Shaping Aspirations

I have often wondered why it is that adults ask children, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Is it out of general curiosity, a polite conversation starter or maybe out of a genuine interest in the child’s future ambition? Whatever the reason is, the question has long been asked and children have long been answering.

My own answer, when posed with this searching question, was always, “A nurse” I never really wanted to be a nurse. As a child of primary school age I did not know what my future plans were but having heard all the other girls of my age reply that they wanted to be a nurse, I thought that I did too. I wasn’t aware of what my options were, I didn’t even know where my strengths lay and I certainly hadn’t considered what I wanted to achieve in my life. Such a huge question for such a little person!

In my experience, children are not afraid to talk about what they are good at and what they enjoy doing but as they grow older they seem to become more reserved at having these discussions and being able to communicate their aspirations. Why should this be the case? Why do we talk ourselves out of the idea that we can become whatever we want to be?

Today, as an educator, I understand that children’s aspirations should be carefully listened to and even more carefully nurtured and supported. Teachers have the privilege of having a huge input into helping a child shape their future by advising on career choices, helping to realise ambition and encouraging ideas. Sir Ken Robinson refers to ‘finding your element’ that is to say, when you discover what you are good at and what you really enjoy doing and one of the best places to do this can be at school. In fact, it is the duty of schools to prepare children for the future by preparing themselves to be fully equipped to enable this to happen.

When a child discloses that they want to be an astronaut, a scientist or a world leader we must share these ambitions and ideas by listening carefully and exploring the options together with them. We must allow for opportunity, exploration and discovery for all children of all backgrounds and ability. Culturally, these ambitions may vary (or they may not) but most children have aspirations of some form or another and it is every child’s right to have them. British schools and schools overseas are looking into ways to offer their young people a broad education which includes nurturing ambition and aspiration.

There are certainly many excellent programmes on offer for young people to realise their dreams and help shape their futures but also tread new paths or alternative routes. In British primary schools, The National Curriculum for England no longer requires discreet sessions to be delivered that teach children personal, social and emotional skills, however many teachers would welcome the return of such valuable lessons. These lessons prove to be an important platform to deliver the vital message to children that they can strive to become a success in their own lives by utilising essential skills and tools. Most school find alternate ways to share these messages and strengthen children’s aspirations by many different means.

Salvador Dali is quoted to have said, “Intelligence without ambition is a bird without wings” and this resonates within me as a believer in the partnership of both intelligence and ambition. Schools recognise the importance of treating both as equally important to curriculum content and fusing all concepts together to create a fully rounded learning experience.

We are faced with the challenge of growing our young people of today into the adults of tomorrow. What an exciting opportunity! Maybe my 5 year old self should have answered, “I want to be able to help others to realise their aspirations, achieve their ambiton and fulfil their dreams”


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