Whether online or in person, kids need social interaction. The highest priority for parents and teachers alike should be making sure kids have sufficient social interaction, and that they're happy. When kids have to be socially distanced and wear a mask, or online at home this can be difficult. In Michael Horn and Clayton Christensen’s book Disrupting Class, they write that having fun with friends is one of the most important priorities in kids’ lives and that schools do a poor job of it. And that was before the pandemic. Now the situation is even worse.
In many of my talks, I say that the three most important things in education are relationships, relationships and relationships. It is sort of like the three most important things in real estate: location, location and location. Most people don’t think of relationships when they think of education, but they should. When kids are unhappy, when they have poor relationships, they find it hard to learn. Fun and happiness are the keys to effective learning and to good social development.
While schools are aware and trying their best to meet this social need for student interaction and relationships, the fact is that Zoom calls where the teacher is in charge and lecturing works against them. Years ago, I realized fun was important in education and tried to make all of my classes fun. That is one of the many reasons my journalism program grew from 20 in 1984 to over 700 in 2020.
So what can kids do to have fun, learn and develop their social skills?
My recommendation is that kids work on projects together online or play a game together online at least once a day. They can also watch movies together on Netflix and collaborate after the film. The key word here is together. Whenever kids do things with their friends, without the supervision of a teacher or adult it is fun for them. Of course, parents may be concerned that kids are doing something they shouldn’t but in fact, if you trust them and give them the responsibility of working together in positive ways, 95% of the kids will do it.
Here are my suggestions for putting kids in groups
- Allow kids to pick who they want to work with.
- Size the groups for maximum effectiveness: two, three or four.
- Teach kids how to listen to one another by modeling it.
- Collaborate on the rules of language, how to agree and disagree constructively.
- Collaborate on setting the goals and expectations
- Ask kids to volunteer for the roles in the group.
- Get kids to come up with their own real world projects
Remember that most of school today is still memorization; learning isolated facts through deliberate effort. You will have to ignore that requirement. That is not learning. Learning has a sense of meaning. Memorization gets in the way of learning and what we should focus on in this pandemic is learning. That means projects that kids can do that they are interested in doing. That is why I recommend projects. Projects are doing, not memorizing; they provide good social interaction and kids feel like they are having fun.