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How to make sure school engages your child’s curiosity rather than leaving them bored

Most schools these days practise a student-driven approach to learning which encourages pupils to think for themselves, tackle challenges and discuss ideas. If your child is bored in class, here’s what you can do

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 26 June, 2018, 6:46pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 27 June, 2018, 7:05pm

My Year 2 son finds school boring and isn’t excited by it at all, a Hong Kong parent writes. His teacher is quite strict and he seems to make them do a lot of worksheets. At home he’s chatty, interested in everything and always asking questions. I thought the education system had improved.

Firstly, your son’s curious nature is an extremely positive attribute, which should be nurtured and encouraged. Recent studies show that children who are curious, solve problems and take responsibility for their own learning generally do better at school and are more successful in later life.

Why will my child not let me help her with her homework?

On the whole, education has improved for children like your son in the sense that most schools promote teaching that is less didactic, encouraging pupils to think for themselves, tackle challenges and discuss ideas with others. Primary schools in particular tend to use fewer textbooks or worksheets than in the past, and rote learning (a memorisation technique) and similar types of activities are much less common.

This student-driven approach to learning, in which pupils have the flexibility to ask innovative questions and research areas of interest, takes into account the latest research in brain development, aiming for children to become flexible, lifelong learners. I’d be surprised if your son’s school has not taken some of this on board, as education these days needs to equip the new generation for a world where jobs require flexible thinking and problem-solving skills.

Bear in mind that Year 2 boys are still quite immature and not always ready for the formality and structure of school. Many boys of your son’s age wouldn’t choose to sit down and concentrate on academic activities for periods of time. They would rather be physically active, doing practical activities and – let’s be honest – playing.

In the Netherlands, for example, children often don’t start school until the age of seven, when they are considered ready to learn in a more formal environment.

Unfortunately, schools are under a lot of pressure these days to produce academic results. This means that the type of education that parents ultimately want for their children needs to be carefully considered when choosing a school. Certainly, many schools conform to modern best practice, being more child-centred than others, taking a hands-on approach with an emphasis on learning through play in the early years.

Education experts have suggested that traditional learning approaches can limit pupils in many ways. They advocate instead that educational environments should be more active and interactive, helping to boost overall academic achievement and creativity.

Moving around the classroom and interacting with others, rather than simply sitting down and working at a desk, can help children like your son to retain information and be more engaged with learning tasks, and consequently more motivated. This approach is also beneficial for health. There are schools that have even gone as far as providing innovations such as standing desks.

However, whatever approach the school ultimately adopts, the role of the individual teacher is as crucial as ever for the happiness of each child. Their ability to connect with and inspire students, guiding them to the next steps of learning, remains vital to promoting effective learning.

My son doesn’t like sitting next to girls in class. Does he have to?

Perhaps your son has not bonded well with this particular teacher. Although he is nearing the end of the academic year it may be worth discussing your concerns with the school, if only to pave the way for next year. A good teacher will make learning relevant and meaningful to pupils’ current context, and to take their thinking far beyond the answering of closed questions on a worksheet.

They will also promote a safe environment for risk-taking. Many important inventions and innovations are discovered using trial and error and making many mistakes along the way. Using these mistakes positively as part of the learning process and being a risk-taker is key to encouraging curiosity and helping children to approach unfamiliar situations with confidence and independence.

Continue to encourage your son to ask “I wonder” questions at home, and to continue to consider how and why things work. Encourage him to get out and about, to observe nature closely and experiment with ideas. There are some fascinating illustrated children’s books about how the world works and some very informative children’s websites, some of them interactive.

Of course, there may be no definitive answer to certain questions, but it’s the thought processes involved that are important.

Education is a complex and fluid process. Your focus on what’s best for your son will stand him in good stead for the future. While being in partnership with a school is the best model, never be afraid to make appropriate challenges when you feel they are necessary. The best schools and teachers will respond positively.

Julie McGuire is a former Hong Kong primary-school teacher