Ahh… Summer is over and your kids are finally back at school, learning full-time. Except, of course, for all that time when they’re not at school. Afterschool can be a tricky time period. How do you keep kids engaged, with their minds active, when they’re so loudly hearing the call to munch crunchy snacks on the couch?
Our team at the Museum of Science & Industry has pulled together some ideas that may help you keep the gears in your son or daughter’s head turning, even after the last bell rings at school for the day.
Make it fun. Our experience at MOSI has found over and over again that when kids are self-motivated to learn, they’re the most likely to get engaged and stay engaged. We use a range of concepts to get their attention and keep them eager for the next steps. Keep an eye out for afterschool projects that evoke an emotion – especially curiosity, surprise or concern.
Add “curiosity” by working with familiar items (like foam pool noodles) in a whole new way (as construction materials). Add “surprise” by revealing a secret word that gets spelled out with the last letters of the items gathered in a scavenger hunt. Add “concern” to a simple math worksheet by making up a quick fairy tale about how your daughter’s LEGO knight needs the answers to all 14 questions to race into the castle and rescue the LEGO king from a wicked sorcerer.
Use all their senses. MOSI’s specialty is hands-on learning, but come visit and you’ll see we also mix in quite a bit of eyes-on and ears-on – and in our programs, camps and homeschool labs, we often add in noses-on with smelly substances and tongues-on with unusual foods. Why? Because it works. Engaging more senses pulls you in more to what you’re experiencing.
Playing a game of “I Spy” – where you describe something that you see so your child can guess what it is – is a fun way to challenge their observation and language skills. But make the goal to dart over and touch the object, and you’ve added another sense to the mix (and some physical activity, too!). Use a song on your smartphone as part of the clue and you’re connecting even more.
Print out some sentences in a font big enough to fill up a page, and then tuck it under a pile of (clean!) socks. When your kid discovers the odd pile and the strange page (curiosity and surprise), they get their mission: dark socks are nouns, white socks are verbs, and colored socks are adjectives. Lay out those socks in the order that matches the words on the page. Do the same activity with different types of snacks and, after each successful sentence, eat up your parts of speech:Then you’ve added a new sense plus more engagement.
Engage their interests. At school, teachers are often aiming to cover a specific skill, so they look for ways to make that skill interesting. At MOSI, and at your house, we have the benefit of being able to do the opposite. Instead of focusing on the desired skill, we can focus on the thing that’s already interesting. Then we can take that interesting topic – like rockets, nature, or design – and then look for the skills that fit naturally with that interest.
If your son or daughter loves rockets, that’s your launch pad for ideas! Understanding gravity, using angles to judge the height of tall objects, and talking about how fire needs oxygen while you’re grilling dinner are all ways to engage an existing interest. And if you’re not sure about something, that’s ok! Pull out your smartphone and search for the answer together.
Is art and design your kiddo’s passion? It’s time to design a dream house. Get a pad of graph paper and start laying out walls, windows and the rest of the building. Now it’s time to add in the math – what’s the perimeter of the house? How about the area of the rooms? Is that big enough for a family? Answer questions and create new questions along the way.
Check out Pinterest. No, not your kids – you! If you’re not familiar with it, Pinterest is a social network where people “pin” articles, images and ideas from the internet that they want to keep and share. And it is chock full of creative activities and projects for you to do with your kids, or for your kids to tackle on their own. Search for kids’ activities along with a subject that they love or an item you have in your house, and the possibilities will start pouring in. You’ll also be able to find activity calendars, with a new idea for every day of the week.