If you could do one thing all day, what would it be?
When I ask kids this question, I get responses that give me insights into their interests and daily lives: shoot hoops in my driveway, bake cakes, go fishing, jump on a trampoline. Tapping into children’s interests can help us recommend texts they may want to read to further their knowledge or to fall in love with characters that feel like a mirror to them. But we can also make important connections between children’s interests and what it means to be a reader or writer:
“How do you learn new shots in basketball?…That sounds a lot like the process of learning how to write new kinds of sentences” or “What’s your favorite cake to bake and what’s the process?…Wow, it sounds like sometimes you use a recipe and sometimes you improvise. That sounds a lot like how we use different strategies as readers depending on when we need them.”
Metaphors are powerful memory tools and the more personalized the metaphor, the more likely we’ll remember it.
I ask kids questions like this because it’s a teaching tool, but also because I want them to get curious about themselves. When we get curious about ourselves and how we want to shape our time, we learn a lot about ourselves. Learning how to pay attention to our likes, dislikes, and natural curiosities can help us shape the thoughts we have which then affect the way we feel.
This year, our ten-year-old has fallen in love with the Wings of Fire series. He’s on book twelve of the series and chooses to read on the weekends, before bed, and when he wakes up. His book club book chosen for him by his teacher about a boy living a hundred years ago in Texas…not so much. He’ll read it because he has to, not because he wants to. And that’s okay.
The truth is no one is interested in everything. There are things we like to learn about or do more than other things. Learning how to balance our time and energy based on the things we are curious about and interested in and our obligations to others is simply a part of life. It’s how we become agentive and take ownership of our actions, thoughts, and feelings.
I ask kids other questions like: What is something you are looking forward to? What is something good in your day so far? What is something you feel grateful for? When do you notice you get bored? Why do you think that is? What did you learn you today that you didn’t know before? When you get stuck, how do you get unstuck? Even when there are a host of challenges in our lives, if we can focus on what we are looking forward to, things we are grateful for, new things we are learning, and how we are inherently resilient it can give us an important happiness boost.
While we want young people to try many things and to discover new interests, we cannot force positive feelings about everything in school or in life. But, we can support them to take notice and get curious about themselves. The more curious we are about ourselves, the more we can tap into our strengths and use our time to hone our potential and contribute to the well-being of others. And the more we reflect on ourselves as a practice, the more we will begin to notice patterns about ourselves to catch and harness the good in our lives.
Years ago, my husband, gifted me the Five Minute Journal by Intelligent Change. It’s an incredibly simple resource for getting curious about yourself and noticing patterns about your thoughts, feelings, and actions. Every morning I write down three simple statements that all begin:
I am grateful for _____
What would make my day great?
I am (affirmation)_____
Before bed I jot down responses to two more prompts:
3 Amazing things that happened today…
Could I have made my day even better?
Through this journaling process, I’ve become more curious about myself. I notice when gratitude feels hard which is usually when I’m feeling stressed. I notice when my responses include details about my children that I’m glad I didn’t miss. I notice that food and movement show up a lot in my responses and that when I have a plan for healthy eating and morning movement I feel better for it. The journaling process has been a way for me to catch my thoughts and create my own happiness.
If we can change the way we think and where we put our mental energy, we can reshape our thoughts and our feelings. We cannot always think happy thoughts. Nor should we expect that of our children. But we can take note of our thoughts, get curious, and learn how to focus on the positive over time. Getting curious and noticing patterns in ourselves is a lifelong process. So is finding happiness.
Below are some ideas about how to help kids to get curious about themselves to harness the good in their lives:
-Share stories about how you got curious about yourself and learned a new skill or passion in the process
-Share stories about times you were bored and how letting our minds wander during those moments can lead to imaginative possibilities
-Start a daily ritual as a family about moments that were good in your day–over time your children will take the lead in asking everyone how their day was and what was good–celebrate that initiative
-Try the Five Minute Journal or open-ended journaling and let your children catch you in the act of journaling–explain why you do it
-Ask each other what would make your day/weekend great
-Talk about what you are grateful for and notice what’s the same and what’s different in your responses
-Start a journal routine in your classroom as bookends to the day or week
-Encourage students to notice what excites them and what bores them–no one loves everything–offer strategies for how to get something out of boredom like looking for one new thing you didn’t know before
-Establish a gratitude routine where students share something they feel grateful for that week
-Have conversations with students about what they are looking forward to especially at the start of reading and writing conferences: in school, in the books they are reading, in what they may be writing
-Model your own curiosity about yourself
-Acknowledge it’s okay not to love everything in school or in life