I just read this fascinating article in Psychology Today that talked about what skills the current generation will need in order to be successful by the time they’re old enough to hold down a job. The author points out that the model for our current education system was invented over a hundred years ago—when telephones were just being invented, refrigerators were blocks of ice, and television was pure science fiction. In other words, during a time that today’s children absolutely cannot comprehend. More importantly, the goals of education differed significantly a hundred years ago. Today (as the author says):
“The best jobs will go to applicants who have the skillsets to analyze information as it becomes available, the flexibility to adapt when what were believed to be facts are revised, and to collaborate with other experts on a global playing field requiring tolerance, willingness to consider alternative perspectives, and articulately communicate one’s ideas successfully.”
How do we prepare our children for this future? The author suggests encouraging activities that teach “predicting, planning, revising, and accountability”.
Here’s an idea: let your child plan the next hike.
- A week in advance tell your child that next weekend, you’re going on an adventure, and they’re in charge! Any adventure will do. I use a hike in the example below, but any other adventure will work too (camping, pic-nic, bike ride, frog catching excursion, etc.). It doesn’t even have to be a new place as long as the child is in the driver’s seat (so to speak) this time around. Just make sure that the adventure is long enough to involve some actual planning.
- Talk it through with your child as the week goes on. Ask specific questions that encourage them to anticipate and think about time. How long to get from your house to the trailhead? How long to the final destination? Will it take the same amount of time to get back to the car?What time should we leave in the morning?
- Help them anticipate what might happen along the way, guide them in bringing what they’ll need to get the most from each possible situation. What do you think the weather will be like? What will you need to bring if it rains or gets windy? Do you think you’ll be hungry? What if you see an animal in the trail? What if brother or sister gets a sliver?
- At the same time, help them anticipate how they will adapt to situations if they do arise. How will you feel if it starts to rain? Will you plan to keep hiking? At what point will the rain be too much? Anticipating emotions beforehand can help make disappointment more manageable. Thinking about potential setbacks before they happen encourages adaptability and positive thinking. And (survivalists argue) setting up turn-around points, knowing when it is time to go with Plan B, is the key to surviving any outdoor adventure.
- Allow your child to be accountable for their planning decisions. If they forget an important (but not crucial) item, let it go. The lesson will be harmless but memorable. If the items they intend to bring are many, discuss prioritizing. And if they insist on bringing everything, the importance of prioritizing will become even more important around the last third of the journey when their backpack seems extra heavy!
- Give your child the opportunity to practice synthesizing information and using recall in a variety of contexts. As the time of the trip draws near, show them items, pictures, or other bits of information that they can store away and use while on the actual hike (pictures of birds you’re likely to encounter, an image of the lake at the end of the trip, a map with the peak on it, guide books for flowers in your area etc.).
- Finally, on the day of the trip, your child is in control. They must communicate to you clearly what the objective is and all necessary steps to achieve it. Give them a chance to practice communicating well—stepping outside of their own knowledge base, their own perspective, and into yours. Let them practice saying what they want to say in a way that is understandable to you. For example:
- “Let’s go right,” says your child while facing you.
- “Right?” you ask, looking puzzled, “Okay…” as you walk to your right.
- “No! My right!” your exasperated child cries.
- “Well you didn’t say ‘your right’, how was I to know?” you point out…
- Above all, keep the adventure light-hearted. Responsibility can be stressful even when it is for something fun. Stay relaxed and non-critical. The point is to make adaptation, anticipation, and communication second-nature. While on your hike, enjoy the moment and don’t focus too much on the planning that went into it.
Note: While the details of planning are better suited for older children, this can easily be adapted for young children. Start by letting them pack their own backpack, show them how to read a simple map, let them lead on the trail or pull out a guide book and go over some different plants or animals they might see along the way. The earlier you introduce these types of skills, the better.