An Educational Leg Up

The other day, my partner and I had a phone consult with a relocation expert. It’s our goal to go rural and be as self-sufficient as possible. In addition to inquiring about good locations, optimal acreage, water cisterns, and acclimating into a new community, we also asked about children. “Children are an asset,” we were told. The man had homeschooled his children, and his children are now homeschooling their own. He offered us his curriculum, and we graciously accepted.

As a child, a good friend of my mother’s homeschooled her children. The kids were brilliant! They built a trebuchet, they went on a field trip to Boston to learn about the American Revolution, and they referred to body parts by the fancy anatomical name. Though I was not homeschooled myself, my mother was a former school teacher so my education never stopped at the end of the school day.

In the back of my mind, I’ve continually considering what I would do to raise good kids. This got me thinking. What did my parents do well? What would I do differently? What childhood habits and trends lend themselves to success in adulthood?

Considering all the successful people I have known, I believe the commonality is that the adults in their lives did things beyond the classroom to facilitate learning as they grew up. So, here’s my working, makeshift list of things I’ve observed that seem to work, and that I would plan to implement if I ever become a parent.

11 things you can do with your kids to give them a leg up on their education

  1. Read aloud. Reading aloud is underrated. Read as a family, not only before bed but also after school, at the breakfast table, after dinner, and on the weekends. Choose a chapter book the whole family will enjoy, and let it be a bonding (and literacy reinforcement) activity.
  2. Plan a budget. Budgeting is a great way to teach kids about math, money, planning, strategy, and delayed gratification. Give them a set dollar amount to plan a vacation, a fun activity, or dinner. Add in some parameters to make it challenging.
  3. Let you kids obsess over their interests. Create an environment where your kids can pour over the things they find interesting (and learn through doing). Steve Jobs spent hours deconstructing and building radios at home before founding Apple. I spent hours at a time on jigsaw puzzles, Mensa logic puzzles, and building structures with my brother’s K’NEX, while my sister would line up all her stuffed animals to read them books. Today, our careers both align with our early interests.
  4. Play math games. Teach your kids fractions when dividing a pizza. Play games like monopoly and let your kid be the banker. Let your kids tally up your spare coin collection (and use the extras to buy a treat). If your kid enjoys logic puzzles, pick up the Mensa kids workbook.
  5. Play trivia. Have decks of trivia questions available on road trips and slow days. The acquisition of knowledge is fun and the friendly competition is exciting. I have very fond memories of Brain Quest curriculum-based questions.
  6. Engage in hands-on projects. Involve kids in cooking, building, gardening, sewing, oil changes, and household repairs. These are all great multi-disciplinary skill-building activities. Kids learn transferable skills like math and problem solving, and they also learn practical hands-on skills that can be carried forward into adulthood.
  7. Keep a scientific log. Keeping notes and making scientific observations is a great way to hone kids’ observational and writing skills. Have them choose anything they find interesting: the weather, the sprouting of a lima bean, the mail route, the lifecycle of a caterpillar, mold on a piece of bread.
  8. Challenge your kid’s mathematical awareness. Play estimation games: What time will we get home? How many chocolates are in this jar? How many boxes can we fit in the back of the car? How tall is that hill?
  9. Write letters. The art of correspondence is dying, but it shouldn’t be. It’s a great way to hone writing, communication, and interpersonal skills. Older adults, cousins, or friends far away make especially good pen-pals. Few things are as fun as awaiting a letter in the mail!
  10. Write a chain story. Give your kids a writing prompt, then take turns writing a story, setting whatever parameters you like. This is a great way to foster creativity, and to make writing fun.
  11. Shadow someone. Few things are as mind-expanding as getting to watch an adult working in a field you find fascinating. Find a local adult that works in a field your kid thinks is cool: firefighter, police officer, farmer, scientist, architect, historian, etc. Expose your child to different career opportunities and, potentially, find an adult willing to become their mentor and cheerleader.

You don’t need to pull your kids out of school to deliver an amazing education. That amazing education can start at home, today, no matter what school they’re in.

For those of you who are parents, what am I missing? What are some tools and tactics to help develop sharp, inquisitive, well-adjusted kids?

27 thoughts on “An Educational Leg Up

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    1. Wow, thank you for sharing this, Mark! I think I had read about this 10+ years ago, but forgotten. It devastating to think about the distress of young child must experience when their life support is not attentive to their needs. This is so important to keep in mind for any parent.

      I’m curious now whether the YouTube videos parents place in front of their children distract from and pacify the feelings of distress, or amplify that sense of abandonment. From there, I wonder if a baby can differentiate a video of their smiling mother from the real thing, and if that can bridge those moments where the parents must tend to other things. You’ve given me so much to thing about! ๐Ÿ˜Š

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh, absolutely. It’s not a good thing. I’m truly grateful to have grown up before technology really took off. I look at my boyfriend’s nephews (ages 19 and 14) and they are so ill-equipped for life… they grew up on TV and video games and have no real world skills and lack the ability to think critically, and I see the same trend in their friend groups. I’m not eager for AI to enter the picture, but these kids have no concept of the real world and I think we’ll need computers/robots to fill the gap, unfortunately. For example, the 19 yo thinks he’ll buy and manage a sports team when he graduates with his sport journalism degree and the 14 yo plans to become a YouTube influence. Really??? ๐Ÿคฆโ€โ™€๏ธ๐Ÿคฆโ€โ™€๏ธ๐Ÿคฆ

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Well, the good news is: it’s never to late for your boyfriend’s nephews’s brains to have massive, delayed neural flourishing in their 30s, 40s, 50s, etc. thanks to neurogenesis and synaptogenesis! ๐Ÿ™‚

        Liked by 3 people

  1. These are all wonderful ideas. I agree that so much learning can happen at home and informally. I love that you highlighted making a budget. Financial literacy is such an important skill that needs to be taught more in our classrooms.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks, Ab! Yes, you’re so right that the learning can be fun an informal, rather than an extension of the school day. Learning budgeting is something I’m so grateful my parents taught me at a young age. Since it’s often not happening in school, it’s one of those things that can be taught at home. And you can take any approach… around age 10, my parents were redoing the landscaping and had my brother and I choose plants and designs within the budget. I don’t think they went with out plans (lol!), but it was a fun, practical, real-world project that required budgeting and taught us that a dollar only goes so far, so we need to prioritize.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. My son is 3. What I can tell you is, teach your children boundaries and manners early. Do not let the boy-children wear the women down – will battles begin early and often, and can lead to manipulative, divisive, weak and misogynistic behaviour later. Husbands need to encourage their wives to be fair, but also firm and even tough – which can be hard for them, but it’s worth it for their health and the child’s moral wellbeing.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I think it’s important to open avenues for either sex to explore whatever they are interested in and want to learn without preconceived notions of what fits based on social expectations. Just like everything else, parents need to mirror good habits and equity for their kids.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. Boundaries and manners is a great point! My younger brother was feisty and would probably had qualified for a ADHD diagnosis by today’s standards. He got more soap in his mouth, spankings, and timeouts in a month than I got in my entire childhood. He eventually learned, and he turned out to be a good egg. I never considered how difficult is must be for a mother to discipline her child, but I certainly agree how important that it. Thanks for your input, Seax.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. These are fantastic recommendations! I think the key to successful parenting in general is intentionality. Our kids are now in their teens/preteens, and we’ve started hosting “Summer Skill School” sessions for them and their friends where we teach them basic life skills such as changing a tire, sewing a button, chopping wood and building a fire, writing a resume, etc. We’ve been shocked at how well received the idea has been, and how much fun we’ve had!

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Wow, April, I absolutely LOVE the idea of โ€œSummer Skill Schoolโ€ sessions! The fact that teens and preteens are interested in learning basic skills is heartening, and it’s so wonderful that you’re sharing that gift beyond you family with kids whose parents may not be teaching them those skills.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I have nothing to add Erin- these are great observations and recommendations for sure! Should there be kids in your future they will be very fortunate to have involved parents ๐Ÿ™‚

    Liked by 3 people

  5. Love all of this, Erin. The only other thought that came to mind was the practice we followed with our daughter – in order to build empathy – asking her every night to think about WHO she helped during the day and HOW she helped. It became a little ritual with bedtime prayers, trying to instill a service heart. ๐Ÿ’•๐Ÿ’•๐Ÿ’•

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Oh, Vicki! What a wonderful practice, and just the type of thing I would love to implement. I had a friend who had practice she called “rose, thorn, bud” where he kids would share something good, a challenge, and a new idea idea (I think?). I love the idea of reflecting back on the day, especially our interactions with others. Also, as a parents, I bet it’s beautiful to have a glimpse into the mind of a little one. ๐Ÿ’•

      Liked by 1 person

  6. That bedtime ritual is truly lovely. Your daughter and the world are blessed. I have a hypothesis that the author of the 800+ page book entitled, Altruism – the so-called “Happiest Man in the World – Mathieu Ricard, got that way by practicing a similar kind of service heart! ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Don’t know if you already posted anything on the art of communication, networking, forming and keeping friendships on a long term basis, having a sense of place within a community and/or family, reading body language, intuition, etc.

    I think the number 1 educational excellence is the one thing that should be innate, natural and instinctual though in the modern age has been eroded by technology, atomization, consumerism, political squabbles, destruction or weakening of the family, moral and cultural relativism, globalism, etc.

    You could say how good financial literacy, knowledge in mathematics, reading writing, etc. is though at the same time being a good worker drone is just another slave/serf to the corporate plantation.

    Communication, courtship, and even arranged marriage between like-minded families and their children may be beneficial for long term longevity. Tribalism was the past and should be the key to a healthy future. Homeschooling families and a parallel society that is as free as it can be from political and corporate squabbles would be good.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I hadn’t posted anything about communication, community and network, but that’s probably the most important lesson of all. On top of that, it’s something most adults don’t understand themselves nowadays, which makes it all the more valuable to learn at a young age.

      I’ve also noted the erosion and bastardization of human connection. What percentage of the populous believes viewing someone’s social media post constitutes friendship? I agree that we need to take a step back. Much of the “progress” we’ve made as a society has come at the expense of morals, values, and family. Generally speaking, it’s not been a very good deal.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, absolutely! An understanding of civics is so important, and being able to use rhetoric to tactfully challenge ideas and prompt others to reconsider their beliefs.

        Another topic would be Bernays and propaganda. A friend homeschooled his daughter and, after learning about persuasion and marketing tactics, had her watch commercials and identify what method they are using. She never felt the need for the “latest thing” because she understood the manipulation behind the ad.

        Liked by 1 person

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