Education is so much more than straight A’s and memorization–it’s a lifelong pursuit of knowledge, the cultivation of creative solutions, the independence to solve a problem from square one. Where does this learning take place? In a classroom, certainly. But it also happens every day, and everywhere: at home, at a museum, even on your way to work. Whether it’s imperceptible or intentional, humans are constantly absorbing information and building new connections.
By embracing the idea that education can take place anywhere, you can foster a love of learning in your children, and create a learning-positive culture in your home. Try some of these suggestions to get started.
1. Make learning part of family fun
When planning a family outing, find opportunities to make them educational. Obvious choices include visiting a museum or historical site, but there are many other ways you can make learning a part of family time. A simple nature hike provides opportunities for observation, while baking involves math and science. Consider learning something together–build a model train, or play a sport you’ve never tried. Not only will your child learn by mirroring your actions, but you’ll learn to embrace their childlike ability to persevere, and laugh at mistakes along the way.
2. Open-ended questions
When your child returns from school, rather than asking them if their day was good, ask them what they liked most about it, and why. Open-ended questions will help you to get to know your child better, and help them think deeper. Modern research suggests that philosophical questions (What is art? Why do we dream?) encourage higher-order thinking skills, logical reasoning and empathy.
3. Toys and games
Consider the educational opportunities associated with your child’s toys and games, and provide a wide variety of activities to meet their learning needs. You don’t need a toy to address every skill–for instance, a doll set provides opportunities for pretend play and social learning, while building toys encourage engineering and spatial thinking. Forget the old rule about putting one toy back before taking out another; instead, encourage your child to find new ways to engage by playing with multiple toys simultaneously. Cutting back on material things? A cardboard box and some craft supplies can provide a whole afternoon of engineering, socialization and creative problem-solving.
Involve your child in everyday “grown-up” activities, like grocery shopping, volunteering, or cooking dinner. Errands you might find boring or routine can be exciting for a child who’s learning about how the world works. You’ll be surprised by how much your child can learn by simply observing and practicing these skills. Not to mention, they’ll be more prepared for “adulting” when the time comes.
5. Environmental considerations
Does your child have a clean, distraction-free place to work? Is there a designated quiet time in your house, when TV-noise is prohibited? Establishing a learning-conducive environment is just as important as establishing a routine. Help your child identify the best time and place to draw, practice an instrument or engage in other hobbies. Whether it’s your home office or a corner of the kitchen, they’ll be more likely to take ownership of their work if they have their very own “productivity place” to complete it.
6. People person
Children grow through relationships. By interacting with different people, they’ll build tolerance and learn how to see things from another perspective. Encourage them to participate in different social circles. Identify positive mentors–have them spend time with an elderly neighbor with a special skill, or an aunt or uncle who work in your child’s field of interest. Encourage them to take part in conversations with the adults in their lives–it will help them grow their vocabulary and improve social skills.
7. Try new things
Whether your child is an athlete or computer prodigy, there’s something to be gained from participating in activities outside of their niche. It’s easy to pigeonhole a person based on their interests or gender. Embrace the wide variety of activities and hobbies available to today’s children. Ask them what they like to do, and encourage them to try new activities. (Your professional windsurfing-painting-electrical engineering son or daughter will thank you later.)
8. Gamify learning & level up!
Gamified learning has become serious subject of educational research. From awarding points to providing incentives for growth, teachers across the country have been embracing game-centric strategies in their classrooms. Try it at home by encouraging your child to “level-up” in their everyday activities. Always read them a story before bed? Challenge them to read part of it aloud on their own. Do they help with a few chores around the house? Teach them how to do a new task and reward them when they take initiative. Whatever your strategy, prevent stagnation by looking for ways to scaffold learning, and recognize your child for their achievements.
9. Show interest in their special interests
Hate bugs but find yourself with a budding critter-catcher on your hands? Don’t just smile and say “that’s nice” when they tell you about the extra-special cockroach they learned about in science class (as much as it gives you that creepy-crawly feeling!). No music-making interest of your own, but your little one loves that toy tambourine? Shake one along with them! If you genuinely engage in your child’s interests, you’ll build a framework of collaborative learning in your family that will last through the changing interests of childhood through adulthood.
10. Back to basics
A strong foundation is critical to growth. A child’s basic needs must be met in order for their love of learning to flourish. A wholesome diet, time outdoors, and healthy sleep routines can work wonders in helping your child reach their full potential. Every time you build stability and make positive choices for your child, you’re giving them the keys to success–and teaching them self-care along the way.
Learning is truly a timeless activity – we are all doing it, all the time, regardless of age! By recognizing the constant educational potential all around us, we are able to foster an environment that keeps our children curious, interested and stimulated. Share the ways in which your family keeps education a constant part of your daily lives!