At home with Twirl and friends

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How are we inviting children to laugh and have enjoyment while learning and changing?

Last week families drove to Enos Garcia Elementary School to pick up student computer devices for remote learning.

They sat in their cars completing a parent survey to help the elementary school staff understand what resources and supports parents and children need during these uncertain and challenging times. Survey questions focused on needed educational supports, creating learning spaces and routines in the home environment, requests for basic needs help, life challenges they are experiencing and communication needs from the school.

For me, one question raised more questions: “Who will your child be with when they are doing remote learning?” Responses indicated grandparents will be the sole or one of the remote learning companions for children in 34.7 percent (93 of 268) of the families and older siblings will serve this role in 21.7 percent (58 of 268) of the families.

Did you expect family members including grandparents and older siblings to become educational assistants? How will we support and train them for this required role while balancing with their other life roles? What are the models and guidelines to provide a foundation for them to create a safe and effective learning environment?

One model that has guided my efforts as an educator and youth development provider has been the basic needs Control Theory put forth by William Glasser. He has identified that each of us must have our basic survival needs satisfied and then our psychological needs follow – feeling a sense of belonging, freedom, fun and power.

Quite often when behavior issues arise, it has to do with an imbalance resulting in one or more of these basic needs not being met. So what are we doing to provide the survival needs of food, water, shelter, warmth, relaxation and health?

Getting back to Enos Garcia, 26.9 percent of the families indicated the need for food support and 13.1 percent have requested help paying for rent and utilities.

As educators – and all of us are now educators – consider designing the four psychological needs into our children’s traditional, after-school and out-of-school learning days. What are we doing to create a sense of belonging which includes being loved, being respected, developing friendships and the characteristics of sharing and cooperation? These are essential, especially as we start the new school year.

How do we do this in the time of remote/virtual learning? The need for fun must be designed into our days especially for our elementary children. How are we inviting children to laugh and have enjoyment while learning and changing?

Satisfying the other two psychological needs are necessary for all children, but especially for adolescents. Freedom comes with the ability to have choices and independence. I don’t like the choice of the word power for the fourth psychological need, although it fits when described as the need for skills, recognition, success, feeling important and having a sense of achievement.

As you are engaging your children in their remote learning lessons and the activities of learning we experience on a daily basis, step back and think about how you integrate the needs for belonging, fun, freedom and power.

Another model that has guided my design of educational experiences for children has been the "flow" theory put forth by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. He identified that for effective learning in any activity we must balance between the level of challenge of the activity and the level of skill of the participant. Once this balance is met, a state of flow may occur, in which the self-consciousness disappears and one becomes completely absorbed in the activity.

In other words, optimum learning happens. Unwanted behaviors result without this balance due to one of two things happening: if the activity is too challenging for the child’s current level of skill resulting in anxiousness; or the activity isn’t challenging enough for the child’s high level of skill resulting in boredom.

So what are you doing to create a sense of balance (optimum learning) between level of skill and level of challenge in the activities you design for your children?

The Search Institute from Minneapolis, Minnesota, has conducted research about children in three areas: 1. identifying the building blocks (40 developmental assets) of healthy development that help young people grow up healthy, caring and responsible; 2. identifying the things that spark children result in improving their lives through igniting their interests, passions and talents; and 3. building developmental relationships by connecting children with caring adults positively affects who they are, the choices they make and who they become.

Be curious about the things that spark your child and connect them with the people and places that will ignite their unique sparks. In doing so, they will be more engaged in their education resulting in them feeling a sense of belonging, power, independence and fun.

Andy Greif is a nurturing navigator at Taos Behavioral Health. Contact him at

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