As 2019 has arrived with talk of ‘Veganuary’ and many other lifestyle changes for better health, at school this is of course our second New Year. Our first in September always gives our pupils the chance to start afresh and embark upon the new academic year with gusto. I wonder if New Year resolutions of intent are now outdated. January always heralds the arrival of second chances and reflects the essential growth and learning process for children. Even as adults we often learn much more from our mistakes than our successes and this is certainly the case for children who need trial and error to develop their skills from experience.
However, this relationship is not a linear one and the balance varies dependent on the age of the child. Risk taking and judgement are both fundamental aspects of development through childhood, to adolescence to adulthood. As toddlers learn to walk they fall over; they hold on to support; they precariously balance and topple; they finally progress from tottering steps, to walking, to running and jumping. They could not achieve this without trial and error nor without the resilience to be prepared to get up and try again.
Adolescence creates a different set of challenges and, as I heard at a recent conference, the teenager’s brain is hard-wired to take risks. This is not a throwaway remark to explain teenage rebellion; moreover it is an essential part of evolution reflecting the need for offspring to develop the courage and judgement they need to function independently from their parents. Societal norms in our country mean that most 21st century children do not have independence from their parents until their late teens or early 20’s, but this is a social development that has superseded biological evolution. Young people need to understand what they can and cannot do safely; they need to understand what is dangerous but also when risks need to be taken. Parents, nor indeed teachers, are not always there to intervene so this learning is essential…..in the same way that the toddler learns to walk, then run, then jump, maybe moving onto hurdling and cycling.
The advent of a New Year gives everyone the chance to reflect and take stock. In school, it is the perfect time to review the progress and lessons learned in the Autumn Term with the aim of adapting and adjusting where necessary, for improvement. We should not be fearful of challenge or errors …. But how we move forward is crucial. Embracing challenge and opportunity is part of the learning and performance curve that we experience through in to adulthood. If we can help get the balance and approach right for children, then surely they are more likely to succeed and flourish as adults. Then perhaps every month, every week or every day can be a ‘new you’ because we are constantly growing, learning and evolving. Let’s hope so.
‘To err is human; to forgive, divine.’ (Alexander Pope 1711)