You quickly grasp the difference in learning opportunities between the child crashing toy cars together in his bedroom and the child who is at the car races, counting laps, reading the numbers on cars, and learning a few facts about engines. Or between the child who plays a video game at home, and the child who visits a hands-on science museum. Or between the child that plays in the back yard and the child chasing waves and building sand castles on the beach.
Luckily, families often have extra time together in the next few months due to winter breaks and vacations. This provides the perfect opportunity to explore beyond the usual routine, taking outings that expose children to new experiences and concepts. Even though the children are young and may not remember the fine details, the image of the experience and concepts learned on the outing will be tucked away in their brains. These images and concepts become both the foundation and the glue for new learning. Simple outings become educational experiences.
It was once thought that children were born with a pre-set intelligence level and kept that same level through life; that people could only learn as much at their predetermined intelligence would allow. Now we know that isn’t true. Brains are very plastic; they change, grow and shrink depending on input and factors such as diet, health, and age. A parent can actually ‘grow’ their child’s intelligence by combining experiences and parental attention during the experiences.
Now, the peculiar thing about children is that most are not overly impressed or interested in anything that they have not previously experienced. It is as though they believe that anything new, different or unusual is to be avoided. Your job as a parent is to introduce new experiences in a way that is interesting and feels safe for your child. At the zoo you might ask: “I wonder why the giraffe has such a long neck.” In each room of the art museum: “Which picture do you like the best?” The ski hill might prompt: “Let’s start on just one ski and practice sliding and stopping.” Talk to your child about what they are seeing, monitor how he is feeling, listen for his response, and build on what interests him.
As you already know, a day out with children involves a bit of advanced planning. Basic to the success of any outing is insuring that all (including parents) start the day rested and dressed for the weather. Equally important, families need to start with and continue with good nutrition throughout the day. Behavior deteriorates with lack of sleep, a diet that is out of balance, dehydration, and/or with physical discomfort. Outings need not take the full day, in fact parents need to remember to quit before everyone is worn out. A fun half hour at the museum on the ‘no cost day’ still counts as a half hour of learning. You’ll make magical memories of your vacation time while you boost your child’s development. It’s a win-win.
Evelyn Satterlee, M.Ed.