7 Fun Ways to Enhance Your Child’s Education
Lots of parents worry about finding the balance between supporting their children in their education to make sure they learn and achieve, and putting them under pressure to succeed that risks turning them off learning altogether. That’s particularly the case for the end of primary school and early secondary school age range, where they might be starting to sit exams and feel academic pressure coming from their school as well – which is the age that this article focuses on.
The good news is that there are lots of ways to encourage your children to learn that they might not even recognise as educational; instead, they’re likely to perceive them as an opportunity to have fun. Here are our top ideas.
1. Visit museums and art galleries, and play games when you do
Some museums are immediately, naturally fun for kids to visit. Very few children don’t love looking at dinosaur skeletons in natural history museums – even if some might feel a bit uncomfortable around taxidermy – and science museums with model volcanoes, earthquake simulators and kid-friendly hands-on experiments are equally compelling. Some history museums are also well designed to be engaging for this age group; a good example is Jorvik Viking Centre in York, which recreates Viking York complete with sounds and smells, making even kids who don’t think they’re interested in history sit up and pay attention.
But that’s not to say that these are the only types of museums that your child might benefit from visiting; it just takes a little bit more (enjoyable) effort on your part to make the other options engaging. Visiting stately homes can be great if your child is imaginative; simply encourage them to imagine themselves as someone of the period living there – how would they feel about each of the rooms? Encourage them to see themselves in different roles – the owner of the house, or a newcomer to the family, or a servant – and use the setting to help bring the history to life. Don’t police their ideas too much for historical accuracy, but drop in any historical facts that you think might spark their imagination further.
Art galleries might seem a bit too challenging for children in this age group, but assuming that they’re mature enough to stick to indoor voices and not run around the place, there’s no reason they should be off-limits. A fun game can be to decide in each room what their favourite and least favourite artworks are on any grounds: “I like this one because he looks like Uncle Henry” should be seen as a valid comment just as much as “I don’t like how this one makes me feel”. Don’t turn it into a lecture, but if you find that your child is repeatedly choosing a particular style as a favourite, they might enjoy being told, for instance, that they’re a fan of Impressionism, and that can incentivise them to learn more.
2. Test their knowledge with trivia quizzes
Gamification is a hot trend for everything from exercise to budgeting; if you’ve ever competed with friends to see who’s racked up the most steps on their FitBit that week, then you’ve used it to incentivise yourself as well. Pub quizzes are fun; exams are not – the difference is the level of gamification. You can use the same principle to enhance your child’s education. Trivia quizzes and memory games are great fun at most ages, whether that’s through age-appropriate Trivial Pursuit cards (excellent for a long car journey) or through quizzes online. Sporcle is the biggest host for such quizzes, and there are plenty that a trivia-happy kid can get stuck into that you’ll be happy for them to learn, from listing all of the countries of the world, to matching famous novels to their opening lines, to naming all of the elements on the periodic table.
This sort of trivia knowledge can be more than just a party piece – it can be a way to spark a genuine enthusiasm for a new subject in your child; for instance, they might end up googling a country that they’d never heard of, researching its geography, history and politics, and learning something more than just a long list of names. And even if this only ever teaches your child trivia, learning how to memorise lots of information is a valuable life skill as well.
3. Buy them educational video games
‘Educational video games’ is a grim-sounding phrase that for anyone of a certain generation, will conjure up images of Encarta CD-Roms and not anything that sounds particularly fun or entertaining. And trying to persuade your child to play a video game on the grounds that it’s educational is almost certain to put them off ever trying it out. Thankfully, video games don’t need to be worthy and marketed as educational to teach your child something worth knowing. After all, if your child took an interest in mastering chess or Go, you would presumably be pleased, even though neither of those will directly help them succeed in their subjects at school.
Video games can often be a springboard for your children to learn more about a subject – for instance, in Sid Meier’s Civilisation series, you play as a historical leader taking your civilisation forward from the neolithic to the future, through stages of scientific and cultural development, and trying to beat the leaders of rival civilisations whether scientifically, culturally, diplomatically, or on the battlefield. It’s a fun combination of real history and deliberate anachronism that might well spark your child’s curiosity about how scientific progress really happens, or how empires have historically taken shape. And there are plenty of other games that are similarly not intended to be educational, but that can contribute to your child’s education all the same. Even if the content isn’t educational, mastering a strategy-based game involves understanding logic and game theory, so your child will learn something from it.
4. Send them to a summer school
Going to a summer school can sound like more classroom time when your child wants to be running around and having fun, but attending a good summer school should be nothing like your child’s day-to-day education. Instead, it’s more of an educational holiday, combining the activities, excitement and new friends of a summer camp, with teaching and learning in a style that they may well never have experienced before. Summer schools for this age group are all about making your child excited to learn, introducing them to new ideas and new ways of thinking, and above all, letting them have a good time. If your child’s education needs enhancing because they’re finding school boring and becoming less interested in learning, a summer school can be a great way to remind them of how much fun it can be. And if your child is academic and enthusiastic about learning, a summer school can also help to counter the learning loss that typically takes place during a long school holiday.
What sort of thing might your child study? Summer schools can cover just about any topic your child might be interested in, whether that’s improving their English, learning how to build a video game or learning about business and entrepreneurship – or just the opportunity to explore academic subjects in a new way. Outside of their studies, they’ll have the chance to try out new activities, visit interesting destinations, and make a whole host of new friends.
5. Teach them things they won’t encounter in school
Something many kids love is to learn about something that their friends at school won’t be learning about – it can feel like they’ve gained some special, secret knowledge, and that makes learning much more exciting. Thankfully, there are plenty of things that you can teach them, or help them learn, that fall into this category. Botany can be one such area, especially if you combine a plant-spotter’s guide with a foraging manual so that you and your child can enjoy going out looking for edible plants together as well. A good botanical guide can seem like something out of Harry Potter, which is likely to make kids sit up and pay attention – and when you combine that with being able to eat the products of your discovery, it’s even better.
If botany doesn’t sound appealing, there are plenty of other options. Programming, medicine, psychology, philosophy, DIY skills, sign language (teach all your kids and you can make the most of their ability to have conversations in silence!), survival skills and law are all subjects that aren’t typically taught in schools, or at least not until the later part of secondary school, and as such can be exciting for your child to learn about. It’s always satisfying to be able to do something that your peers can’t. That’s especially the case if your child struggles at school; it can be satisfying for them to know that even if they’re not as good at maths as their friends are, they know first aid or how to make a chair, and their friends almost certainly don’t.
6. Relate their education to your everyday tasks
Younger children are often happy to learn whatever they’re told to learn, without questioning how their subjects are chosen and why they’re important. But by the time they’re at preteen age, they may well have begun to think a bit more critically about their education. Unfortunately for you, while thinking more critically is an excellent skill to develop in the abstract, in reality it may well be expressed in whines of, “why do I need to learn this? It’s not as if I’m ever going to use it in real life!”
You can help to combat this by explaining how what they’re learning relates to the tasks you do every day. That might be maths for household budgeting, chemistry when you’re cooking, human geography when navigating an unfamiliar town or city, textual analysis when reading a newspaper – depending on what your job is and what your lifestyle is like, you’ll undoubtedly be able to come up with other examples. Where your everyday life doesn’t furnish any examples, you can look further afield, such as to the news, or to the careers of friends and family members, or even to celebrities if your child is interested in celebrity culture.
7. Give them the tools to satisfy their curiosity
Curiosity drives all of us, but it’s something we gradually learn to redirect or suppress as we get older. Secondary school students learn to put aside an interesting thread of thought to focus on what’s relevant for the exams, and then have to re-learn how to spot a promising idea and follow up on it with research when they get to university. Learning how to put aside what’s interesting in order to focus on what’s necessary is a life skill that we all have to learn at some point – at least, if we ever want to hold down a job – but there’s no need to do it all the time.
Much of this article has covered how to help your child become more interested in learning and how to find areas that will spark their interest. The next step is for them to learn how to do their own research, which might mean navigating the index of an encyclopedia, or finding the relevant section of a library or bookshop, and choosing the books that are right for their level of knowledge and understanding. Your role in this is not to carry out that work for them; it’s to take them to the bookshops, the libraries, the museums or even just the laptop with a good internet connection so that they can explore their new interests to their heart’s content. The great thing is that even if their fascination with robotics, zoology or sketching is short-lived, it doesn’t matter; it’s not like playing the violin where the up-front costs are high and the rewards only come after lots of work. Whatever form your child’s interest in learning takes and however long it lasts, they’ll benefit from it, and from your efforts to support and encourage them.