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  • Chicago Birthworks Collective

Planning for the Education Your Child Deserves

You are your children’s greatest teacher. Learn how to create a strong family culture and educate your children on what’s most important.

Our Chicago Birthworks Village provides ongoing postpartum support, information and community. We recently met virtually with T’Shango Mbilishaka of Re-Awakening the Afrikan Genius Mind and author of “There Has to Be a Better Way,” an e-book of activities and resources to help Black parents empower their children.

During the Live Lesson, Mbilishaka shared his education experience and encouraged mothers to be their children’s primary educators by sharing their African ancestry and cultivating a positive family culture. Here are a few of the ways he believes new and expecting Black mothers can think about their children’s education journey.

Be confident in your role as primary educator.

Just as we care for our children’s bodies, mothers also have a valuable role in growing our children’s minds. We cannot outsource their education, and it’s time to start now. As the African proverb says, “The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is right now.” The system is not designed for our children to be successful, so we need to define success for them.

Build a strong family culture.

As a mother, you have the greatest impact on your family structure. That family culture serves as the foundation of your children’s education. What is important to your family? Focus on those personal qualities not measured by testing or taught in school—courage, empathy, compassion, strength, humor, motivation, resilience. When you give your children time and energy, you build a strong relationship and a family-centered home where they can flourish.

Envision how you want your children to grow and learn.

Think about the activities you want to add to your family culture. What types of experiences do your children need to have in order to become the people you want them to be? Having space to run, play and explore, to share stories of family, and to foster your children’s natural interests and gifts will create a loving, supportive environment that’s ripe for learning. Speak your dreams for your children aloud. As they drift to sleep, whisper in their ears that you love them and tell them what you want them to become.

Share your ancestry.

One of the most important things we can teach our children is their history. Teach them about their ancestors, their village, and who they are as beautiful Black children—time with grandparents, family storytelling and displaying pictures of family in your home build that ancestral connection.

By sharing the stories of historical and modern African figures—the people they don’t learn about in school—they have more role models to emulate. By sharing your spirituality and cultural traditions, you’ll ignite your children’s energy and spirit, connecting them to all the elements of their culture. By playing music—like jazz, African music, John Coltrane, Charles Mingus, music without words—you’ll develop their creativity, a love of art and an appreciation for beautiful things.

Cultivate a love of life-long learning.

If mothers are primary educators, we need to educate ourselves. Carve out short periods of time to read or listen to books—and make the content relevant to your life and your family. Learn your history so you can share it with your babies, and let what you read challenge you, spark conversations and change your behaviors. Surround yourself with people who educate and inspire you. We provide an example for our children through our actions and behaviors, and we have the power to create our own reality.

Celebrate curiosity.

When children are taught to be self-motivated and curious, they will want to learn and grow and try new things. Channel their energy into learning. Encourage curiosity by putting away the electronics and providing experiences. Books, board games, music, plays, museums and nature will teach your children and spark their curiosity. When you invest in these types of experiences, you’ll see your children thrive.

Find opportunities in the everyday.

Your children are learning all the time. Your family’s conversations, the foods you eat, the stories you share, the places you visit in the community are all a part of your children’s education. Use these everyday opportunities to educate. They can learn science, math and language skills at the grocery store, the bank, in your home and outside in nature. Teach them relevant life skills, like how to use tools, provide first aid and protect themselves.

Mbilishaka believes education needs to center on teaching children how to feed, clothe, protect, heal and educate themselves. When we as parents provide the structure and opportunities, our children will grow in confidence, pride and joy. When we set high expectations, they will exceed them.

The question isn’t “How can I help my child succeed in school?” but rather “How can I educate my child in what’s most important?” Every day, you’re creating family experiences that your children will remember and want to recreate with their own children. You are their greatest teacher.

Join the Chicago Birthworks Virtual Village to learn about topics like this and more from the pros and experts in our village.

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