemic has just highlighted its flaws. 

Jenn Sutherland, CEO of Beyond School, has spent more than 20 years helping families create world class educational experiences for their children outside the four walls of a classroom. Last spring, when COVID-19 ground the wheels of the educational establishment to a halt, the failures and limitations of the school system were thrown into the spotlight and people who had never previously considered alternatives started asking, “Is there a better way?””

The answer for many families is a definitive YES. 

Jenn has spoken and led educational training workshops and experiences in eight countries on four continents. She has helped families from preschool through college entrance and supported their transitions towards self directed and integrated educational solutions as unique as the children themselves. She speaks and writes widely on education and is excited about the potential of self directed learning to expand opportunity for children to teach their potential and chase their dreams.

Jenn said: “2020 has not been a good year for education. Schools are failing to deliver and students are struggling with the effects of the pandemic on school systems. The UN Policy Brief on Education During COVID predicts that the impacts may last a lifetime, impacting the long term earning power of today’s students.” 

She added: “When Google and Apple announced that a college degree was no longer required to work at the two tech giants, that was a death knell for our outdated educational system. The time has come to change the way we think about education and begin preparing students for the real world, in the real world, with a whole-person development focus.”

The explosion of interest in alternative schools, homeschooling, pod schooling, and established and effective e-learning platforms has taken the discussion of educational options from the fringe few to the mainstream as parents struggle to pick up the slack for their kids.

What many parents are discovering is that the deficiencies in their local schools are more drastic than they first thought and their kids are not being prepared for the real world, at all. Is it possible that we have COVID to thank for forcing educational reform that has been too long coming?

But what’s a family to do when mired in those deficiencies and struggling with the day to day drama of pandemic life, the worst version of online schooling, and the social and emotional difficulties of kids growing up under lockdown?

“There are three steps you can take immediately that will make your children’s learning journey less stressful and more fun. They’ll also flip the script away from forced learning and resistant learners to relationship and memory making in collaboration together,” Jenn says.

Three Easy Ways to Make Learning Better & More Fun

  • Embrace self directed learning
  • Focus on family culture building
  • Prioritize Emotional & Mental Health

Self-Directed Learning

Self-directed learning isn’t a new concept and, in fact, it’s the end game of all education: People who know how to learn forward and can figure out what they need and find it! But, it’s pretty much the opposite of the approach schools take with a structured curriculum.

If you’re butting heads with your kids over the contrived lessons provided through your district’s e-learning, maybe it’s time to take a more interest driven, self directed approach. 

“At Beyond School, we believe that learning is happening everywhere and learning is happening always,” Sutherland says. “When people are provided with engaging learning materials and their curiosity is fostered and nurtured, they’ll learn willingly and quickly! The problem is rarely with the kids! We help parents to make the mental shift towards trusting their children and learning how to facilitate the learning that is already happening and maximize that!”

The first step is to get off the treadmill of “you must” style learning and instead ask your kids what they would like to learn today. It really is that simple. If they don’t have an answer, because some kids have been conditioned to believe their instincts can’t be trusted or don’t know, then start with some fun, family style learning that invites collaboration.

“The trick is in learning to trust your kids and learning to see the world through their eyes, feeding the tiny fires of interest into raging infernos of passion for learning!”

Focus on Family Culture Building

What the heck is family culture? It’s what characterizes your family, who you are, what you’re known for. Which words pop to mind when you think about that? Which words would you like to develop into your family culture?

It’s tempting during lockdown to go into survival mode. Instead, Jenn recommends using that intense family togetherness to build a team that loves to work and play together. 

Start small. Choose one or two things you can do, each day, to develop the kind of family life you want and that build loving relationships and memories with your kids instead of just co-existing or getting through he business of life together.

“At the end of the day, what we hope to take away from the 20 year long haul of parenthood are memories of really happy times and close, connected relationships with our adult kids. The best way to ensure you get that is to make a point, daily, of prioritizing your family culture and building it with intention.” 

Like what? You might be asking. Here are some ideas from Beyond School families lockdown life:

  • Family game nights
  • Daily hikes
  • Shared project based learning
  • Reading aloud (even for older kids!)
  • Movie nights
  • Cooking together
  • Making music together (even if you don’t play an instrument!)
  • Dance parties

Prioritize Emotional & Mental Health

Lots of families are struggling with emotional and mental health. The reports on the impacts of the pandemic lockdowns on children’s mental health are truly frightening. If your kids are feeling the strain, don’t ignore it or sweep their feelings under the rug.

Instead, work to increase your own emotional literacy so that you can help your kids with theirs. “Put your own oxygen mask on first,” says Lucy Power, Beyond School’s CXO, who is a trained youth worker with years of experience helping children and adults develop mental wellness and resiliency. 

Create space for your kids to express their emotions and hold space for them to feel their way through. Validate their feelings and prioritize their mental health and wellness. Make this a daily practice and model it for your kids in your own life. 

The better kids understand their emotions, what causes them and the needs they point to, the more likely those children are to be able to get their needs met in healthy ways and build emotional resiliency over the long haul. Kids who are emotionally healthy are also better prepared to learn enthusiastically.

Sometimes the shifts we need to make to make measurable improvements in our family life and learning journeys are simpler than they appear. Beyond School is committed to helping families create joyful learning experiences, embrace whole family learning, and support their mental, emotional and physical health right now.

They are on a mission to ensure no child is left behind in the chaos of the current educational system, and that families as a whole feel empowered and excited about learning together.