Learning Is Everywhere!

Any parent who’s taken their child to a museum, zoo or farm realizes that many of a child’s most exciting learning moments happen outside the classroom. Here we’ll explore ways that children learn in out-of-school environments. 

Any parent who’s taken their child to a museum, zoo or farm realizes that many of a child’s most exciting learning moments happen outside the classroom. Here we’ll explore ways that children learn in out-of-school environments.

Literacy

Literacy is all about expressing and understanding meaning—whether it’s a word, an idea or a concept. Children are surrounded by opportunities to enhance their literacy development throughout the day. Having simple conversations and encouraging children to recount daily events or describe their favorite things helps them build oral communication skills that can transfer to an ability to communicate their ideas in writing later on. Having children participate in activities like reading board game directions, following recipes, making grocery lists or writing an email to a loved one help them see how reading and writing can be part of pursuing personal passions, learning new things and even being a good friend!

Math

From infancy, children show remarkable math skills and an early ability to reason about number, shapes, and spatial relationships. They quickly learn to make comparisons and classify things in their world, which is also mathematical. Math for young children is an informal and often playful adventure—kids learn mathematical concepts as they bead bracelets (patterns, shapes), cook with their parents (counting, measurement), stack blocks (shapes, size comparisons) and make observations about the world around them (he’s taller than I am, it’s cold today). Children don’t need to be taught to love math—the trick is to make sure they don’t learn to fear it.

Dramatic Play

When your children are wearing a bathrobe, cape and princess crown they are doing more than playing dress-up. Your children are engaging in problem-solving, improvisation and learning to take on the perspective of others. Dramatic play requires the ability to use mental representations and symbolism to transform objects, actions and speech. Children who engage in forms of pretend play are motivated to construct and create meaning in the world around them, which contributes to their cognitive, physical and social-emotional development. Dramatic play thus helps develop narrative understanding, a very important literacy skill. In sum, all of the hours spent with your children and their invisible friends are more than worthwhile, as this time enriches your children’s cognitive development and linguistic competence.

Museums

Museums are purposefully designed spaces that curate what’s interesting to explore in the worlds of science, art and history. Exhibit designers take things from the real world and craft exhibits that highlight specific elements to indirectly guide our explorations. Museums offer children a sense of personal agency and allow for active learning. Rather than a teacher scaffolding their experience, children choose exhibits that interest them and approach exhibits in a way that makes sense to them. Letting children be the drivers of their learning at a museum is important, but this process can be overwhelming for young children. Adults can help young children by guiding their attention to one exhibit at a time, asking open-ended questions that help them relate to the exhibit, and asking them to share something they’ve learned to promote critical thinking and reflection.