The Afterschool Learner

How to increase the educational value of your child's home life.

School’s out for the afternoon, and it’s time for real-life learning to begin! Despite the best intentions of a classroom teacher, it’s incredibly hard to keep up with the individual needs of every student. But you as a parent have an advantage: You see your children daily and can nurture classroom learning with resources at home. Here’s how.

  • Model the literary lifestyle. Keep reading material in common household areas, such as magazines on the coffee table, books on the living room shelves, bedtime stories on children’s night stands. Do your children know what you’ve read recently? Can they name your favorite authors? Talk about what you like to read. Travel with books in tow.
  • Nourish your passions. If you have a specialized interest, make sure your children see that you pursue it— and how you benefit and grow as a result. Your children don’t need to love the same things that you do. What’s important is that they observe you developing your interests and learning. Kids will find ways to do likewise when they adopt personal passions.
  • Listen. When your child talks, you should listen. Stories, songs, news from school, tales of imaginary friends— if you’re hearing it, your child feels that it’s significant enough to share and that you’re the person who is significant enough to listen. Appreciate the compliment and reciprocate by asking follow-up questions and thanking your child for sharing.
  • Rethink the rote. If there’s a subject that’s dragging your child down, consider whether the dynamic would change with a creative approach. Tired of practicing long division on paper? Switch to chalk calculations on the driveway. Reading primers not catching your tech-savvy child’s interest? Try an application that mixes sound and movement with a story’s text. Sick of spelling? Find window crayons and carry out impromptu quizzes on a household window or on the mirror.
  • Learn from family and friends. Consider your child’s hobbies and interests. Do you know anyone, perhaps a neighbor, relative or family friend, who might be knowledgeable in one of those areas and could spend time guiding your child? Whether we’re talking about crocheting, veterinary medicine or computer programming, you can nourish your child’s mind and increase his or her skill set by finding a friendly mentor.
  • Give back. Help your child help others. While some schools carry out community service, it’s always nice to have that social consideration come from the home, as well. Even if your time is limited, find a way to give back as a family. Spend an hour picking up litter at the local park, a weekend morning a month serving food at a local shelter or an afternoon during school vacations walking dogs for neighbors who are at work. Children learn through these acts of generosity and become actively engaged in the community exploring career possibilities as they give.
  • Share screens. Discuss compelling movies and documentaries that you’ve watched. Talk about local and national news. Make sure that any home computer has a browser that opens to an educational home page and mobile devices are equipped with worthwhile apps. Electronics can be valuable educational tools when used deliberately.

Three Questions to Guide At-Home Learning Sessions

  1. What’s new? Start by finding out what your child has learned since you last talked. Here’s your chance to discuss the day’s quizzes, in-class assignments and returned papers. You can have your child talk you through the latest class notes and describe the recent in-school activities, both social and academic.
  2. What’s now? Ask about the plan for the current afternoon. Have your child figure out what’s due the next day, what’s due later but should be started today and how to best budget time.
  3. What’s next? Here’s where your child practices longer-term planning. Discuss upcoming assignments, including tests and larger projects. Teach your child to create self-imposed deadlines for daunting tasks that can be broken into smaller segments.

Pointers for a Good Study Environment

  1. Maintain a large, flat surface that you keep clutter-free.
  2. Stay quiet nearby. Turn off the TV and any music and look out for distractions.
  3. Put a stash of supplies, such as paper, pencils and a ruler, in a central location your child is aware of for easy access.
  4. Have a physical dictionary and world map for your child.
  5. Give your child water and healthy snacks before and/or during homework time.