Generally, our image of learning is a serious one. Many of us imagine the perfect learning environment is a classroom full of quiet, studious children poring over their textbooks. Research, however, shows quite the opposite. When learning takes place in a fun and interactive setting, studies find that kids comprehend more complex concepts and experience greater long-term retention. Neurologist Judy Willis states that the highest levels of thinking take place in “an atmosphere of ‘exuberant discovery.’” While you may not have much control over your child’s school environment, you can make learning a fun and positive experience outside of school. Here are several resources and methods that can help you spark “exuberant discovery” in your child anywhere you go. Bonus: every resource listed is free!
On the Go
If you are worried about bringing out the tablet or smartphone too often as a distraction, take advantage of downtime while running errands or waiting for the food to come at the restaurant by printing out fun, educational games suitable to your kid’s age and interests. BusyTeacher.org offers free printable word puzzles that readers can customize to meet their child’s specific educational needs. You can easily make a word search together beforehand, choosing the size, keywords and difficulty level. For a kid that is interested in math, you can find printable math games and puzzles for kids from kindergarten to fifth grade at learninggamesforkids.com.
Most parents try to limit their childrens’ screen time, but not all time spent on an electronic device is purely entertainment. Kids love computer games and there are so many free websites and apps with educational games that will make you feel good about handing over your iPad or laptop. Check out PBS Kids for educational games featuring familiar characters (including Caillou, Clifford, Bob the Builder and Arthur) for kids of all ages, National Geographic Kids for videos and games about animals, nature and the world, or Knowledge Adventure to choose games by age, grade and subject.
Spend a few minutes with most kids, and you can see how much they crave being outdoors. Research tells us that just seeing a green space immediately lowers a child’s stress level and that outdoor learning increases critical thinking skills. For outdoor games with an educational component, visit Education.com for a variety of ideas like sidewalk chalk subtraction to improve math skills and a fun pathways game that stimulates memory.
Around the House
For those days when you and your kid(s) are stuck inside the house, and you still want a relatively active activity, consider cooking together. Cooking with children teaches them about healthy choices and kids who help with the cooking are more likely to try a wider variety of foods. Also, cooking can introduce concepts in math and science. Spatulatta.com offers hundreds of free kid-friendly recipes and videos featuring kids that you can watch and follow with your children. For more educational, indoor game ideas, check out ParentMap.com, which suggests activities like a story-telling game where each person contributes a line of a story and then using that story to make a physical book with illustrations by the kids, or crafting musical instruments out of household items and then writing a song together.
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