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As a community partner and the leader of a dynamic educational institution, it is incumbent upon me to lead by example, to pursue discovery and reinvention with the same zest I see in the children who engage with the DoSeum’s programs and exhibits every day.

With this in mind, I submitted an essay about our work at The DoSeum to be considered for a spot as a participant at this year’s Lego Idea Conference in Billund, Denmark.

The prospect of attending the conference – a highly specialized, diverse, and invitation-only gathering of researchers, thinkers, practitioners, and social innovators from around the world – has been in my sights for years. Fortunately, I was invited to participate and attended the Idea conference in April.

This year’s theme, “Unlocking the power of parenting,” had a profound connection to our work at The DoSeum. What follows are some of my biggest takeaways from the exciting and impressively executed conference.

Moving the Focus from Content to Process

One of the most challenging aspects of working within a learning ecosystem today – whether as a parent, a teacher, or at an institution like the DoSeum – is that we are stakeholders in preparing children for an uncertain future while acting in a present that is rapidly changing. This makes it hard to know what skills and knowledge – the basic building blocks of traditional educational thinking – today’s learners will need to get the most out of the future.

The solution, widely discussed at the conference and already at play in The DoSeum’s approaches to learning, is to elevate a focus on process over a focus on content. While we might not know what learners will need to know, we know how they will need to think: critically and creatively. This concept can be put into practice by anyone who works with children or is a caregiver in any capacity. It can, in some cases, be as simple as shifting a discussion or activity from a focus on what is known to a focus on how it is known.

A shift in focus from content to process also requires that children are given ample opportunities to consider context and to grow their own senses of agency and voice.

Nurturing and Allowing Space for Learner Agency and Voice

A crucial part of any consideration of responsive parenting or teaching has to be the capacity to empower children’s sense of agency, of self-determination, of voice. This requires willingness to see kids as role models, build on their senses of wonder and curiosity, and a willingness to follow as much as lead.

If learners are to be expected to develop processes for thinking rather than simply acquiring knowledge or practicing finite skills, they must feel an intrinsic sense of ownership over their own learning. This sense of ownership – important for confidence as well as motivation – is nurtured by valuing learners’ ideas, by encouraging thoughtful questions over simple answers, and by giving learners autonomy to make mistakes, construct and test mental and physical models for everyday phenomena, and to self-correct.

Empowering Parents

It would be impossible to overstate the importance of the role of the parents/primary caregivers in the development of children. As such, it is imperative for community organizations, whether specifically focused on education or not, to empower and support parents in their all-important, central positions in a developing child’s world.

Some of the most sobering statistics I encountered at the conference were shared by Pia Rebelle Britto of UNICEF. She said that, according to UNICEF research, 25 percent of children in the world have little or no purposeful adult engagement and that some 43 percent of the world’s children will not reach their potential without supportive policies set in place to help their caregivers.

From a pragmatic standpoint – these children are the future of the world, after all – these are dismaying statistics. From a humane standpoint, they are heartbreaking, and they are unacceptable.

It is incumbent upon all of us to challenge these statistics, to tackle this problem. As educators, caregivers, and community leaders, how can we enhance engagement, how can we partner to create a culture of life-long learning?

How can we create new models of learning that, prizing process over content and fostering agency in our children, can be replicated across communities?

These are the considerations that guide, and will continue to guide, the way the DoSeum operates and our work with educators and parents, through programs developed on our campus and within the broader community.

Menelly is an experienced science educator and non-profit management expert with a solid background in STEM education in both formal and informal learning environments. He joined The DoSeum from the Rochester...