When we think of education, images of desks, Smartboards, tests, curriculum and teachers come to mind. While teachers and schools are certainly an invaluable part of our education, this school year we want to remind parents (and children) that learning is not relegated to active teaching environments such as the classroom.
“Learning,” a term that has been all but hijacked by educational institutions, isn’t only about memorizing math problems or being able to recite every element on the periodic table. Learning is a process that happens all the time. It happens at home, on the ball field, it happens while you’re cleaning up a spilt cup of orange juice; Learning is a process by which we observe, absorb, ask critical questions, analyze, process, draw conclusions and apply our findings to other areas of our lives.
But sadly we tend to compartmentalize --- A child’s education happens over there and the rest of their life happens over here. This attitude is a disservice to our kids and to our collective future. Students spend more time each day out of the classroom than in, and as soon as they leave campus they are berated with information and ideas, from television to music to family members and anything else that is part of their day.
As parents we need to take advantage of these hours, which represent countless opportunities to educate our children outside of school. We need to actively expose our children to new experiences, new ideas and new people in the world, and we need to do it in a way that nourishes their sense of curiosity and critical thinking.
Here are some things you can do to encourage your child to think outside of the textbook:
Talk with them about things that you are interested in.
Tell your children about things you think about during the day. Tell them about your interactions with people and how they make you feel. Tell them about your thoughts on current events. The simple act of sharing your thoughts will be stimulating for them and will create a bond between parent and child.
Let them have their own opinion.
Ask your kids how they feel about things going on in the world and do it so they don’t have fear of judgment or ridicule. This will make them feel like their opinions are valued and will foster more critical thinking and creative thought.
Pursue your own hobbies
It’s important to give your children attention, but when they see that you have interests of your own they will be more inclined to pursue their interests.
Downplay the importance of winning
Rather than offering continual rewards and making winning top priority, teach your children that there is more value in the thought and effort behind something. Too much emphasis on winning creates a mind that will be fearful of making mistakes and effort will only come when there is promise of a reward at the end.
Teach your children about basic life skills
This is a main element of the Montessori Method. Children are taught how to do household duties such as cleaning dishes, baking or cutting vegetables. Beyond children feeling empowered by being trusted to an “adult” task, children can learn valuable lessons from tasks that seem mundane. Cooking, for example, can teach a child measurements and health.
Enrich with culture
Take you children to places of cultural importance such as art galleries or museums; take them to see plays or to a busy downtown street or café and talk to them about the difference in lifestyles of people who live in rural areas versus those in the city.
There are many other ways to make everyday an education in your child’s world. So as students enter public schools, private schools and homes schools for the first time this school year, remember that they are learning all the time; sometime deliberately, sometimes not. It’s our job as parents to make them realize this for themselves and inspire them to want to become active participants in their own education.