Category: Child Development Information & Ideas

Make Learning Fun … at Home!

Make Learning Fun … at Home!

Yesterday (September 19th) was Talk Like a Pirate Day. We celebrated with costumes, a reading of Tough Boris, and a trip to our local bakery for a donut. (Don’t all pirates eat donuts?) As I planned this goofy little break in our daily routine, I though about each of YOU and your children.

It seems like the current state of education has become overwhelming for us and for our children: homework, standardized testing, getting into a good college (and figuring out how to pay for it). I wanted to share how we–parents–can make learning fun at home for our children! 

I am a BIG believer that education SHOULD be a joyful experience for our children. It breaks my heart when I hear kids says, “I don’t like school,” or “Reading is boring!” In fact, one of my major goals for Rolling Prairie Readers is to help all parents (including myself) re-think about our attitudes and actions about learning. When we say, “I don’t like math,” or “I’m not good at art,” we are impacting the way our children think about the world!

Make learning fun at home! Read good books, learn through play, go on family adventures, and talk positively about school and books with your children.

So, what are some ways we can make learning fun at home?

  1. Talk positively about learning. Our children will be in school for at least 13 years (not counting college), so it’s important that we are strong supporters of our schools, teachers, libraries, and education in general. Make a point to stop negative talk early, and reframe our children’s frustrations as much as possible. (“I can’t do it,” becomes “I can’t do it yet, and that’s okay!”)
  2. Make GOOD books a part of your family’s culture. Visit the library often. Buy books for gifts. Read aloud to your children even after they can read to themselves. Listen to audiobooks on long trips. (You can click here to read 12 Ways to Incorporate Reading into Your Daily Routine.)
  3. Offer your child several opportunities to learn through play each day. Consider how your child learns best, and add in more music, videos, or sensory bins. I have several seasonal “invitations to play” here on the blog for FREE. You can also browse my Pinterest boards for more ideas!
  4. Chase adventures together. It doesn’t matter if you travel near or far, there is much to be learned from this big world of ours!

Imagine that your’s child learning journey is a hunt for treasure. You have been given the map to guide your child through dangerous and wild lands, past hard times and seemingly insurmountable challenges. Hopefully along the way, your child will learn that the real treasure is a life of learning…with you!

Sign up for a FREE mini-plan! Our mini-plan gives you a sneak peek at the planning process and includes 3 custom activities for your toddler/preschooler.

Teaching Kids Problem Solving Skills

Teaching Kids Problem Solving Skills

When it comes to the main things I want my girls to learn in their childhoods, problem solving skills would definitely be at the top of the list (along with kindness, respect, perseverance, and integrity).

In the past year, our family has gotten bolder with our outdoor adventures, but we still have plenty of room to grow. Today, I am excited to share this helpful guest post and freebie from Isaac and Stephanie Ashby at Tyee Outdoor Experience.  As Isaac explains on their blog, “As a child, adventure was my passion, and wilderness was my medium.” Read on to learn how we can present our children with opportunities for learning problem solving skills!

Teaching Kids Problem Solving Skills | critical thinking, problem solving activities for kids, fun challenges, free printable, child development, life skill


Me: Siri, why is my VCR not working?

Siri: Did you try throwing it away and going digital?

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Maybe I’ll try Google.

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Me: Google, why won’t my VCR work?

Google: Because you are stuck in the 80’s.  Try Netflix or Amazon.

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Fine, I’ll ask Mom and Dad.

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Me: Mom, I can’t get my VCR to work.  

Mom: Oh sweetheart, you’re using a VCR?  Why didn’t you tell us the world was crumbling around you?

Me: But Mom…

Mom: Don’t “but mom” me, I’m you mother.  I know you’re 40 years old but that doesn’t mean I can’t baby you.  Now are you hungry?  As soon as your father finishes outside, I will have him fix your VCR.


While this sequence of events is hilarious, it is becoming much more common.  Why?  Because kids growing up in this age have smartphones and easy internet access with a built-in answering service.  We rarely solve problems on their own anymore!  And there are a lot of problems electronic devices just cannot solve.

Not-so-little-known-fact: Problem solving is an essential skill that employers look for when hiring new employees.  It’s a disappearing art form these days!  

So how do parents teach their kids problem solving skills without merely looking it up on your favorite search engine?

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You: Siri, how do I teach my kids problem solving skills?

Siri:  Keep reading this article.  Tyee Outdoor Experience is the best!

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If you’ve made it this far, I assume you are interested in teaching your children how to solve problems…

Well, here… we… go…

The best way to learn problem solving skills is to practice.  

Practice, practice, practice!  If your kids encounter a problem, make them solve it without electronics.  And let them struggle with it.  Don’t swoop in like the helicopter parent and solve everything.  Make them work for it.

Because I run a perfect household and there are never problems for my kids to practice on (I’m sure you are all the same), here is a strategy to choose a problem and practice these skills.

Step 1: Choose a task or problem for the kids to solve. 

We recommend they do this outside to get them active, out in the fresh air and sunlight.  As well as a billion other reasons for going outside.

Open ended problems with a variety of solutions and make them fun!  Problem solving skills sounds very formal and dull but coming up with fun problems will go over much better.

Here are just a few open-ended, outdoor problems to get you started.  We have even 20 ideas in the Problem Solving Practice Guide printable.

  • Building a bridge that will hold your weight
  • Collecting rain water
  • Build an igloo with snow
  • Dig a hole without a shovel

Step 2: Print the problem solving skills worksheet found here.  

The worksheet is optional but I recommend using it the first couple of times to teach the kids an organized way to solve problems.  It also includes more outdoor example problems and tips.

Step 3: Introduce the task.  

Tell the kids the problem, the boundaries or limits (space, time, necessary conditions) and what they have to work with.  Like Iron Chef but not cooking.  Today’s ingredient is mud!

Step 4: Let them get to work!  

Try not to hover but provide supervision for safety.

As the kids work, resist the urge to give tips, hints, or help.  If they can’t figure it out for themselves, the problem is too hard.  They must learn to do it on their own.

If the task is too hard for them, don’t tell them the solution.  Put the task on hold and give them an easier task.

Step 5: When the kids find a solution, have them talk you through their thinking process.  

It’s important to understand what parts of the process they are good at and what parts they need work on.

Ok now you may be saying this is too easy or obvious but give it a try.  Sometimes we overlook the obvious so think of it as a good skills assessment.

Teaching Kids Problem Solving Skills | critical thinking, problem solving activities for kids, fun challenges, free printable, child development, life skill

Strategies for tough problems and brain farts

In solving problems, we all hit those walls of “I don’t know how”, “I can’t do it”, [insert whining excuse of choice here].  Therefore, TA DA, we give you strategies to break out of those tough problems and brain fog.

1 – Work backwards.  This can seriously open up the mind to new ideas.

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Me: Siri, how do I work backwards if I don’t have a solution to work backwards from?

Siri: Ask Google.  That question just fried my circuits.

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To work backwards without a solution, clearly identify the conditions you want your eventual solution to fulfill.   Then think of how you can make these conditions happen.

2 – Brainstorm the WORST possible solutions to the problem, go through them, and see if any might be a good place to start or at least spark a new (and hopefully better) idea.

Example: Task is getting Frisbee off the roof without getting on the roof.

Worst solutions: Throw a piece of meat up and a vulture will come to knock it off, pay the Air Force to retrieve it, build a go-go gadget arm to grab it, convince it to come down with loving words, etc.  

See why we call them the worst solutions?  But maybe the gadget arm idea sparks another idea for some kind of reaching device.  You never know when inspiration will hit.

3 – Just start messing around and playing with available tools and supplies.  Touching and playing with stuff is a great way to get the creative juices flowing.

And there you have it!  Do you feel the little grey brain cells moving yet?  Problem solving skills are probably not at the top of your to-do list but they are a hidden gem and worth the time to help our kids develop.  Plus, it’s fun get out there and solve some problems together!

See you outside!

Teaching Kids Problem-Solving Skills | critical thinking, problem solving activities for kids, fun challenges, free printable, child development, life skill

Hey there! This is Isaac and Stephanie Ashby from Tyee Outdoor Experience and we get families OUTSIDE. Lessons, games, resources, and activities that pull you outside every day because you enjoy it, not because it is a box to check off on a list of things you “should be doing”. Throw out inconvenient, boring, or expensive. We know you’ve got this!

Learning at Home Tips and Resources + FREE Ultimate Guide!

Learning at Home Tips and Resources + FREE Ultimate Guide!

For the last few weeks, I have been sharing my favorite learning at home resources and tips.  (You can read all of those posts by clicking here or scrolling down for the full list.)

As a former elementary school teacher, I NEVER imagined I’d be a homeschooling mama to my own two girls. But looking back on my years in the classroom, I’ve always been a big believer in individualized education.

When it came time to enroll my sweet five-year-old in Kindergarten, it was clear that she was more than ready academically, but not anywhere close to being prepared emotionally or physically. As I mentioned previously:

Homeschooling for Kindergarten meant we could give our girls more time to mature emotionally and physically while still giving them what they needed academically.

Five years later, we still love homeschooling our girls. But I believe that learning at home happens in ALL families, whenever we read a good book, play a game, go an adventure, write a letter to a family member, etc.

Many parents have come to me and said, “My child is going to preschool x days a week, but we still want to do some learning activities together. What do you recommend?”

And so I have created this FREE guide (scroll down to get yours) to help you get started on your learning at home journey–to create personalized learning plans for YOUR family this year.

Learning at Home Tips & Resources | How does my child learn best? What should my young child be learning? | tot school, preschool at home, homeschooling, learning at home, learning through play


What should my young child be learning?

In another recent post, I shared my thoughts on curriculum for young children:

Curriculum is simply meant to be a jumping off point for teachers (and homeschooling parents). All too often, we become more focused on teaching the next lesson in the book rather than what our child needs to learn next.

So the question becomes, “What does my child need to learn next?”

There are many developmental checklists available for parents, and I also offer a quarterly Age-Appropriate Learning Workshop online. Children rarely develop on a timeline, so my number one piece of advice for parents is to work backwards. What do you want your child to know this time next year? What are the skills he/she needs to develop to get there?


Learning at Home Tips & Resources | How does my child learn best? What should my young child be learning? | tot school, preschool at home, homeschooling, learning at home, learning through play


How does my child learn best?

There are five different modes of learning (often called “learning styles”):

  • visual (graphics)
  • auditory
  • read/write (text)
  • kinesthetic (movement)
  • tactile (touch)

When your child is young, he or she will learn best through hands-on learning. Toddlers and preschoolers love to dance, shake, climb, and move; learning might also happen through song and repetition (hence, the popularity of nursery rhymes!). 

As your child grows and learns to read independently, he/she will begin to demonstrate a preference for one or more of the different learning styles. Note: I believe knowing how your child learns best (and helping him/her to understand what that means) is crucial to success in higher education.

Taking learning styles into account is incredibly important for science and math courses, as I mention in this post about our favorite resources for math education. Good teachers will introduce new concepts in a variety of ways and work with your child in his/her preferred learning style, but it’s also an important consideration for independent practice and homework.

Keep in mind that most people are multi-modal and often show a distinct preference for two or more learning styles at the same time. It’s also important for all of us to strengthen our weaker areas for times when modifications cannot be made. For more information about learning styles, click here.


Learning at Home Tips & Resources | How does my child learn best? What should my young child be learning? | tot school, preschool at home, homeschooling, learning at home, learning through play


Other posts about learning at home that may interest you:


Grab your FREE Ultimate Guide to Learning at Home!