Here’s a quiz for you: Did you spend at least seven of the last nine months complaining about the way your kids were educated at school? Did you worry that your kids were spending too much time learning to fill in test bubbles correctly? Were you ever forced to go to bed knowing you’d have to wake up fifteen minutes early to have your child fill out a homework worksheet you found at the bottom of the backpack? If you said “yes” to any of these questions, it may be time to take matters into your own hands. It may be time to devote some of those sunny summer days re-lighting your child’s spark for learning.
The beauty of learning is that it really doesn’t require time spent in a hard chair, or head bent over a textbook. Learning does, however, require an interest in discovery, some skills of observation, and a willingness to communicate the interesting things you have found with other people. If you do some of this “work” over the summer, your child will return to school with fresh eyes and a brain that can think up three questions for every one answer it runs across. Now, as every home schooling parent will tell you, there are plenty of pricey workbooks, science kits, and math games that will strain the budget, so maybe the best place to reclaim learning is with what you have at hand. Here are some learning ideas that take just a little planning and not a lot of cash.
Yard Math – have your child bring you at least three things in the yard or at a park that have “divisions” or sections. Leaves (2 sections divided down the middle), citrus fruit cut in half, or even weeds are good examples. Bugs and spiders can stay outside. Come up with possible reasons why these things are divided the way they are (you can look up the real reasons later on the internet). Then use the divisions for a quick lesson in fractions (what fraction does two out of four seeds make). It’s science learning and math learning in one, and hones those observational skills. Why are some things in the yard green, and why are some brown? There are a million-and-one science questions without having to spend a second at a desk.
Become an Expert – Have your child choose one topic they’d like to become an expert on. Maybe this starts with a question, “I always wanted to know. . .” Then start looking for answers. Have your child spend fifteen minutes a day looking up answers to that question, finding out more and more about the topic. After a month, he or she will know as much as the experts, and will find out how knowledge can make a person feel confident.
Density City – As a way of understanding how systems work in their world, just study a city block. How many people are expected to fit on the block? How many cars are there parking spaces for? How are streetlights spaced apart? All of these questions your child can answer refer to density, and were asked by planners as the block took shape. Understanding density helps children recognize that there are reasons for the way things are set up in the city, and to have a critical eye when things are not set up well.
There’s no need to feel intimidated or “bookish” about taking on some responsibility for your child’s learning. As teachers describe, we are just looking for “teachable moments” where we can follow a sense of wonder with some critical thinking. Of course, beyond these simple ideas there are the perpetually cool activities such as Owl Pellets (available from Amazon.com), or crossword puzzles for spelling words you can make yourself (plenty of free puzzle sites are listed via Google). Summer is precious time to re-awaken learning, and will make the weeks seem much more enjoyable than if you didn’t ask those curious questions about the world.