Expert Q&A: How parents can thrive as educators during isolation
Recently, I had the pleasure of chatting with Dr Charles Margerison on the topic of how parents can help educate their children.
Dr Margerison is a successful psychologist who has spent a large part of his career understanding how young children learn. He has completed major studies and consulted widely for corporates in the fields of organizational and educational psychology.
His tenure as Professor of Management at both Cranfield University in the UK and the University of Queensland, Australia, has earned him wide respect across the academic and professional fraternities.
When I sat down with Dr Margerison, I was particularly interested in his knowledge of history and world facts. At first, I was astounded by his ability to recall these pieces of information in an instant. As the interview went on, we delved further into the subject of “Amazing People”.
The Amazing People collection is a series of educational resources that tell the inspirational stories of people who changed the world.
From music and the arts, to science, engineering, business and humanitarian efforts, these resources intertwine crucial points of history into early childhood education.
As we know, headlines in media are currently running rife with discussion about how parents are required to take on an educator role with their children during this period of isolation.
Some are thriving and others are struggling to cope with the fact they are now being asked to greatly extend their skills as coaches and facilitators, rather than just being mum or dad.
Considering the current climate, I posed to Dr Margerison a series of crucial points in the following Q&A.
Not only did Dr Margerison draw on his extensive knowledge of psychology and education, his answers also reflect those of a father to four and grandfather to twelve children of his own.
I’d certainly consider his responses to be essential reading for any parent who now finds themselves in the role of an educator.
In the current climate of the world, home schooling and parents as Educators, has become an important topic. How do you feel about this?
When I went to school at age five I could speak English. However, I had never had a lesson and no one had taken me to a classroom to teach me how to speak English. I also had many other skills, I could tie my shoelaces, I could dress myself and clean my teeth. All of these things I learned from my mother and father. Both of them left school at the age of 14 and they had no professional qualifications. However, they taught me all they could in the first five years of my life.
Therefore, I see parents as the most important educators. Teachers at school can only build on what the students have learned from their parents. In the current situation where students have to learn at home due to the severe problems associated with the Covid-19 virus, parents have to take an even larger responsibility, but not only as teachers. They are coaches, tutors and facilitators to support their children. They can do this by asking questions and encouraging their children to do their best in difficult circumstances.
Is there more to be known about the schooling history of children who went on to be ‘famous’? Will we look back on this period of ‘pandemic’ and have raised some genius children in our midst?”
Having studied more than 500 amazing people from around the world, I was interested to see if the parents of those people had a major influence on the success of their children. The interesting finding is that many of the amazing people had little or no support from their parents. Michelangelo went at an early age to live with a stonemason because his father was so busy doing other things and his mother was not around. Harriet Tubman was born into slavery and her parents could not read or write, yet she became a leader of the women’s movement in the United States.
These are examples of people of who made a success of their life despite major difficulties in their early years. Equally there are people who made outstanding contributions with parents who supported them. Marie Curie received two Nobel prizes for science. She had parents who were educated, but girls were not allowed to go to university in Poland. So instead she left and went to university in France. Helen Keller suffered a severe disability soon after her birth and was incapacitated with regard to her abilities to see and hear, despite this she became a leader, an outstanding spokesperson for disabled people.”
Should children learn about historical figures now more so than ever? Do you think that should be a starting point in education?”
The important thing is that we learn more from other people than we do from reading books. It starts from the first day we are born. We imitate what our mother and father do, and that is how we learn our basic language. If I was born in Russia, I would speak Russian. If I was born in France, I would speak French. In short, we imitate what we hear and see.
This particularly applies to our values and principles. Our parents give us their views on what is right and wrong. That is the foundation of character. Parents also give us a starting point of our mental attitudes and how to deal with the ups and downs of life. They help convert problems into solutions and to develop an optimistic approach. That has been found to be the crucial factor in a student’s education.
Should there be a short course made available to families about how to guide children through each phase of their schooling, for example Kindergarten, Infants, Primary and Highschool?
It is ironic that while we spend millions on the education of teachers, we spend virtually zero on the education of parents regarding the development of their children. It would be extremely valuable if all parents, early in the child’s life, were provided with workshops regarding not only the health and care of young people, but the principles of learning and development.
How do you think this idea of supporting parents could be introduced and promoted on a national scale?
In order to facilitate the involvement of parents, a system can be established by the government to reward those who participate. Just as we pay teachers to go on course, we can pay parents to go on learning and development workshops. Employers should support this by giving the parents facilities to assist the development of their children.
There are many ways in which this can be done, such as by bringing people together who are parents to share and compare the different ways in which they assist and develop their own children. These meetings in themselves will open the eyes of other parents to what is possible, just by hearing different views and experiences. Based on the principle of comparison and adoption, people will go home with new ideas on how to improve their role as parental coaches, tutors and facilitators.
Can families use this time of “isolation” to begin learning together?
Education should be about life, not the curriculum. During this time, parents have a great opportunity to share their own life stories. That is how people have learned for centuries, by passing stories from one generation to the next. These stories are always about life, rather than academic subjects. They help young people learn ways and means of living their life in a positive way. Therefore, we need to find ways and means to do that more.
An example is that a student can ask their grandparent to talk about their life and what were the most important things they learned. They can talk to their aunties and uncles and ask them what important lessons they learned on the road of life. In particular, they can interview their parents and ask them what their views are on writing a project. Outside the family, students can go into the local community and see statues of elders. They can reflect on the achievements of others and apply those to their own life. In short, students should be discovering and learning from other people how to live a satisfying life – not only during isolation, but beyond as well.
I think it is fair to say, parents can and should be educators. Perhaps they just don’t realise this, or give themselves enough credit in this role. The best way forward during this time is to promote quality experiences as a family, embrace the gentleness of life indoors and relish shared experiences.
During a crisis, your positive response as a parent is often the best lesson that a child will apply to their own future challenges and endeavours. Remember, always be on the look-out for the silver linings, they are definitely there.
By Nicole Hicks, Early Years Specialist