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“So, because I love to go around and interview people, particularly in the United States, I like to ask adults, “What’s your highest aspiration for our kids?” And, interesting things happen. No one has ever said, “My fondest wish is that they will ace statewide benchmark math and science tests when they are sixteen.” I’ve never heard anyone say, “Oh, my fondest wish is that this young person will help make America more competitive in the global economy.” No, when you actually listen to people’s statements about their dreams for our kids you hear a very different language. Folks want: – kids who experience joy – kids who are connected and engaged – kids who fall in love with their life and all of life – kids with kindness and generosity – kids who are happy – kids who contribute; that my friends is the language of human thriving – and it’s the language of quality, not the language of quantity.”

Dr. Peter Benson, CEO of Search Institute

Joy. Energy. Hope. Direction. Purpose. These are the words that describe human thriving. Peter Benson spent his career trying to understand human thriving with a particular lens on children. He called it a spark.

What is a human spark?

A human spark is a feeling of joy, energy, and purpose that animates your life.

  • Skill/Talent – “I love to make music.” “I love to draw.” “I love to study archaeology.”
  • Commitment – Social justice, stewardship of the earth
  • Quality – “I’m a person of empathy.” “I’m the person people go to for help.”

The Problem – Nobody asks me:

  • Only ½ of parents can name their child’s spark
  • Only ⅓ of adults in school can name their student’s spark
  • Only ¼ of community members can name a child’s spark

I’m my best self.”

Surveyed students overwhelmingly chose the Creative Life (art, music, drama, dance, and movement) as when they felt that they are “their best self.”

What can you do?

Next time you are with a young person and learn about her spark you can:

  • Say it back to her
  • Tell her you see it and hear it
  • Thank her for possessing it

Because in almost all cases it is good and useful to the world.

What else can you do?

  • Work with your school leader in creating a student survey to learn about their sparks which will help guide your school’s enrichment offerings.
  • Connect with teachers in your community that want to do more of this work but don’t have the time and resources to make it happen. You can be the change agent!
  • Advocate and celebrate stories of qualitative learning happening in your school community – the more we champion this work, the more our school boards and school leaders will prioritize these meaningful learning opportunities for our young people.