Perhaps it is a truism that education begins at birth. However, it is necessary to emphasize the role of parents as a child’s first and most important teachers. Long before a child takes his first trip on the school bus, his or her parents can launch him on a journey of life-long learning and exploration. Whether the child is the only, first, middle, or last, each child deserves the attention and time that only a parent can provide.
Supplementing education is not always an easy task. Rather, it is time-consuming and sometimes exhausting, but it is certainly enriching and rewarding for parents and children alike. Parents are their children’s role models; children are great mimics, so parents should be mindful of their own habits. One of the most positive actions that a parent can take from the beginning is to help the child to establish himself as an independent learner. If he forms active habits early in life, he will be less likely to rely on outside sources like television and video games to amuse him. Thus, for optimal engagement, the television should be off. In fact, avoiding the television habit can be one of the most beneficial acts a parent can achieve. Once parents shut off the television, they can find a multitude of activities in which they can participate with their children.
In early childhood, building blocks, finger-painting, listening to books or tapes, and molding clay are some of the tools of learning. Placing a child-sized table and chairs near a busy parent allows a child to amuse himself without being isolated. In fact, allowing a child to entertain himself with books and artistic materials is a gift that can last a lifetime. Most towns offer a wide range of opportunities for engaging in parent-child programs outside the home: libraries and community centers offer many possibilities. Mom/Pop & Tot swimming and gymnastics programs, reading programs, and music programs for toddlers are excellent opportunities for play and learning. Starting an informal play-group is an alternative to organized programs and offers socializing opportunities for parents as well as children. Planning field trips to museums, firehouses, farms, zoos, beaches, parks, and other activities need not be expensive and can provide a full day of amusement for everyone involved.
The activity repertoire certainly expands once the children start school. Team sports are usually quite popular: hockey, soccer, basketball, and baseball, and more are all readily available. However, be mindful of the child’s attitude toward the sport. Be sure that these activities provide more fun than stress for the child. For those children who prefer non-competitive sports, martial arts programs are excellent. In addition to physical benefits, they foster concentration and confidence. Music, art, dance and drama lessons provide excellent arenas for self-expression and growth. But remember not to overdo the activity circuit.
Foreign language study is superb. Children are receptive to language early, so some pre-school programs like Montessori introduce it to three and four year olds. Certainly, foreign language should be a part of the school program before middle school. The ability to be truly bi-lingual or multi-lingual appears to diminish with age. So surely children would benefit from foreign language programs in elementary school.
Supplementing school education should be ongoing. Parents who are aware of what their children are doing in school can take many opportunities to expand on a learning unit. They may find that their child would benefit from more in-depth study on a topic introduced in school. Rather than seeking supplementation only if something seems to have gone awry in school, parents also can help their children find new opportunities for enrichment and growth. The important part of the supplementation process is being aware of the child’s interests and needs. Aside from looking at papers that come from school, notice his attitude and ask questions. If your child has an affinity in an area, try enhancing it. If he or she shows a weakness, strengthen it. There are a number of local instructional programs in writing skills, reading, and math and test preparations. Some students concentrate on catching up with their class in a particular subject, while others enjoy the opportunity for advanced study and enrichment.
Adolescents who engage in athletics, creative arts, writing, music, are more active and certainly more intellectually stimulated that those to plant themselves in front of some inane re-runs. Moreover, adolescents and teenagers who view learning as a positive, life-long experience know that it is not confined to a classroom. It surrounds them at every turn. Supplementing education can provide many benefits beyond academic learning; its positive results can last a lifetime.