Learning Landscapes: Development of Self-Regulation

Critical for Learning and Life: Self-Regulation

Education is our greatest potential resource.

Before jumping into action and using our greatest potential resource, we need to rush to reflection in order to ensure that we and our children can “succeed.” We can easily and quickly acquire the academic and scientific “know how,” but it is the traditional wisdom for “knowing how” that can help our children, families, and communities ethically and sustainably cultivate the knowledge, skills, attitudes, and values that will allow us to “succeed” in transforming the future.

In rushing to reflection, there are just three questions to ask ourselves that can initiate a change of consciousness about what it means to learn, educate, be educated and succeed:

  1. What is the story that our children are hearing about what it means to learn, educate, be educated and succeed?
  2. Who is an essential part of this story?
  3. For what purpose are children learning?

Education must be more than passive acquisition of knowledge and on-demand regurgitation of facts or performance of skills. Education is more than an independent pursuit for individual academic achievement. The deeper value and purpose of education is to nourish life and, as an educational mentor, my role is to help ignite and sustain children’s natural curiosity and thirst for learning and holistic development.

Education is often seen as the path for self-improvement, but what if education was more than an individual enrichment activity? What is possible if children’s learning journey climaxed not when a test was taken and passed, but when their new knowledge, skills, attitudes, and personal niches of brilliance were used to enrich their community? And what if community recognized our children’s developing competencies and readiness to be active members in our community as an integrated part of the educational system?

This is a change of consciousness from one in which service to our family or community is for extra credit or something done in “spare time” to a mindset in which the goal of one’s education was to improve the lives of our families, communities, and the world. This transition from the “me” to the “we” correlates with the development of self-regulation.

Critical Skills in Learning and Life

Apply Self-Regulation and Accept FeedbackIn the last Learning Landscapes column we explored how the whole systems thinking tool “obtain a yield” can integrate into many areas of learning and life. Even more importantly, that it is only when viewed through the lens of the three ethics: 1) Care of Earth, 2) Care of People, and 3) Return of Surplus that our children begin to develop the wisdom to responsibly use scientific or academic knowledge to nourish life. This leads us to the fourth of 12 whole systems thinking tools, Apply Self-Regulation and Accept Feedback.

Self-regulation doesn’t just apply to behavioral or cognitive states of being or development as is traditionally thought of. It is also a part of emotional, social, and even spiritual development. Calming oneself down when upset or cheering oneself up when sad is one way self-regulation manifests, but so too is it applicable for how people respond to challenges or even outright “failure.” This is where the “accept feedback” part of our thinking tool comes into play.

Self-regulation also takes the form of being able to shift our attention when needed. In the academic realm, self-regulation has been shown in research studies to correlate to “academic success” like emerging math and literacy ability in young children. However, when we focus exclusively on this form of self-regulation to the exclusion of other developmental areas, we often associate self-regulation with obedience or compliance. These are not one in the same. Self-regulation is internal and occurs regardless whether anyone is watching or if there is an extrinsic reward or consequence. It is part of the magnetic force that pulls the needle on our internal compass.

Knowing yourself today, who you want to become, where there is overlap, and working on the areas that don’t yet coincide, exemplify what self-regulation looks like in action. However, to apply self-regulation and accept feedback, you need to know what it is that you what to become. To know what you want to become, you need to know what you value. Thinking about how to help children learn to apply self-regulation and accept feedback leads us to a strikingly similar set of questions as above:

  1. What story are our children hearing?
  2. Who is helping them navigate through this story?
  3. For what purpose are we asking children to self-regulate?

We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.

Attitude, gratitude, character and values are the foundation of life and what is learning but an emerging element of design that shapes us throughout life? Self-regulation is about the ability to act in your own long-term best interest, consistent with your ethics, beliefs, and values and aligned with that of your community and the world. Self-regulation is not exclusively about the individual. This requires a paradigm shift.

Caring for people and the earth, and giving in service of these things, is the purpose of education and life. In a holistic, balanced context these values align and enrich the long-term interests of community (and our community is not just made up of people). Such self-regulation supports more advanced creative, divergent thinking because it encourages us to analyze and evaluate alternative actions in order to create opportunities to nourish life for others and the earth.

Our children’s sense of self, emerging talents and passions, and developing wisdom is enriched when they are invited to be part of a process to co-learn and co-create community. To be an active part of that process they need to have the opportunity to explore, discuss, and see modeled and practice shared values. They also need to be given the opportunity to imagine and seek out the role they can play to enrich their community in an ever changing world. Our children can then start to change their consciousness from one focused on “Who I am and who will I become” to “How will I use my emerging passions, talents, and gifts to enrich my community and transform the world?”

Often in permaculture, the thinking tool Apply Self-Regulation and Accept Feedback takes the form of evaluating the amount of resources used versus what is needed or setting personal limits in order to care for the world beyond oneself. For example, in terms of the ethic “Care of the Earth” this might include an exploration into how much water is used during our typical day and the source(s) of that water. Educators often address this principle and how it relates to “Care of People” when they engage children in discussions about wants versus needs and analyze opportunities to use this principle to address social justice issues.

These are important components of self-regulation and accepting feedback, but used as a thinking tool it can become even more valuable in our children’s learning landscapes. This thinking tool is simple in concept and yet it can become quite challenging when we start to see how it integrates into all areas of our lives, not just to the emotional development and behavioral regulation that we typically think of. Just as is the case with the other thinking tools, Apply Self-Regulation and Accept Feedback not only relates to the natural world, but can be infused in anything and everything in learning and life.

Self-regulation is important for physical, mental, emotional, social, and even spiritual growth and understanding. For children the ability to self-regulate refers not just to using and valuing natural resources, but also natural relationships – with self, others, and the natural world.

How can you help your child understand and cultivate the thinking tool Apply Self-Regulation and Accept Feedback? As is often the case, small and slow solutions are often fantastically simplistic and effective. Model the attitudes, gratitude, character and behaviors in simple, small ways daily. Some ideas to consider include:

Honor or Create Family Customs and Traditions. If you don’t have any, co-create traditions with your child. What about sitting down to dinner together as a family? Pick one night and make it tradition. Begin the meal by making a connection with each other, the food, the bounty and blessings before you. The purpose of ritual is to bring into conscious reality and a sense of connection with each other and your surroundings.

Ritualizing the little things because they can be so big. Like: How do you greet one another first thing in the morning? How do you say good night? How can your family and community values be reflected in how you say hello or good-bye to a loved one?

Connect with Nature. What is home? If you asked your child this question what answers would you hear? Does home extend beyond a man-made structure into the natural world and the natural relationships that exist in our lives? How can our children find and fully embrace their authentic selves if they don’t know where they are? Go outside every day, even in the hot sun or cold snow. Experience “home” and time from the perspective of Mother Nature.

Give the Gift of Silence. Silence helps our children develop their own internal dialogue in order to narrate and understand the world, giving meaning to their lives. Our children need time alone – quite time to think and reflect. Abundant opportunities are all around. Just listen.

Discuss and Practice Your Values Explicitly.
Help your children explore and embody shared family and community values through experiences like co-creating a living document that reflects your family’s values.

Listen To and Honor Your Child’s Voice. Children are naturally inquisitive beings who see and experience the world through a personal filter. If our children are going to become catalysts that help to transform our future they need to be part of changing the story. Looking at the world through the fresh eyes of a child can help us see things differently and help us to adapt to a changing world.

Express Gratitude. Have a dedicated time where everyone in your family reflects on what you are grateful for and how your attitudes and behaviors can bring more of that into your life. Remember, the little things matter.

Embrace an Attitude of Playfulness in Learning and Life. Exploring and embracing risk and failure are essential elements for growth. Inspire an attitude of playfulness in your child by modeling it yourself. Help your child find and explore his or her interests, passions, inherent gifts and develop their talents.

Self-regulation shouldn’t be thought of as something children have or don’t have, but rather something that is learned, developed, practiced, refined and even relearned in the different areas of our life and throughout our lifetime. The more we practice it in every choice we make and action we take the easier it becomes because our lives are built on the foundation of our values. Being focused on our deepest values, not behaviors aligned to values for the sake of eternal rewards or consequences, makes self-regulation more authentic.

A child needs to be grounded in knowledge about him or herself before they can become successful in learning and life and responsible members of communities… communities at all levels from two individuals coming together to whole societies. Education involves integrating and enriching environments and building competencies that promote the positive holistic development of children in their families, learning environments, among peers, in community and with a strong connection to the natural world. We are more than the sum of our parts. Who we are individually and collectively, our connection with others and the world, and the values we hold matter. Education is our greatest potential resource for not just surviving, but for nourishing all life and thriving.

Integrating the whole systems thinking tools and ethics of permaculture into children’s learning landscapes helps them extend and enrich their understanding of themselves and their role as part of this world. Being able to self-regulate and accepting feedback is a critical life skill to be able to care for oneself. When our children are able to understand and care for their authentic selves, they are then better prepared to care for their family, community, and our beautiful world.

[Photo Credit: (cc) dontstealmypen]


Jen MendezJen Mendez

Jen is a wife, mother of two joyous children, experiential education mentor, and founder of PERMIE KIDs. She has a M. Ed. in International Education and has worked with children in the U.S. and overseas from early childhood through the primary years, as well as parent-educators. She integrates an ethical, design science methodology with her love for education to help others learn to design a customized education with their children that honors themselves, others, and the earth.

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