Two years ago, two friends and I founded an educational non-profit project, built around one simple idea: if you show people what they can already do, they are far more likely to tackle what they can't yet do.
At Climb, we run educational enrichment programmes during the school holidays for disadvantaged elementary school children and show them how much joy learning can bring. The first thing we ask them is not what they're struggling with, but what they're great at. We show them all the things they can do – and then we ask them if they think they can learn more if they can try harder.
The answer is usually a resounding ‘yes’. Being told that they "have a hard time concentrating", or that they're "still struggling to read at grade level" doesn't make children want to learn. But when we say to them, “I can see all the things you’re already really great at,” we remind them learning is possible, and furthermore, it might be fun too. When kids love to learn, they do. It’s a simple concept, and we are not the first people to think of it.
But there’s something very different about what we do, Climb isn’t just for kids. While Climb is modelled as a camp-style programme for kids, it also acts as a condensed leadership workshop and teaching boot-camp for our counsellors, who are mainly students and young professionals.
Most of them have never worked in an environment where effort is rewarded and mistakes are celebrated as evidence that you‘re trying. And so, just as with the kids, by celebrating small triumphs, we show them the enormity of their potential. We let them fail and then we praise their effort and their ability to get back in the classroom and do it again the next day. We watch them grow in confidence and then we throw them into the next challenge.
A lot of our donors ask us why we focus on educating young adults as well as children. While they all seem to understand the importance of supporting and inspiring children, many question the purpose of investing time and energy in supporting adults who have succeeded in reaching higher education or getting jobs.
My Dad likes to muse about what he sees as my generation’s lack of ambition – people not willing to do that extra shift, to take that next step on the ladder if it means moving or working longer hours. He sees my generation as unable to be changemakers. This disconnection and disempowerment affects a lot of young adults – and had I not already discovered my passion, I might well have been one of them. Essentially, the children and adults we work with face the same challenges on their way to fulfilling their potential: they don‘t really know what they‘re good at. They don‘t understand how powerful they already are... and so we teach them. And the good news is, you can, too!
Here’s what you can do:
- Tell people, and not just kids, the things they‘re doing right for a change, rather than the things they‘re doing wrong.
- Thank people for the effort they put into things. When you‘re impressed or proud or inspired by someone, tell them.
- Do things before you‘re ready.
- Don‘t diminish your achievements. When someone acknowledges you did a great job, try saying ”Thank you, I worked hard at that and I‘m really proud of it”
- Be bold and confident, and encourage others around you to be too.
Sounds like a fun world to live in, right? I‘ll see you there.