At Deschutes Wilderness Therapy, students are finding academic success far away from the classrooms. We have a strong focus on fundamentals like Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely (SMART) goals and teaching executive functioning skills that bolster classroom behaviors. One example of an academic goal that is SMART, is for students to designate half an hour to sit and read a book. Another tactic might be to set a goal to read a certain number of pages.
“Whether you are a writer or a reader, it is a fine thing to get lost in a book.”– Jean Craighead George
With your children, set a goal to read for half an hour straight, then take a break, discuss what was read, then circle back to another half an hour.
Our executive functioning skills are the foundational basis for how we can succeed in the classroom (and in life):
- Emotional control
- Flexible thinking
- Impulse control
- Planning and prioritizing
- Task initiation
- Working memory
These are all skills to be aware of before you even sit down to read. Which is also why setting goals is so important.
It can be challenging to sit for half an hour straight and read without picking up your phone as a distraction. Challenge yourself and your children to control that impulse and commit to a set time with no distractions. Having a discussion topic planned for afterward can give purpose to that reading session.
One of the most important components of engagement is something we like to call, “getting on their level.” In the academic context, that means reading the same thing that your children will be reading, not spending time on your phone while you’re asking them to engage themselves. But you don’t need to have multiple copies of one book for everyone in the family. If you have only one copy of a book, then you’re in luck!
“One of the greatest gifts adults can give – to their offspring and to their society – is to read to children.”– Carl Sagan
Reading aloud is one of the simplest and most powerful tools we have, to connect and learn together over a good book. It is also one of the most overlooked tools in education today.
There are a lot of studies now that show how reading aloud is beneficial for attention span, bonding, cognition, comprehension and memory.
We have a robust Wilderness Curriculum that connects students with the stories that speak directly to overcoming personal struggles, finding strength within oneself and the wilderness experience.
These readings are accompanied by assignments that focus on comprehension, making predictions, finding personal connections with the characters, and choosing quotes that stand out to the reader. These can easily be the basis of discussion activities between you and your child. Think of forming a family book club. Everyone can pick their favorite character and explain why; pick a powerful quote and share it with the group.
If each family member can take turns leading group discussions, including the children, it can help foster creative and critical thinking.
- “Hatchet” by Gary Paulsen
- “Julie of the Wolves” by Jean Craighead George
- “My Side of the Mountain” by Jean Craighead George
- “The Call of the Wild” by Jack London (recently adapted into a movie with Harrison Ford)
- “The Hobbit” by J.R.R. Tolkien
- “The Island of Blue Dolphins” by Scott O’Dell
But what is relevant in these days of shelter-at-home and social-distancing? There is a host of epidemic-related literature out there, that shows humanity’s resilience through trying times.
- “Love in the Time of Cholera” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
- “The Decameron” by Giovanni Boccaccio
- “The Journal of the Plague Year” by Daniel Defoe
- “The Plague” by Albert Camus
A few non-fiction titles also speak to the development of modern medicine and how past epidemics have shaped the healthcare systems that we have today. These stories offer a fascinating look at life before the globalized era because it is easy to take so much of our modern world for granted. It wasn’t that long ago that humans were thriving in conditions that we today would find unbearable!
- “The Doctor’s Plague” by Sherwin Nuland M.D.
- “The Ghost Map” by Steven Johnson
We are living through a generation-defining moment, and it can be reassuring to hear the voices of others that have lived through much of the same thing in centuries past.
It can be daunting to try and take an intentional approach to our children’s education when all of our normal resources are being closed down. However, it is an opportunity for us all to get on the same level and learn collaboratively.