When it comes to their children’s education, many parents find the available schooling options less than adequate. Alternatives such as homeschool, however, are not practical options for every family.
The good news is, full-time homeschooling is not the only way to take ownership of your children’s education. There are many ways you can enhance their learning opportunities, teach them about skills and subjects that are not covered in school, and give them the extra support and encouragement they need at home.
I asked parents and education experts for their advice about enhancing education outside of school. Here’s what they said.
Reduce Screen Use
The detrimental effects of too much screen time for children are well-documented. Aim to reduce screen use as much as possible outside of school.
“Parents have a lot to manage and it’s easy for kids to get several hours of screen time a day,” said Elizabeth Malson, president of the Amslee Institute, which offers online training to nannies and babysitters. “Depending on the age of the children, it may be challenging to switch from screens to activities but don’t underestimate the power of a bored child.”
Indeed it may only take a few weeks for children to rely on themselves to keep busy, as well as a few handy items such as Legos, book, and bikes.
“Reducing screen time can help children develop life skills, like how to self-regulate their use of media and have more time to advance academically,” Malson said.
Fostering a love of reading can enhance a child’s education over the entire course of their life.
According to Heather Miller, author of “Prime Time Parenting,” “Reading to or with your child is very helpful to their growing love of books. Every child should have his or her own bookcase, filled with books from a variety of genres and authors.”
“A study has actually shown that children with 20 or more books at home, go much further in education than those who don’t,” she said.
Be sure to include classics from children’s literature along with popular fiction they might enjoy, Miller advised. “Great children’s literature challenges the intellect and the imagination in ways that less challenging fiction does not.”
Play is the most natural form of learning. Even as your children get older, encourage play in your home and play with them.
“Whether it’s imaginative play, checkers or chess, board games, puzzles, or even (to a limited extent) video games—play is how children (and grown-ups) learn best,” Miller said.
Not Everything Is Taught in School
In school, kids may learn the ins and outs of mathematics and how to read and write, but there is a plethora of skills and subjects that aren’t covered at all.
Parents can involve their children in housework to teach them basic life skills.
“To develop personal responsibility, accountability, and the importance of helping family members, introduce children to household management chores and teach them cooking, how to fold laundry, and cleaning,” Malson said.
In addition, consider that arts education is very limited in schools. Enjoy exploring music and art with your family.
Erika Gingery, a music teacher based in Philadelphia, advises incorporating listening to music on a regular basis.
“I don’t mean just for regular entertainment or to pass time, but try implementing a focus on a genre or composer regularly,” she said. “For instance, there could be a genre of the month and a focus on a composer or artist of the week.
“Even if you as mom or dad have not had much music training, don’t worry. It won’t hold you back. Let the internet help you find musicians and genres per time period … Read a little information on the composer and performer, and listen to a recording with your child to talk about what you hear.”
Support Their Interests
Children often develop specific interests that can drive learning. “Identify your child’s interests. No matter how good a school is, it can’t accommodate every child’s passions,” said author Alina Adams.
Involve the entire family. When a child shows an interest in marine biology, take the whole family to the aquarium, for example. “Adopt the attitude that if one child finds something interesting, odds are the rest of the family will find something of value in it, as well,” she said.
Miller recommends looking into museums that offer educational programs on weekends and vacations. “Make museums a part of your life, and visit them as a family regularly—even once a weekend,” she said.
Support Their Needs
Being involved in your child’s education will help identify early on subjects where they may need extra help. Online programs and outside resources can be added when one-on-one help is needed.
“It’s very important to note, for yourself and for your child, that all of us have areas of strength and weakness. Einstein was a rather weak student in language-based subjects, but a prodigy in math and science,” Miller said. “When a child is very weak in one area, they often have a pronounced strength in another area. The key goal is to encourage a positive attitude towards challenge, and to doing our best in the face of challenge.”
Dinner Table Conversation
The simple act of talking as a family around the dinner table is a lost art for many families, but a great way to easily incorporate learning into everyday life.
“There are some daily practices that make a substantial difference in a child’s academic success,” said Miller. “These include having dinner together as a family and having rich and lively conversations with your children.”
The conversations could revolve around current events, favorite books or movies, what happened during the day, or stories from your own childhood.
“These free-wheeling conversations help develop a child’s intellect, imagination, and verbal skills. They also support strong writing skills,” she said.
According to Mike Kawula, founder of the blog Dinner Table MBA. “The most important conversations should be had daily around the dinner table on topics that are so important for success, but aren’t covered in school, like business, mindfulness, coping with stress and anxiety.”
Try to continue the conversation after dinner as well.
“When dinner, dishes, and other chores are done, go on a neighborhood walk or bike ride each night. During this time, talk about space, the stars, the forest, and stop to look at bugs and collect rocks. In this way, you can build learning into your daily routine,” Malson said.
Every Parent Is a Teacher
While school will teach some specific lessons, true education happens at home.
Teaching our children is not nearly as hard as it may sound.
“Start by creating a warm, loving relationship with your child. When it comes to learning, keep things positive and encouraging. Take it slow and have fun,” advised Christy Cook, founder and CEO of Teach My, which makes learning kits for babies and young children.
“Be interactive with your child every day! Have conversations, encourage curiosity, read all types of books, sing together, go food shopping, to the park and to the library. Whether it is on a walk, in the bathtub, during a meal or in the grocery store, the world is full of teachable moments. It is really all about parents engaging in the moment,” she said.
“Every parent is a homeschooling parent—whether they know it or not,” Kawula said.