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Creating rites of passage for children

by Karen Boyes

Last term my daughter’s school celebrated the shortest day of the year with a lantern festival, as they have done since her first year at school. All students made lanterns and the community gathered on the green at the bottom of the school. The junior students created a spiral with lit lanterns while everyone sang. As the sun went down, everyone made their way up the hill to the top of the school. The driveway was lit with lanterns held by middle school children. At the top quad, we gathered around an unlit bonfire and the senior students circled the bonfire with lit torches and, in a ceremonial way, lit the bonfire. In silence, the students and parents watched it burn for 10–15 minutes, after which songs were sung and the fire poi twirled. We then went back to our daughter’s classroom, where the teacher narrated a story, and soup and bread rolls provided by the parents were served.

This is the sixth year we have participated in this beautiful festival and it struck me how many layers of development are evident and the rites of passage that encompass the evening.

With each year level, the lanterns become more and more sophisticated over the years to match the skill and maturation of the students, right through to the ultimate rite of lighting the bonfire. Our daughter could see how far she has come on her journey in school and see where she is heading.

The definition of a rite of passage is ‘a ritualised ceremony whereby a society marks a change in the status of a member’. My husband and I have developed rites of passage for our children at home, by choosing certain ages that we believe our children are ready to step up in their preparation for adulthood. At 8 years old, it is a rite of receive pocket money and at 10 to be told about the birds and bees. On their 11th birthday our children receive a cookbook and must cook a meal once a month for the family, with a new recipe added to their cookbook each year. At 12, their parent-controlled Facebook page is started, and so on. Not only do our children look forward to the change in their status, they know that it cannot happen beforehand, and learn to manage impulsivity and delay gratification.

How do you show students they are improving, growing and developing? Do they see the journey ahead, what they are aspiring to be or do? Do they know the bigger goals and the expectations of them throughout their schooling life?

Rituals and ceremonies are a powerful way to do this; mini graduations from one class to the next, gaining a pen or sewing machine licence, being in a higher group for maths or reading, and so on. In Germany, students starting in Class 1 are presented to their teacher at a full school assembly and each child gives the teacher a flower. This ceremony is steeped with tradition and significance for not only the new students, but for the older students watching, as it is a wonderful time to reflect on how far they have progressed.

Lane Clark, a Canadian educator, suggests teachers might create rites of passage for thinking. If your goal is to have students working independently by the end of the term or year, do they know this? Can they see how close they are to gaining this status? If not, perhaps look at using the ICT thinking strategy—Independent, Collaborative and Teacher group. When you set a task, students may either choose to work ICT, or they earn the rite. For example, everyone starts in the teacher group when learning a new skill. When they have shown mastery within the group, they ‘earn the rite’ to work collaboratively next time. When competence is shown at the collaborative level, students ‘earn the rite’ to be an independent learner. Of course, this has multi-level benefits: when capable students are taken out of the Teacher group, the remaining students have to step up—plus it gives you, as the teacher, more time to work with these students. For this strategy to be effective, students need to be very clear on the steps to mastery with rigorous rubrics, matrices or criteria.

In what simple ways can you create rituals and rites of passage in your classroom?

About the author

Karen Boyes is a leading Australasian speaker with 21 years experience. She is genuinely passionate about personal success, learning and teaching, peak performance and Habits Of Mind. Karen was the NZ Business Woman of the Year 2001 and is a popular speaker both nationally and internationally. She is the author of Creating an effective learning environment, Study smart, Successful woman and Developing the habits of mind in elementary & secondary schools.

Karen creates an environment where it is fun to learn, yet safe to make mistakes, which has proven to produce outstanding results as it encourages participants to be relaxed and involved.  Using a unique blend of presentation skills, she gives participants a mixture of learning tools while improving self-awareness.

Thousands of participants have benefited from Karen’s presentations. Participant’s come away re-energised and motivated, and are able to easily integrate the information they have learned. She not only educates, but inspires and motivates her audience.

Karen is the smart choice as a speaker and workshop leader. She has the rare ability to leave her audience buzzing. Her practical solutions for learning, teaching, living, working, communicating and growing more effectively are covered in the following topics:

  • The many ways the brain learns and remembers
  • Creating an effective learning environment
  • Catering for reflective and impulsive students and other learner types
  • Habits of mind: discovering and exploring
  • Habits of mind: activating and engaging
  • Habits of mind: assessing and reporting
  • Creating a culture of mindfulness with the habits of mind
  • Enhancing thoughtful classroom dialogue
  • Living with health, energy and passion
  • Planning and teaching for deep understanding
  • Developing 21st century learners and thinkers
  • What’s happened to creativity – Are you actually making a difference?
  • The FISH! philosophy
  • Study skills for success