Thursday, April 20, 2017

How Can You Can You Link Household Chores and 21st Century Learning Skills?

How many of us struggle getting kids to help around the house, with things like chores and picking up after themselves? If your webcam was on, I would probably see a lot of head-nodding and hand-raising. How can we motivate our kids to voluntarily participate and engage in household work? The answer doesn't necessarily involve bribery or allowances, and pitching in collaboratively at home might be a building block for deep learning in classrooms.

Research conducted by Dr. Andrew Coppens, assistant professor of education in learning sciences at the University of New Hampshire, has shown that children in many Latino families, specifically in Indigenous-heritage communities of Mexico and the U.S., are engaged contributors to their families, helping voluntarily with cooking, cleaning, etc. Generally speaking, families in this research report that children helping voluntarily in a wide range of chores around the house is a normal part of life. Families and children share norms of what collaboration looks like within the family unit – everyone pitches in to help. Imagine your own child, not needing to be told or urged to do work, but simply noticing work that needs to be done and helping to do it!

Although this might seem unlikely to some, Dr. Coppens suggests it is worth the effort. He points out that when children take an active role in the function of the household, helping voluntarily, they learn collaborative skills and develop a powerful sense of autonomy, agency, self-worth, and social belonging.

There is far more detail in what Dr. Coppens is researching and discovering. I encourage you to listen to his recent appearance on the Your ParentingMojo podcast (iTunes download here), which provides a very accessible overview of a unique way of thinking about these topics. You can also take a deeper look into his research here.

I see a clear connection to Beach Middle School students’ learning and development. If there is one universal truth for all middle schoolers: they are looking to belong, and to be accepted. This can start within the family. The confidence and validation that a middle school student gains from having a contributing role in their own family is, in my opinion, crucial to their ability to branch out and learn in different social scenarios. You can give your student(s) a chance to experience productive collaboration, and the feeling of belonging that comes with it, through simple everyday opportunities to work alongside you and others, sharing ownership in the cleanliness of the house, cooking meals, or preparing lunches. As Dr. Coppens puts it in the podcast, a chance to develop "long-term commitment to reciprocal goals," along with support for kids’ autonomy, amounts to a powerful ideal of at-home learning. That same ideal extends to the classroom and to the workplace. By cementing this mindset at home, you could be setting your student up for great success in school and in the workplace.

At Beach Middle School, group work is defined by individuals working collectively by collaborating, communicating, thinking critically and creatively. We identify these traits as being "21st-century skills". We attempt to build these skills in academic and elective courses throughout the school year, and are moving towards renovating our existing spaces to help facilitate growth in those areas.  The push in education is to make spaces that cater to individual student needs – like comfort, ease, and accessibility – without making learning individualistic. One aspect of our approach has been to turn the classroom into a nest, or home for students. Educators have found that students, when comfortable and relaxed, are better capable of implementing 21st-century skills. Students also begin to take collective, collaborative ownership of the spaces they inhabit and flex the furniture to fit their learning styles and desired educational outcomes. By working towards "long-term commitment to reciprocal goals" during group work, the end result can even extend beyond meeting academic standards and obtaining grades.

If learning spaces are beginning to reflect the comfort and accessibility of a home, then we are creating a link between classroom and kitchen table. If students are active, engaged collaborators at home, then it seems that those skills would naturally translate to the classroom, creating a powerful nexus of agency, autonomy, and other 21st-century skills with your student.


Clearly, there are a lot of assumptions made here, but there is very little downside to exploring the correlation between building identity and belonging in your student at home, and promoting collaborative skills that will benefit your student at school and throughout their life. If you have personal experience with this, or are looking at ways to improve collaboration with your student at home, I encourage you to look further into Dr. Coppens' work. If you want to know more about how we are skill-building here at Beach, please ask!