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Learning outside the classroom: Five strategies to meet students where they are this school year




As students head back to school after summer break, enthusiasm characterizes back-to-school season. The new school year’s optimism, however, tends to fade as the semester stretches into September with homework, workbooks, testing and tutoring.


No matter the approach, meeting children where they are should characterize every effort to reinforce study skills, whether it’s embracing a challenge, reviewing a concept or trying a new method. Leaping ahead, even with the best intentions, may only widen the knowledge gap, with added frustration, instead of bridging it through patient modification of classroom techniques.


Whether you’re working with young children in elementary school or students in upper grades, these tips can change “I can’t” to “We can.”


Five strategies for better learning this school year


  • Put old school methods aside: Trotting out additional workbooks, insisting on additional study sessions and forcing memorization to learn by rote will likely not have the intended effect of positive reinforcement. Simply being familiar with another way to teach the same concepts can make all the difference between how a student understands the methods or material. Check in with your child’s teacher for how lessons are being taught to better understand what’s being learned. Ask for alternatives if the classroom approach isn’t resonating with your child.


  • Bring concepts to life with hands-on practice: Tactile learners may need non-traditional learning experiences to better grasp intangible concepts. Finding hands-on ways to apply them puts theory into practice. Try tracing numbers in shaving cream instead of using a pencil and paper, for example. Show fractions with a cooking lesson or use weights and measures in the produce aisle for a more memorable explanation of pounds, prices and more.

  • Let your child lead the way: Turning the tables and letting your child teach you by explaining the method can instill a sense of autonomy and confidence. Find out the ways your child prefers to learn and what familiar processes and items form their learning currency. Using what they are most familiar with will likely include technology in the form of phones, computers and tablets. Resist the urge to disengage from apps and online programs. Be willing to take a flexible approach to mirror the eager approach you would expect from your student.


  • Seek a change of scenery: While there is a time and place for traditional desk-style learning, study sessions with you may be more memorable if they take place outside of your usual homework space. Try studying outdoors when weather permits or planning a field trip to show how textbook concepts play out in the real world. When it is time to complete homework or a project, designate a quiet area at home, gather all materials first and work together, with a designated start and end time.


  • Know when to stop: Set a timer for homework or use an hourglass to keep the end in sight to prevent burnout. Seek outside help if you are at a loss to explain a concept. Adhere to your child’s bedtime instead of continuing to push through; being rested enables further learning, with the ability to ask their teacher for help the next day rather than persisting to the point of frustration. Lean into your student’s strengths, even if they are not always academic. Find outside resources as needed. Offer praise and encouragement, and then stop the session for a healthy school/life balance.


Enjoy the academic year, which is a long time in the short life of a child. Keep it all in perspective by remembering the same empathy you would hope to be treated with when learning something new. Make memories together, the best way to learn lessons of all kinds, through different grade-levels, ages and phases.


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