With the advent of the global pandemic from the coronavirus, many schools have been shut across the United States and elsewhere in the world, leaving countless parents with the unanticipated task of teaching their kids at home. In many cases, your schools will assign work to complete during this hiatus. But if they don’t, or you want to use this time to extend your child’s learning ability, here are 10 tips that can assist you in your home schooling.
- Use the Internet as a Teaching Tool. There are now a wide range of teaching portals online where students can be taught everything from basic skills to courses in higher education. The most famous example is the Khan Academy, which has literally thousands of short pithy lessons (usually 8-10 minutes) in math, science, history, and a wide range of other subjects. And it’s free. The real advantage of sites like this is that kids can watch the videos, and if they don’t understand everything, can re-watch them as many times as necessary to achieve mastery. Many of the topics are arranged sequentially (particularly important in math), so kids can basically work their way up to higher and higher levels of competence. Beyond the Khan Academy, there are many other learning sites, some which you have to pay for, and others which are free. For a list of free online learning portals, click here.
- Use the Internet as a Curiosity Machine. Beyond the structured courses and modules described above, you can use the computer and Internet to feed your child’s curiosity. Ask your child to write down (or tell you) 10 things they are curious about, and/or 10 things that they would most like to learn online. Then together, you can look up information in these areas of interest. The Internet is an unbelievably rich source of knowledge, far outstripping the encyclopedias that we used to have when we were growing up. It can provide text, graphics, photos, videos, audio files, and other forms of information to enrich any topic. For example, to learn about the Civil War in the U.S., you can watch videos about it, hear songs that were popular during that time, look at statistical charts and graphs on the economics of the North and South, see maps of famous battlefield sites, communicate with experts on the subject, and learn in many other ways.
- Read Together with Your Child. Whether your child is six years old or about to graduate from high school, you can make the exploration of books (not just textbooks but real books) a daily focus. For younger kids, simply reading to them is an extremely valuable way to improve their developing literacy skills. As you read to them, ask questions, and listen to what your child says about the content. This helps develop reading comprehension ability. For older kids, let them read books in their area of greatest interest (go to the library if it’s still open in your community), and then have conversations about the content with them. Make sure not to quiz them on the material, it’s much better to have simple easy communications where the aim is for both of you to gain something from the experience. High school students might want to focus on college preparatory reading lists. Many school districts publish these lists online, including this one recommended by the College Board.
- Use Television (or Videos) as a Teaching Resource. With all that time spent indoors, it’s inevitable that your child or teen will log innumerable hours on the boob tube (unless you don’t have one in your house). Since this is going to go on, turn it into an educational experience. Sit with your child or teen while they watch, and then ask them questions about what they’re watching (it doesn’t have to be ”educational TV”). Questions to ask: ”how do you think this episode will turn out?” (this teaches prediction), ”what do you think this commercial is doing to attract you to buy their product?” (this teaches inference), ”how would you sum up the show you just watched in as few words as possible?” (this teaches summarization skills). There’s such a thing as media literacy, and you can help your child get better at this 21st century skill by engaging with him about the media he uses.
- Use Your Backyard (or Immediate Outdoor Environment) as a Way to Learn about Nature. You can learn a lot about natural science simply by paying attention to what’s in your backyard (or outside your door). What kinds of birds are flying by? (ornithology). What sorts of plants (including trees) are there nearby? (botany). Are there wild animals near where you live? (zoology). Get a simple dime store magnifying glass and invite your child to go out and look in minute detail at leaves, rocks, insects, and other living things. This might spur your child to want to read books about them, or carry his curiosity onto the Internet.
- Stay Away from Supermarket Worksheets and Workbooks. A lot of parents think that kids working on worksheets is a productive activity indicative of real learning. It’s nothing of the kind. It’s what we used to call in the teaching world ”busy-work.” Drawing a straight line from a picture of a snail to the letter ”S” does little to teach the alphabet. Much better to ask your child to find all the objects that begin with the “S” that are in the house, or outside. Then do this for other phonetic sounds.
- Have Conversations With Your Child or Teen at the Dinner Table. Many families don’t even eat together, yet some researchers have linked family dinners to higher SAT scores and other academic and non-academic benefits. Stay away from subjects likely to cause stress (discipline issues, chores, bad grades etc.). Instead, talk about what’s in the news, about interesting experiences during the day, and about topics that are of interest to everybody. These dialogues cultivate verbal skills, thinking skills, and other important abilities needed both inside and outside of school.
- Ask Lots of Questions (and Encourage Your Child or Teen to Do the Same). We generally learn much more from asking questions than from simply repeating knowledge that we’ve already learned. With the economy going through some tough times, ask your child: ”What would you do to help the economy?” or ”How could we tell that the economy is improving?” Virtually any topic can be re-framed into a question (is that really true?) Parents won’t have the option of asking their kids ”what did you learn in school today?” (which never was a great question anyway), so instead, since you know many of the things your child did at home, ask questions focused on those topics (e.g. ”what was the favorite things you did today?” ”what was the worst thing that happened?”). Keep away from questions that have fixed answers (e.g. ”yes” or ”no”) and go for those that may not even have a clear answer but that help exercise the brain muscles!
- Play Games Together as a Family. Many parents think of games as simply entertainment, but games can expand one’s knowledge (as in Trivial Pursuit), and improve one’s cognitive (or thinking) skills. Monopoly provides practice in finance, economics, and money management. Pictionary trains one’s visual thinking abilities. Chess develops abstract planning, visualization, and higher order reasoning. Don’t try to ”teach” anything during the game, but simply enjoy them knowing that your child or teen is giving some part of his mind a real workout. Even a game as simple as Chutes and Ladders teaches basic addition and subtraction skills!
- Engage in Puzzles of All Kinds with Your Kids. Putting together a picture puzzle helps develop visual recognition, part-whole relationships, color sensitivity, and a range of other skills. Solving a logical puzzle like sudoku trains mental reasoning ability. Working on a crossword puzzle helps expand one’s vocabulary, knowledge base, and inference capabilities. Have a time during the day when the whole family chooses a different puzzle to work on and then offer each other clues and help in completing them.
For the past thirty-five years, I’ve been an advocate of homeschooling, because it provides greater opportunities for learning than the more workbook-lecture-textbook approach to education adopted by most schools. To make the most of this opportunity (and that’s what is really is, not a ”problem” at all!), let your child or teen follow his interests, and provide encouragement as they engage with the things they’re most passionate about. The family ultimately serves as the social vehicle through which a child’s natural genius can be activated (for information on awakening your child’s inner genius, and what I mean by ”genius” see my post on that subject). So enjoy this indoor learning time together. It can be a significant way that you can turn this crisis into a series of ”teachable moments” that may have a bigger impact on your child or teen than school will ever have.
For more information on home learning, homework, learning abilities, and strategies for enriching your child or teen’s learning experience at home, see my best-selling book In Their Own Way: Discovering and Encouraging Your Child’s Multiple Intelligences.
This page was brought to you by Thomas Armstrong, Ph.D. and www.institute4learning.com.
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