As a school teacher, I have the absolute privilege of looking for and finding the SPARK of 26 children every day. I get to see what the children I teach love, what lights them up, what fires their bellies and what they are passionate about. I observe how they interact with literature, numbers, history, geography and science and how they use their own personal filters to explore more deeply or just brush the surface of a topic.
I have front row seats to how their little brains grow and develop and every day it is exciting to see the SPARK learning creates for them. There is nothing more exciting that seeing a child so excited about their learning that they are jumping out of their seat – that is when I know I have found their SPARK.
Sadly, as a mum to my own three children I find it much harder to find their SPARK. Why? I am so caught up in the process of life with my own kids – trying to get them ready for school, doing their washing, cooking, cleaning, keeping them safe, driving them from place to place – that I lose the moments to really find their SPARK. I am on the treadmill of this busy life and don’t make the time for the social and emotional understanding to really dig deep and find what they love, what they are passionate about or what strategies they use to find their ‘happy place’. I know I am not alone here. I talk to other parents who are living in this ‘hurry up’ culture who are moving through their child’s life at a rapid pace and they have a similar story to me.
Well known parenting educator and author of Raising Boys and Raising Girls books, Steve Biddulph talks about the importance of finding a child’s SPARK. It was a lightbulb moment for me when I attended a talk with Steve Biddulph a few weeks ago and he was talking about the importance of parents (and teachers) to find our kids SPARK so they can ‘burst into full flame’. Of course we need to and while we might be doing it subconsciously, it needs to be a conscious action.
“SPARK is the name given by researcher Peter Benson to the fact that in every girl, and boy, there is an interest or passion waiting to burst into full flame. It could be animals, music, art, science, saving the earth, healing, sport or creativity of any kind. It’s what makes a young person want to get up in the morning. Your daughter and son has a SPARK, somewhere inside them, and its up to you and them to find it and give it wings,” Steve Biddulph said.
Children will generally find their SPARK between the ages of ten to fourteen and this will allow them to become the person they were born to be. Finding their SPARK will allow children to “withstand the growing up years of the opposite sex, school pressures, peer groups and separating away from you, already strong in what they thinks is right and wrong, important and trivial, wise and stupid,” according to Steve Biddulph.
It is school holidays in Australia right now and thankfully I have had time to reconnect with my own children. I have had time to really see again what makes them tick. I lose touch during the term and the school holidays gives me that chance to listen to their conversations, create our own conversations, delve deeper into their emotions rather than just the ‘hurry up and get in the car’ conversations.
I want to share with you today a few ways to help you find your child’s SPARK. Once you know it, you will have an insight into what lights them up and what will help them to follow their dreams and also help them have extra strategies to bounce back from struggles.
Here are 8 ways to help find your child’s SPARK:
- Write a Gratitude Journal Together
Research shows that when you can say often what you are grateful for in your life you are happier. Creating this positive mindset for children is important for them to be able to look at the big picture of life and know they are lucky. When you do it together, you have an insight into their day. My daughter and I use the Awesome Inc gratitude journals. I have the adult version and she has the kid’s version. We sit up on her bed, use all her smelly, sparkly pens and write what we are grateful for that day. We then trade them and compare notes.
- Create a list together of what your child loves doing (more than once)
My son was going through a hard time a little while ago and while he was upset we got a piece of paper out and a pen. He wrote down all the things he was grateful for on one side (some amazed me!) and on the other side he wrote down all the things he loves to do. These are the things that make him want to get out of bed in the morning. We had tapped back into his SPARK and he was again on a positive path.
- Make time to write, read, paint, draw and create
Giving kids time to create helps them find their SPARK. It might be what they are doing or they might come up with the idea while they are creating. Writing or journaling is a good place to start. Fellow parent blogger, Sumitha Bhandarkar from A Positive Parent has created a beautiful, parent-child journal called the Connected Hearts Journal. It uses the power of stories, beautiful coloring pages, open-ended questions and prompts, and a separate “secrets” section to help you connect deeply with your kids so you can easily find their SPARK and nurture it.
- Go out and explore
Get outside and see new things, often. Children are little sponges constantly filling their schema with new and exciting things. Getting out and exploring is exciting. Even if it is going for a walk down the same path you walked down yesterday, kids will see something new. It will SPARK their imagination and they will be excited. Or it may be going on a family holiday and really exploring the new place you find yourselves in.
- Know your own SPARK
It is easy as parents to loose our own SPARK. We are on that treadmill of life going from one place to the next, caring for our children and ensuring we run our lives well. It is easy to forget what we actually love to do. When we lose our ‘happy place’ kids no longer have a role model for finding theirs. When they see us in our ‘flow’ or our ‘happy place’ it is easier for them to know what SPARK is.
- Ask GOOD questions
The question ‘how was school today?’ or ‘what did you do at school today?’ only ever has a one word response and generally it is ‘good’ or ‘nothing’. At school, my class starts the day by sitting in a circle. I pose a question or statement to the whole class and as I mark my role each person finishes the question or statement. It is amazing what children come up with when given time to speak and new topic. By asking open ended, imaginative questions kids have fun answering. Glennon Doyle Melton’s Key Jar is a great way to start. Glennon has put together a list of questions that go in a key jar and each night around the dinner table, you ask your children the questions and wait for their answer. This sparks a child’s imagination and provides you a deeper insight into what makes each of your children tick and what they are passionate about.
- Allow kids to do many different activities and have varied experiences
Choice is abundant for children these days. There is a plethora of activities to choose from to try from sporting to music to dance to art and everything in between. Allowing children to have a choice of the activities they want to do, not just because you did it is important so they can find what they love. BUT please don’t over do the extra curricular activities. Kids still need time to just be kids. Experiencing something with you or with the family is just as important as doing something on their own.
- Just ‘be’ together, often
Create a special time of day you spend time talking with your kids. This might be at bedtime or in the car or even in the kitchen when you are cooking dinner. It is a time when they feel comfortable to talk about anything and everything. This is a time when you really get to know your kids on a different level and really see what thoughts they are having and what is lighting them up.
Once you find your child’s SPARK you will give your child the wings they were born with to fly and you can sit on the sidelines and watch them grow and develop, with encouragement.
Anna Partridge is a parent educator, school teacher and mother to 3 children. She helps parents raise confident and resilient kids through the positive parenting philosophy. Anna writes about the modern parenting dilemmas on her blog, www.annapartridge.com and is a regular contributor at The Huffington Post. Find her on Facebook here .