By Maureen Powers
Imagine two children in the same classroom. One child has never cooked a meal with his parents and one has been cooking with her grandmother at least once a week since she was old enough to stir with a big spoon.
The class reads a book about a family preparing tamales for a holiday meal. The child with no cooking experience has difficulty understanding the words used in the story and building a picture in his mind as he reads about what the family is experiencing.
The child with cooking experience pictures and understands the vocabulary very quickly and easily.
Learning can happen anywhere. In fact, the most important learning happens outside the four walls of a classroom. One of the best things parents can do for their children is to offer experiences beyond those that normally take place at school.
Psychologist Lev Vygotsky found that learning happens when children interact with their communities. New experiences can build vocabulary and give children more knowledge about their world, which is called “prior knowledge.” Children need this prior knowledge as a foundation for learning new things and making sense of them. It affects how easily they can learn and organize new information, according to the author Marilla Svinicki.
Now that you know how important it is to provide learning opportunities at home, how can you create those teachable moments?
- Cook with your children. PBS Parents gives great ideas and instructions to get you started.
- Allow children to help you make minor, age-appropriate repairs around the house. Name the tools you are using and talk about what you are doing and why. Let your kids tinker, using this website to find free repair manuals for just about everything.
- Go outside and mark off a two-foot area of the ground. Watch for any insects that enter or exit the area. Talk to your children about the insects you see and take pictures to look them up later at the library or on the computer.
- Attend free experiences offered at the local library. Libraries are a great resource for learning activities designed for children of all ages.
- Many communities offer free concerts in the park during the summer months. Check with your local parks and recreation department and let your children experience live music. Point out the different instruments, encouraging them to find the sound each one makes in the song.
- When your child wonders about something out loud, talk to him or her about it. Then research it on YouTube. You can learn how to do just about anything by watching videos and tutorials.
- Khan Academy is a free website and a great resource for learning just about anything, even HTML coding for kids.
- Get an annual pass to the local zoo or science museum. Many museums offer reduced or free admission once a week. Let your kids touch any interactive displays and talk about the animals or exhibits.
- Visit the closest national park. Consider purchasing an annual pass that will get your family into all the national parks for a reduced fee. Military families can get a pass for free.
- Travel, try new things, explore your community and remember to talk, talk, talk to your children about what they are seeing, hearing, experiencing, and thinking. Ask questions and listen to their answers. You will end up learning something, too!
For more tips to develop your child's academic skills at home, check out our YOU: Your Child's First Teacher books, now available on Amazon.