Imagine a world full of people who only knew what they learned in a classroom. It would probably be uninspired and stagnant. Those who go furthest in the world are the ones who never stop learning and growing, regardless of their age.
Education doesn't begin and end at the classroom door—there are opportunities to learn and grow in any community. Think about the hours you’ve spent answering your child’s “why?” questions; children are naturally filled with wonder about the world around them. Nurturing and modeling this instinctive curiosity will allow your child to be motivated throughout her education and beyond. How can you model a love of learning close to home and do it without spending boatloads of money?
Be tourists in your own town
The little things that make your area unique tend to fade into the background of your busy daily life. Take a walk and stop to look at all the things you normally fly past in your car. Help your child search the Internet for information about the history of your area, and let her play the role of the tour guide. Check out the historical downtown, read the plaques, observe the statues, visit important landmarks and buildings and learn about the architecture. Find old photographs to see how the area looked in times past. Visit shops that have a long history in your area to understand how they’ve stuck around for so long. You may discover that there’s more to your city than meets the eye. You can show your child that history and social studies aren’t only accessible in heavy class textbooks—they’re topics that you can actually immerse yourself in!
Find a local park, reservation, or wildlife refuge
Take a hike … literally! Use a magnifying glass to look at nature close up: leaves, grass, dirt, logs, bugs, flowers. Listen to what's around you. How many sounds can you identify? Play Lewis and Clark and make a map of the park based on what you see. Check out a bird-watching or plant identification book from your library and try to catalog what you find. Visit that same place at different times of year and see how it changes over time and in different weather. There are endless possibilities in nature for learning, no matter where you are. Exploring the natural world will likely kindle your child’s interest in the science behind the environment surrounding her and make science more relatable (even captivating!) than it may seem in the classroom.
Round up the family for a day of public service. Choose an activity that interests your child. If she’s outdoorsy, pick up litter in a park or plant a tree. For an outgoing child who likes to chat, visit a nursing home. Volunteer at an animal shelter if she loves caring for pets. Volunteering will give your child an opportunity to be mentored by not only you, but also other caring, knowledgeable individuals in your community. Each community service activity will cultivate different interests, but all activities will allow your child to see an immediate effect of the works of her hands—a planted tree, a smiling face, a well-fed animal. Kids often lose interest in certain subjects because of a mental division between the classroom and the “real world” outside of it. In a volunteer setting, subjects like ecology, health, and biology, take on a visible purpose. Making a difference in the world is something we each hope to do in our lives, but finding a way to do it doesn't have to wait until we are adults.
Show that adults can learn and be amazed, too
Kids believe that adults know everything about the world, but it’s so much more exciting to realize that the world is so big and wonderful that you never have to stop learning. Whatever you do, learn with your child. Don’t be afraid to show her that even though you're an adult, you still have things to learn and be amazed about. Make sure she doesn’t feel embarrassed to express interest or ask questions. As children get older, they tend to lose their curiosity because of pressure to appear intelligent. Being open and expressive about what you don’t know and what you’d love to learn more about gives kids permission to do the same. Be amazed. Be interested.
None of these activities require lesson plans, quizzes, tests or even homework. Learning at its best is about curiosity, questioning and discovery. It’s about getting out into the world and experiencing it. People spend exponentially more time learning outside the classroom than in it during a lifetime. Learning with enthusiasm and being curious with your young one doesn't have to be an expense. You just need to be part of it with them and share the joy.
Lori Beverage is senior manager of national community and family support for K12. She has a Bachelor of Science degree in elementary and special education from UMaine at Farmington, a Master of Arts degree from Emerson College in theater education, and a decade of experience in the brick-and-mortar classroom as a special educator. She also has 18 years of experience homeschooling her four children using K12 and other curricula.