Parents take lead for summer learning

A child only educated at school is an uneducated child. —George Santavana

School is out and many educational experts would say learning is on hold.    So parents…… it’s up to you!   Remember, learning doesn’t just happen in a classroom.  How, and when do children learn?   Learning…can be anytime, anywhere, on demand and individualized.  Parents as their child’s first and foremost teacher can be in a position to assist their child in 24/7 learning.    Learning is most optimal when it can be as individualized as the kid.  Teachers know that this is important, but struggle to achieve this with increased class sizes and academic achievement.  But parents can, if they take on the challenge.  With a little planning and researching, parents can fill their child’s day with many brain boosting activities and strategies.

To quote philosopher George Santavana—“A child only educated at school is an educated child”.  Lifelong learning goes far beyond the classroom setting and summer can be the perfect time to set your child on a journey to authentic learning.  Let’s start with the notion that learning can and should be fun.  Ideally, we can learn to capitalize on our child’s ideal learning style.  Many kids prefer hands on learning and traditional classroom teachers are challenged to find the time and resources to provide learning activities are geared for hands on learners.  Hands on learning can be both academic and fun.

As parents always remember to vary activities.  Remember that a little fresh air is the best way to wake up a sleepy summer brain. Get them outside. Get them moving. Keep them reading. Keep them learning.  Summer can be a great time to discover music, attend outdoor concerts, boost music lessons, write songs, make instruments or try a new instrument.  Consider an outdoor talent show in your neighborhood.

Make your home “learning friendly”—fill with books, newspapers, games, how to manuals, magazines,  and access to the internet. Be a learner yourself.  Let your kids see you researching how to do things, and see you reading.   Remember to TALK.  Ask questions. Ask probing questions for deeper meaning and thoughts.  Challenge each other.   Learn from each other.

It has also been said that “Necessity is also the mother of invention”.  Consider a hands-on project and the research that is necessary to complete it.  My son-Cole has been a project kid.  We have learned all sorts of things through his persistence and ongoing projects.   We have taken on projects like survival skills including:  catching water in a catchment system, making char cloth, constructing a fish trap, creating snares, beekeeping,  willow whistles, blacksmithing techniques,  fishing lures and fly-tying—(flies mimic insects actually found in nature, understanding of fish and entomology) as well as the perfect homemade dough bait prepared in my kitchen! We attempted engineering challenges like catapult creations, mobile ice house construction,   leather making, knots and lashings, and coin collecting—just to name of view of his own-going learning bucket list.  Has he traveled this learning journey alone?  No—his father and I have learned alongside.  As a parent I have also learned to take his lead.  I’ve learned to support and encourage what he is interested in.  As parents we have learned that lifelong learning is about giving kids learning experiences.  It’s about asking questions.  It’s about being mindful and observing their interests.  It’s about letting them fail and learning from those failures.  It’s about encouraging curiosity and not squelching ideas.  It’s about asking thinking questions.  It’s about knowing your child and where their interests lie.

Take time this summer to look at learning as a life time of exploration not only for your child but for yourself.  Learning shouldn’t be a chore!    Take time to let learn with your child!

Janet Smith

Janet Smith is a Human Science Specialist-Family LIfe with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. She currently provides family life programming in eight counties in southeast Iowa. Janet is a "parenting survivor". She is the mother of Jared-21, Hannah-20, and Cole-15. She and her husband, David have faced many challenges together, including their son Jared's Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy diagnosis.

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They Grow on You Over Time

I grew up in a family with an older sister and two younger brothers. We were pretty typical – playing and fighting our ways through the days. Eventually we all launched into the world as adults. We reconnected occasionally at the parental home as happens in most families. First our father died and then our mother. We were truly on our own and that sentiment is echoed by Katherine Conger, family sociologist at the University of California, Davis. She says that spouses come along later in our lives and parents eventually leave us. Siblings are with us for the whole journey.

I’ve watched other families after the death of the last parent. Sometimes a family grows apart without the common denominator of a parent and family home. In our case we  forged stronger links. The connections are powerful as we no longer try to compete or change each other. We focus on what we have in common instead of our differences. This is consistent with findings that the shared early childhood experiences cast a long shadow.

All this can be comforting to parents as they referee endless arguments with their children. Some day those children may come together as good friends. It is also a reminder that it is not too late to reconnect with your own siblings. Conflicts and disagreements can be forgotten (and forgiven) and replaced by the support of those who were there from the beginning.

Have you experienced the death of one or more parents? If so, how has the relationship with your siblings changed?


Donna Donald

Donna Donald is a Human Sciences specialist for Iowa State University Extension and Outreach who has spent her career working with families across the lifespan. She believes families are defined by function as well as form. Donna entered parenthood as a stepmother to three daughters and loves being a grandmother of seven young adults.

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My fiancé coaches a ten year old baseball team.  Being a huge sports fanatic myself, I always enjoy going to the games to support my fiancé and the team.  However, I must admit that I secretly enjoy using this time to observe the parents.  Because I am so interested in parenting, and have so much respect for parents, I enjoy the opportunity to learn from others.

This past weekend, I found myself particularly interested in the parents’ reactions to a child’s unsuccessful attempts (for example, striking out or making an error).   Amongst the many different reactions, there were two extremes.  One parent did not hold the child responsible at all by stating things like, “I would have never swung at that terrible pitch either” or “I can’t believe the ump called you out.”  The other extreme was a parent who held the child solely responsible, and was often found yelling things like, “Swing the bat” or “Get your head in the game.”

Although there were many variations between these two extremes, I shared these extremes with my fiancé, and took the opportunity to discuss with him how we might handle this situation when we have children.  (With our competitive natures, it’s good for us to have a “stay cool, calm, and collective” plan before going into any sporting event, let alone that of our future child!)

After some discussion, we both decided that children need to be taught all aspects of playing a sport, including the physical, emotional, and mental aspects.  Every unsuccessful attempt provides an opportunity for parents to teach and children to learn.  The learning may come in many forms:  how to handle emotions, how to be a good sport, how to hit the baseball, etc.  We made it our goal that after each game, we would first and foremost teach our child about handling emotions and sportsmanship.  Our second priority would to teach the physical skills of playing the sport.

For example, if our child made an error in fielding, then sulked for two innings, our conversation might look something like this:

  • “It looked like you were upset after you missed that ground ball.  What was going through your head?”
    • This might lead to questions like, “What do you do when you’re angry with yourself?  How do you bounce back and get ready for the next play?”
    • We will then likely brainstorm some ways to handle tough, unsuccessful sporting attempts, like telling teammates, “I got all of the kinks worked out, and now I’m ready to get the next one!”

Obviously this approach will really vary depending on the age of the child.  I’m curious, how do you help your child handle strikeouts?  Errors?  Missed goal kicks?  Or any other unsuccessful sporting attempt?

Donna Donald

Donna Donald is a Human Sciences specialist for Iowa State University Extension and Outreach who has spent her career working with families across the lifespan. She believes families are defined by function as well as form. Donna entered parenthood as a stepmother to three daughters and loves being a grandmother of seven young adults.

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