This Summer, Continue Learning Outside the Classroom


“When am I ever going to use this after I graduate?”

I heard this question countless times, from countless students, in the fourteen years that I taught English. In fact, if I’m honest, I asked this question myself more than a few times. Many, many times, actually…just ask my mom.

It’s a fair question. Even as adults, we want to know the hard things we’re doing serve some purpose. I mean, if eating spinach every day isn’t positively affecting my health, then I need to swap that stuff out for some M&M’s, am I right?

That said, schools are really limited by curriculum calendars and administrative requirements, and often there just isn’t time to show kids how their academic skills can transfer to living a fuller, better life.  Fortunately, this is something you can do as a parent, and it doesn’t require sitting at your kitchen table, slaving over worksheets.

This is the first blog in two-part series that I hope will empower you to take your kids’ learning outside the classroom. These strategies require no curriculum and little planning, but they’ll pay long-term dividends as your children begin to understand the purpose of the work they do in school.

First, consider including your kids in your family budget.  Have a kid who complains that they’ll never use math in real life?  Let him be a part of your financial planning.  While little kids can certainly do this, think seriously about giving your middle and high schoolers the opportunity.  Give them a printout of your budget and put them in charge of writing down every expense you have during the month.  (This will probably blow their blessed minds.)  Let them tally the numbers, compare them to the goal, and analyze ways to make the budget more efficient.  This is a great time to talk about family values, money goals, and priorities; if you’re brave, you can let them be a part of choosing where discretionary income goes. The value of this activity goes well beyond math; most college freshmen arrive with absolutely no understanding of money management, and they’re easy prey for the credit card companies hawking free T-shirts.  Have your kids calculate the actual cost of a small item after several years of interest, and let them “see” how costly instant gratification can be.  A child who participates in the family budget will understand true cost and hopefully be more guarded with his or her money.

Doing a home repair project?  Make them a team member.  If you are doing the project yourselves, let them research and calculate the cost of materials.  Bringing in a contractor?  Let your kids sit in on the meetings.  Ask lots of questions about the process and science of what they are going to be doing.  Find out why this retaining wall will hold up while that of a different style will not.  Ask the contractor what makes the dimensional shingles so much more durable.  Let your kids talk to the arborist who takes care of your trees.  Model curiosity and encourage your kids to find knowledge in everyday tasks. You might even wind up with some low-cost labor.

Finally, whenever possible, cook with your kids!  I’ll be the first to admit that this is HARD. My kids are little, and there’s nothing quite as stressful as a three-year-old who insists on cracking the eggs. But…cooking is effectively math and chemistry.  Want to practice fractions?  Halve and double some of your favorite recipes. Talk about why the yeast makes the bread rise; if you don’t know, Google it with them.  In addition to the math and science, skill and knowledge in the kitchen will save your kids money and keep them healthy down the road.  And let them be part of the shopping as well; if you buy ingredients from a local farm, let them meet and talk to the farmer.  At the grocery store, let them keep track of cost, create and follow a list, or check the labels for healthy ingredients.  Let them see that life skills and academic knowledge go hand in hand.

Trust me, I know involving your kids in these tasks will make them take longer, and the last thing any parent wants is for anything to take longer. Gah! But the upfront investment (and the eye rolls and sighs you’ll tolerate) will make a huge difference down the road.



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