In John Hattie’s 2009 mega-study into what actually works to improve learning, he looked at 138 factors that impact kids’ learning. The study examined millions of children globally and determined that some of the most positively impactful aspects of a child’s education were the student-teacher relationship and students’ self-reporting of estimated grades, while the most negatively impactful aspect on a child’s learning was moving.
Being an expat offers many wonderful and rich experiences for kids; this will never be challenged. However, with the upside, there are some real negative downsides that need to be managed. Sometimes it seems that parents don’t always want to acknowledge these downsides, possibly because they may feel their work doesn’t really offer a choice.
What I have seen with my own kids and with others is that some of the most beneficial skills gained are flexibility and perspective-taking. Yet, I have also observed that even with excellent and involved teachers (which there are many, but not all), when a child moves regularly, the lack of consistency can impact the teacher’s ability to spot learning differences/challenges the child might be having.
We all have challenges and areas of growth (even us parents, sometimes we have the most opportunity for growth), and with kids, the research indicates that there are specific windows of opportunity for more successfully addressing certain challenges. For some specific academic challenges like dyslexia, one of those windows is the primary school years. Middle school brings about its own challenges with all the physical and emotional changes that kids are experiencing. In my experience, unaddressed challenges can (and often do) snowball into more significant problems. Yet it is important to say it’s never too late to address and understand areas of challenge. Yet, research indicates that when it comes to addressing learning challenges, there are easier times for growth.
One of the reasons I do what I do is because I really care about kids and their future. I know that having an involved parent makes a significant difference, which is why I think all of you who care so much are so AWESOME! Truly, your kid is so lucky to have someone like you in their corner.
With every up, there is a down. And with all the wonderful opportunities that moving provides kids, I see the lack of consistency in the education of expat kids as one of the biggest challenges that doesn’t really get addressed.
I believe parents know their kids best, but I also know that in the chaos of expat life (because man, sometimes it can be crazy), sometimes it is easy for things to get missed or unknowingly passed over. These gaps can create significant challenges for kids as they grow and develop.
I was talking with a parent a few months ago just before their third move in five years. This parent was worried about their child’s academic ability in some areas and wasn’t sure what to do. They had seen how the child had worked hard and grown over the last few years, but they still felt like there might be something missing. The parent had addressed it with the teacher, but it was dismissed, which is when this parent reached out to me. I really encouraged this parent to push the school a bit harder because the child had history which gave the school a better understanding of the child’s progression, which the new school would not have. Having this history is important, especially when trying to identify differences.
There are times when schools don’t have the resources; this puts significantly more pressure and onus on the parents to be extra vigilant. Schools are sometimes overextended (Covid has stretched schools, teachers, and parents in significant ways), which is why if parents aren’t paying attention and listening to themselves, kids with less severe challenges can get lost, and the impacts might not show up for years.
Moving offers such amazing and wonderful opportunities for kids, but it also creates a bigger educational gap in which kids can get stuck or sometimes even fall through. Over the years, I have heard about older kids whose parents, although well-intentioned, were not as involved as they could have been or didn’t have the understanding or resources to ensure their kids got the support they needed, and the impact was significant.
As expat parents, it is even more critical to be a present and involved parent. There are many benefits to exposing kids to different countries and cultures, but the educational and emotional impacts (that’s for another newsletter) can be significant when not managed appropriately.
Pssssttttt…..maybe the summer is proving to be more challenging than the school year. When you have a bit more space from your kid, you are not alone. I see you, and you got this. You are AMAZING, and your child is so lucky to have you.