Everyone is a Teacher
One of the first things I remember learning as an undergraduate student of education, when hair was big, parachute pants were king and shoulder pads were large, was the simple fact that parents are a child’s first teachers.
Let that sink in for a minute. Parents or guardians are the first educators for most children. Sure, I know you can think of some obvious ways parents are teachers- reading, pointing out shapes, naming colors, singing the alphabet or counting to 10, and these are all great examples of how parents engage their children in learning. But what about the things that you teach and maybe aren’t even aware of? These types of experiences are known as informal learning experiences and happen all day, every day and have great potential for engaging our children in the act of learning.
Informal learning is the technical name for any learning that just seems to happens; it occurs without lesson plans, goals, outcomes or assessments. It does not require advanced planning nor does it adhere to a specific schedule. Learning happens as a person engages in an activity or experiences that are typically outside of an educational environment and from which the person builds meaning or new knowledge. A great example of informal learning is language acquisition; parents and other adults use language daily and children learn to speak from being in that environment. We all know a perfect example of learning through language experience. Ever have a swear word come flying out of your mouth in front of your children? Ooops! Instant language acquisition.
What’s important to remember during this time of social isolation is that you have limitless opportunities for your children to learn from you just by sharing the same space and activities. You may have heard about “unschooling” as an alternate model of education. “Unschoolers” primarily learn through natural life experiences such as play, completing chores, personal interests, travel, Interactions with family and community members and internships or work experiences. Learners are encouraged to use their interests to initiate exploration of activities that are meaningful and relevant to them in order to build new knowledge. The informal learning approach increases student motivation and engagement; cultivates communities, associations and relationships, and allows learners to play a role in building their own educational pathways.
Try it, you'll Like it!
Want to try the unschooling approach? You can find a ton of books, resources and information about it, but let’s start simple. Here are some ways you can easily integrate informal learning experiences into your child’s day with some suggestions to get started. Remember, the objective is to provide a rich array of learning opportunities that stem from your children’s interests; this is not about forcing them to participate in any one thing, in any one way. Be sure to modify any and all of my suggestions to fit your own children’s needs and interests.
Art Exploration: Set up an area in your home and stock it with some art supplies. By art supplies, I mean anything! Paint, crayons, food coloring, shaving cream, markers and whatever else you may have. Let your child create. Perhaps, they will be interested in painting birds- get them online with some bird resources and virtually explore the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Let your child's interests motivate them to learn more. Perhaps, their art will lead to a presentation they create and share with others or an art gallery in your own home!
Chores: I know you are thinking “WHAT? My kids aren’t the least bit interested in chores!” but you may be surprised. My family operates on a “we are a team” philosophy under which we all know that no one person (meaning ME!) can handle all of the home and family responsibilities. Make a giant list of chores, inside and out, and let your children choose what interests them most. My 13-year-old daughter chose to cook a couple meals each week and she has learned how to make a variety of dishes ON HER OWN via online recipes, courses and videos. Of course, I am nearby in case some intervention is needed, but she typically cooks start to finish. And she will remind us frequently, she doesn’t love to cook, but she loves to eat! Have a kid who loves to be outdoors? What’s more fun than using a leaf blower and learning about the power of air?
Virtual Book Club: Is your teen reading a book that they love? Do they want to share it with others? Encourage them to start an online book club and find others who are interested in reading the same book. Provide some online resources on how to start a book club, get a private virtual group set-up online and encourage your teen to create a video or marketing piece to solicit members.
Broken Station: I happen to love this one because I always have plenty to add to the mix. Broken Station is a collection of board games with missing pieces, broken toys, outdated electrical equipment, and other miscellaneous treasures. I leave all this fun stuff in a crate to which my children have access at all times. Sometimes they are in the box looking for spare parts to something they are building or they are pulling apart an old video game controller and exploring its internal mechanisms. While the outcome may not be a Shark Tank-worthy invention, I promise you- learning is happening!
Nature: There are so many opportunities to learn informally through nature. Something as simple as a bird feeder on a tree or a spring nest with Robin’s eggs can lead to amazing learning opportunities. Just follow your child's lead! As I write this there is now talk of shutting down town parks and trails in some areas of the United States due to large crowds gathering. Don’t worry- there is plenty of nature right in your own yard. Spend time outside playing together and see what interests build and need exploring. Plant life, animal life, non-living organisms- collect, build, examine, explore, touch, smell, run, sit, play. Just be in nature and let learning happen. Bad weather? EVEN BETTER! Get on some weather appropriate clothing and get outside.
You Got This!
Creating an environment that supports and encourages informal learning experiences is one way you can relieve some of the stress you may be feeling regarding your child’s education. Many schools are providing online resources and sending home “packets” for students to complete. I am not suggesting you abandon your child’s traditional education, but I am encouraging you to take some time to explore options that may be a better fit when home becomes school. After all, you are not only your child's first teacher but also their present and future teacher, forever!
If you are a parent or teacher and would like some more support with online learning, building online courses, creating curriculum or home-schooling, please subscribe to Trifecta Education to receive our blogs, articles and invitations to free virtual events. Then join our members-only Facebook group online. The membership is free to all and we're looking forward to meet you!