Pathways towards hobbies Resilience Forum blog

Pathways towards hobbies Resilience Forum blog

Boingboing blogs from… the Resilience Forum!

Pathways towards hobbies: Resilience and extracurricular activities for disadvantaged primary school children – David Glynne-Percy, Brighton Resilience Forum – Tuesday 5 December 2017

by Angie Hart, Boingboinger

One of our PhD students, David Glynne-Percy, is speaking at the Resilience Forum today. It’s Angie here writing this and I’m chairing the forum. I also happen to be David’s lead supervisor. Astonishing that he actually wanted me to come along. Normally students beg me not be at anything they are speaking at… Can’t think why… David’s done his research on ‘Triggering and sustaining extra-curricular engagement as a route to resilience in middle childhood: practitioners’ perspectives.’ Phew that’s a bit of a mouthful. By way of introduction to his Forum, I kindly give him a little test to see if he can put it differently, “David, how would you say that in nice simple way?” David’s a bit flustered but I say something prim about it being important that PhD students can say what they are doing in simple English. Encouraged he replies, “How can we instil a passion in a young person?” He then goes on to say, “From a practitioner’s perspective, what are the benefits of a young child finding a passion and sticking to it?”

I’m going to add a bit more. He interviewed 20 primary school practitioners (teachers, mentors and other support staff) from different schools around the country. He asked them about how some of the most disadvantaged 8-10 year olds in their school managed to stick to a healthy hobby or interest against the odds for at least six months. He also explored their views on the relevance of our Resilience Framework to helping children sustain these hobbies or interests.

The 10 people in the room who have come along to listen to David are – bar one post grad student – all practitioners of some kind; foster carers, adoptive parents, school support staff, social workers, family and youth workers. I suggest to David that he goes easy on the background and the research methods. These folks mostly want to get to the nub of it – what has he found out that could actually help them to help kids and families even more.

First of all David explains why he’s interested in this topic. It builds on work he’s done previously about children and their leisure interests. He talks about how his work is filling a gap. We really do know very little about how we best support the most disadvantaged children and young people to stick at a healthy interest or hobby. And, as David points out, it’s very hard for children in the UK to shift up the social ladder. Inequalities are widening, so we need to do more than we ever did before to help children do better. And researchers tell us that if you can’t get a child to stick at something good in primary school, it gets much harder later on. At the age of nine, children are most willing to take on the advice of adults. After that it goes downhill.

David sets out the government’s agenda in relation to supporting children’s resilience. He takes a pop shot at their overwhelming focus on character-building initiatives, something that Boingboingers have been moaning about for a long while. We’ve been moaning because a focus on this hides all the other things that support children’s resilience, like proper housing, jobs that pay a living way for their parents, good relationships with adults in the school community, etc, etc. Take a look at this previous blog to read more on that. Still, Boingboingers won’t need to moan about this much longer. Preoccupation with Brexit negotiations have apparently taken government’s eyes off character-building, and much more besides. Still, David says that Teresa May was requoted on the news this week. When she became Prime Minister she said, “I want Britain to be the world’s great meritocracy – a country where everyone has a fair chance to go as far as their talent and their hard work will allow.” Hmm. Shame that all the members of the social mobility commission just resigned this week…

At last, it’s forty five minutes into the session and we’ve got on to his actual research findings. I was about to butt in and ask David to crack on with it… David explains the range of activities that the school practitioners have been supporting the children to get stuck in to. A whole range was included, things like cycling, music, competitive sport, debating and outdoor activities. He was interested to find out if the school practitioners had hobbies themselves. Nearly all of them did, and most of their hobbies had been triggered by an external force – somebody at school or in their family.

Getting on to the children now, here are some of the main ways the practitioners felt they got them to stick at things. They included responding well to the idea of goals being set, and the child wanting to take responsibility. Practitioners pointed to children feeling that they wanted to master a task or have their achievement recognised. Children liking the fact that they got feedback as well as feeling a sense of ownership and a positive identity through taking part. Clearly the importance of feeling a sense of belonging is important here.

David also asked about which areas of the Resilience Framework were most helpful in helping children to sustain an interest. Highlighting achievements was the most important, and David also asked us to guess the area of the Framework that was most tricky to pull off for children in terms of developing hobbies and interests. Transport came top here. The children in his study had problems getting to the club or activity because their parents either wouldn’t or couldn’t support that. One of the participants at the Forum says it’s not difficult to get kids to stick at playing on their Xboxes. Hmm. Good point. David you need to think more about that. Another woman, who in fact was one of David’s interviewees, mentioned the importance of helping children to see that there are educational pathways that might lead from their hobby or interest. She gives the example of forest schools which lay a foundation for going on to college to do practical subjects, such as forestry.

David ends his talk by explaining that issues of internal motivation and interest are only part of the picture. His work adds to that body of evidence that already points to the major importance of people and resources outside the child in getting them to stick at things. Kids themselves play a part, but they need the scaffolding in place to make it happen. All well and good for those kids fortunate to have parents and carers who have the time, money and inclination to help kids stick to hobbies and interests when they get a bit moody and can’t be bothered. For others without those supports, David’s research underlines the role of school practitioners in helping them stick at things.

At the end of David’s Forum I’m left feeling that I would have liked a bit more ‘thick description’ of his findings. But most of all I was left feeling grateful for all the adults who work hard to include disadvantaged children against the odds, for example, the Woodcraft Folk leaders of this world, the gym coaches and of course the teachers and other school stafff. And for the very first time in my life, perhaps just a little grateful for Brexit if it’s really going to take the focus away from character building… Well, that’s if it is going to help us focus more on the wider inequalities at play here. Ha, ha.

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