This half term we built a two metre high guinea pig run. (No, we don’t have 2 metre high guinea pigs, we just couldn’t stand upright in the old run.) I am below National Standards in DIY, but we had a powerful motivation to get the run built – we wanted to catch and handle our guinea pigs and this is tricky to do when you are bent double. We had to do it, so we figured out how to get it done. The most magical relationship you can have with learning is to do it because you have to, not because someone else says you must. I get this when I write – I’m powerless to resist the urge to spill out my thoughts, and I have an obsessive focus on making my expression of them as near perfect as possible. Now, I’m not saying that our guinea pig run is anywhere near perfect, but we were deeply engaged with the process of building it. We bought the materials at a builder’s yard, we dug the holes for the posts, we attached the chicken wire and we made the run secure. It was muddy, hard work and a very steep learning curve. There were times when it was not a lot of fun, but after all our hard work we ended up with something new and rather wonderful.
Engagement is not an event, it is a scale. There are some things our children do simply because they must. “Pick up your clothes off the floor – it’s your mess.” “Tidy your room or I’ll hoover up your Lego.” Our children do not exactly skip with joy when they are doing these things: their engagement levels are low, but they understand that they must be done. Some activities in school are like this – it’s hard to make them engaging, the children do them because they must. But with skill, creativity and a following wind, we can figure out how to make a lot of activities engaging – we can give them a sense of purpose and show why they are of value. We can help children see that there’s a good reason to keep going, even when it’s not much fun. And that is what I mean when I use the word ‘engagement’.