A Child’s Natural Habitat
As our school developed, I came to realize that the happiness and success we observed in students was because they attended school in a place that truly was a child’s natural habitat.
A child’s natural habitat includes many important factors. Humans are dynamic, diverse beings, and the ultimate learning environment for young humans embraces and builds upon students’ dynamic and diverse natures, while strategically offering space in which they can learn real-world skills they will need into the future.
Orsch did not set out knowing these truths. Orsch set out to learn them. From the very beginning, I knew that if I really wanted to find out what a child most needs, what groups of children most need, I needed to step back and learn from them. It worked. They taught me exactly what I needed to know. Much of what I learned surprised me. Many of my initial guesses were off-base. It’s tough for grown ups to admit they don’t know best. It’s tough for most grown ups to let go and allow young humans to guide. I’m glad it wasn’t tough for me. I wouldn’t know anything at all if that had been tough for me.
Keep in mind that children and adolescents are actually just young humans. Think about yourself. Think about your most basic needs. My guess is that a child’s needs are pretty much the same as yours…if you’re willing to admit it.
A child yearns to belong. A child truly loves to learn. A child loves to create in various capacities–some days with paper, some days with ideas, some days with games or silliness, some days with new inventions. It may suprise you, but one of a child’s favorite things to do is think.A child loves to be celebrated and embraced for his talents and place in the world–his very own unique place in the world and his very own unique nature. Children yearn to express themselves. They play. They love. The explore. They sing, dance, skip and they really dig feeling exuberant! Children wish to be understood. They need space grow at their own pace, in their own time. They wish to be forgiven for their mistakes, and they prefer to make mistakes with space and tolerance to learn from them. They require a social network–some delving in deeper than others. They benefit from adults in their lives who understand all of this, love them for who they are, honor their needs, and intentionally support them, guiding them to be their best.
A child needs guidance. A child needs to be challenged to think for himself, or make her own decisions. A child needs a grown-up to insist on an apology, or a fitting real-world consequence. A child needs adults who constantly have their best interests in mind, even when his or her best interest includes a tough lesson. They need adults who will help direct them or nudge them in a positive direction. They need adults who offer appropriate activities and choices. They need adults they trust. They need adults who understand them as individuals and as members of a group. They need adults who love them and believe in them. They need grown-ups who recognize their need for flexibility, and who are willing to allow it.
A child needs healthy peer interactions and a community he trusts. Healthy peer interactions can be facilitated by celebrations of individuality rather than comparing students within sameness. Healthy peer interactions happen when students, themselves, value their learning space and time, and govern each other. Healthy peer interactions happen when random dance parties emerge, or when laughter ensues in the middle of a math lesson, especially when their teacher joins in. Healthy community is built when each human feels productive and important and valued.
It’s easy to create such an environment when sameness and mandates don’t exist. It’s easy to create such an environment when the objective is providing and meeting their true needs. It requires lots of careful strategy, but it’s easy if you’re willing to try it.
It’s important to keep our goals in mind as nurturers of young humans. As teachers and parents and advocates of children, our jobs should not be to produce scores or percentiles. Our objective should be to guide the treasures in our care to be their most productive, capable, thriving selves who are members of a healthy broader community. Our jobs should be to inspire and ignite. To do so requires a fitting habitat. To do so requires a fitting atmosphere with elements that target the objective. To create a child’s natural habitat, the grown-ups need to have the child’s best interest at heart, every single possible interest…as many of them as they can muster, and they need to be willing to take action and create the necessary environment, allowing our young humans to prosper.