Learning Beyond the Classroom

What children can learn from at-home learning after the school day ends.
Photo of a young boy being homeschooled by his mother in his bedroom

Photo by AleksandarNakic via Getty Images

The U.S. Census Bureau notes that rates of homeschooling as a primary instructional method for school-age children skyrocketed during the COVID-19 pandemic, likely due to ever-changing restrictions and familial decisions.

Homeschooling is not realistic or the perfect fit for every family. However, all kids have much to gain from the idea that learning shouldn’t be limited to the traditional classroom. Educators and educational specialists see a significant benefit in expanding the definition of schooling to encompass unorthodox and enriching experiences beyond the desk. What teaching techniques can parents tap into to cultivate a curious, educated child?

Integrate the Arts

Dr. Mariale Hardiman, co-founder and director of the Johns Hopkins Neuro-Education Initiative, is a major proponent of the arts. Her studies have focused on arts-integrated curricula, in which visual and performing arts are embedded into traditional instruction.

“There was an advantage for arts integration, but a particular advantage for children who do not learn well with traditional instruction,” she explains. This advantage applies not only for those with learning disabilities or language barriers, but for all students who don’t enjoy learning mainly through reading and writing.

Before her role at Johns Hopkins, Hardiman was a school principal. As her school’s curriculum became more arts-integrated, she notes, “Parents would tell us that when they asked what (their kids) did in school, instead of saying, ‘Nothing,’ they would say, ‘Well, we did this movement activity, and I really learned a lot about how cells divide through this movement.’”

How does this example translate to the home? For parents who want to engage their children after school, it can be as simple as getting them art supplies.

“Put some crayons and a big piece of paper in front of them and ask them to draw, write or anything that will give them a way to recall what they’ve learned. That can open the door

to further conversations,” recommends Hardiman. This recommendation isn’t meant to be taken literally. For example, some children would rather sing a song about what they learned. The goal is to introduce a dialogue in which parents allow their children to rehearse knowledge from their memory. “The more we rehearse anything, the more we revisit anything, the deeper it becomes embedded into our memory systems,” she concludes.

Arts integration is the second leg of Hardiman’s “three-legged stool.” She emphasizes the importance of discrete arts classes and exposure to culture, which parents can promote by bringing children to museums, for example.

Maximize Time Spent Together

Dr. Kristine Calo—associate professor at Hood College in Frederick, Maryland, and chair of the college’s education programs—notes, “Clearly, families play a pivotal role in their kids’ education. (Parents) can capture where a child’s strengths are, what their needs are … (and) help to build on the strengths that a child has and help to supplement and support kids where their needs are as well.”

“I think (an) easy thing to do that should be happening with all kids regardless of their age would be reading—and not just to kids who haven’t learned to read yet but read to kids who can read themselves as well,” Calo recommends, noting that this skill helps develop language, literacy skills and more.

Talking to children is just as important. “For families who are really busy and have a lot going on, having an opportunity to be able to talk with kids about what they did during the day—and not just talk at kids but talk with kids—you’re developing their vocabulary” and showing interest in their interests, remarks Calo.

It’s all about maximizing time spent together, she explains. “We know that there’s a lot of power in purposeful, intentional interactions with kids, and that doesn’t have to be the same for every family.” These interactions can include working on math and measurement while having children help cook meals or asking children about their day while driving home from activities and daycare.

Learn from Schools Themselves

Many schools embrace innovative instruction methods. Even if families are unable to personally enroll their children at these institutions, they may take inspiration from these schools’ successes.

Mary Anne Duffus is the founder and executive director at Brooksfield School in McLean, Virginia, a private, Montessori-based school whose teaching method focuses on children’s independence and natural curiosity. She explains her organization’s dedication to the natural world.

“Through our outdoor curriculum we teach organic gardening, seasonal studies and nature exploration,” she says.

“Our children’s senses are stimulated by nature with all its colors, sounds, aromas and tactile experiences.” She believes Brooksfield’s success lies in its innovation and in staying curious about the student population, including adding programs and specialists as class needs change.

To encourage the spirit of exploration at home, Brooksfield hosts an outdoor adventure program that introduces families to learning on the weekends. Participants engage as a community in camping, hiking, ice skating, rock climbing and more. “It’s wonderful when families can learn together. So much of the time parents are at work and kids are in school,” remarks Duffus.

Parents can channel this collaborative learning by embarking on new outdoor adventures with children, allowing everyone in the family to reap the benefits of nature, exercise and learning more about the world around us.

Another educational philosophy permeates the instruction at South Jersey Sudbury School, a Medford, New Jersey, facility basing its teaching methods on the Sudbury Model, which emphasizes the ability of students to self-regulate and let their curiosity drive them forward.

This approach manifests as interactive student-led play, democratic decision making in lieu of arbitrary authority, conflict resolution led by a justice committee made up of students and staff, an absence of exams and more.

Gavin,* a 2022 graduating senior, describes the benefits of this education in his thesis, stating, “Sudbury nurtured my creativity and free spirit … removed judgment and apathy and replaced them with acceptance and empathy.” He further noted that the difficult decisions and debates he participated in as a part of his time at the school have allowed him to learn exactly who he is and what he wants on his terms.

Parents may replicate this enriching system for their children by giving them greater autonomy in making decisions for the family, providing time for unstructured play and encouraging kids to share their thoughts on a multitude of topics.

*Last name withheld per parent and guardian’s request

Categories: Parenting