The start of the new school term is a great opportunity to sit down with our children and review their broad goals and ambitions for the coming year. Too often, their preparation simply focusses on buying stationary, sports gear and new shoes.

The more abstract task of pausing to reflect on the bigger picture to a child’s development tends to be placed to one side. But it is important for all concerned to identify the broader themes to a child’s education that drive their passion and their ambition. To draw up an academic strategy and a personal future vision to guide each step along their journey to adulthood.

Usually, there are specific choices to make. Are they drawn towards Arts or Science subjects? Theoretical topics or applied topics? Physical activity, or books and screens? Do they like learning about people or learning about things?

And are they making balanced choices? Are they building on existing interests, or wanting to explore broader topics? Are they becoming too focussed on specific interests or are they perhaps spreading themselves too thinly?

The young are notorious for simply making decisions based on what they like/dislike. They’ll run with the easiest option, or make impulsive decisions based on the current fads of their social group. They rarely step back and think about the longer term perspective, or whether their choices add overall value to their lives.

All we need to do as parents or interested parties is to ask them good questions to promote structured reflection on the important issues as we see them.

A new school year is always an opportunity for students to take stock of who they are and where they are going. Here are five examples of big picture questions to casually ask children to make them think a little more about the choices ahead:

  1. What personal goals will you set for the coming year? (in terms of social life, academic skills and fitness/health targets)
  2. What’s the most exciting thing for you about the coming year?
  3. If there was one thing that you do to improve on last year’s effort, what would it be?
  4. What single piece of advice would you give your friends about getting the most out of school?
  5. What are the three most important words/adjectives you could use to describe a successful student?

As we prepare for the new school year, it is easy just to focus on the practical preparations required. But it is also important to use the opportunity to pull back from the specifics and consider the bigger picture. To casually ask children gentle, thought-provoking questions about their future plans as the summer holidays draw to a close.

Our children are poised to take another significant step in their journey towards independence and maturity. We surely owe it to them to make each step a purposeful step, taken wisely and with positive intent.