My husband and I have been blessed with two children. I’m grateful that, being both a parent and a teacher, I was able to use my knowledge of education to effectively parent our two daughters. Our first daughter was a model student who routinely took honors classes. Our second daughter was on the autistic spectrum. She is high functioning, which comes with its own challenges. She knows what she wants, but has trouble achieving her goals.
My honor student enjoyed electives such as TV production, peer counseling, and foreign language. I enjoyed hearing how my first daughter made the cheerleading team, was elected a senator for her freshman class and was elected secretary as a senior before going off to college.
But for my younger child, I was on my own. She had to use her elective schedule to take extra reading and math classes required for state assessment. While I understood the need for her to ensure she had standard knowledge of reading, writing and math, I saw how differently my two children were treated when it came to meeting their educational needs and making time for extracurricular activities.
I quickly realized that to help my daughter, I would need to use my own resources. I was able to find an equine therapy location that allowed students to socialize, practice speech, and work to improve their disabilities. Our particular barn also had a garden where the children could work together as they learned how to maintain the plants they were growing.
My daughter’s weekly art class was another opportunity to practice her social skills. She met students who took honors classes, students from other schools, and homeschoolers. All the students explored their creativity and could show pieces of their art on a voluntary student of the month board. My daughter was so proud to see her art on the board. I remember her calling her grandmother and describing her display. As a parent, it was also a very proud moment for me.
To ensure she had well-rounded experiences, I also found a local animal shelter that allowed her to walk dogs while they waited for their forever home. But I had to find, and often, pay for these experiences.
All Kids Should Get A Chance to Learn Hands-on Skills
In my teaching career, I have noticed that only the students who had parents or grandparents with economic stability were able to attend camp to explore and learn various lifelong skills, including hands-on skills.
Is it possible to allow middle and high school students to take a hands-on elective during the summer and earn a half credit? It would slow the summer slide—the loss of learning that teachers and administrators are sad to see in students each fall when school begins.
An elective like this could keep all students’ minds engaged, regardless of their families’ income. They could read and follow a sewing pattern, measure and cut the pattern. Students can also use the same skills with a healthy or fun recipe. They would have access to read something that they enjoy from the library, write in a personal journal, visit a museum or zoo and maybe learn to build a bird feeder.
This pandemic has reminded our society how important all skills are, not just academic ones. Do you remember how difficult it was to get a mask? We had a neighbor who was kind enough to sew masks for anyone who didn’t own one but still needed to go to work. I remember when the restaurants were closed, having a family member who could cook a gourmet meal was magnificent. These are just a few examples of hands-on skills that are still needed.
It would strengthen our society to know not just how to read, write, complete a math problem, but also know how to sew on a button or change a tire. Let’s ensure all young people have access to that kind of learning, too.