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Extending Lessons Beyond the Classroom

"Hey, Mom, where are you? I have this neat poem to read you," my son yelled as he burst in the door after school. "'In winter I get up at night...'," he read hastily. I immediately recognized the words of one of my favorite childhood authors, Robert Louis Stevenson. "'…and dressed by yellow candlelight...'", I recited with him. "Wow, you know this poem?," he asked, as if addressing SuperMom. "It was one of my favorites when I was your age. Would you be interested in reading a book of all of his poems?" I asked. "Yeah, can we go to the library and get one?" "I just happen to have it right here." I found the book on the shelf, dusted it off, and extended it to him. He ripped the book out of my hands and settled into his reading corner. Mr. I'm Hungry had even forgotten about his afterschool snack.

Extending lessons beyond the classroom is just that simple. It involves being attentive to what our children are learning, informed about resources in our community, open to unexpected opportunities, and willing to plan ahead whenever possible.

Explore What Your Child is Learning In order to provide our children with the best possible learning experiences, we need to know about each child's classroom curriculum and what subjects he or she is most interested in. There are several ways to gather this information:

—District Curriculum. School districts usually have published guidelines that lay out the basic curriculum requirements for each grade level. For example, all district third-graders may be required to study Japan some time during the year. Fifth grade may be the year students explore the universe. Call your local school district and ask about such guidelines.

—Classroom Lessons. Ask your child's teacher about the different subjects the class will be exploring during the school year. After you explain your reasons, most teachers will be more than willing to brief you on upcoming lessons. The teacher may even suggest ideas and resources you might find helpful in extending lessons beyond the classroom.

—Homework Hints. Look at the work your child is bringing home. Are there areas that the teacher did not have time to cover thoroughly? Since classroom time is limited, it is difficult to explore most topics in depth. That's where you come in.

—Interests and Hobbies. Know what subjects fascinate your child the most. Is he totally enthralled with Australia? Is she fascinated by the dinosaur digs in the West? Does he dream of space travel? Favorite subjects are good places to begin to introduce learning outside the classroom.

Look in Your Own Backyard • Dust off those books. Believe it or not, your home provides a plethora of resources. In addition to that 20-year-old set of encyclopedias sitting on the shelf, you may have other learning resources, such as back issues of National Geographic. Remember, too, that all learning doesn't have to come from non-fiction resources. Is your child studying the westward migration of settlers? Why not suggest that she read the Little House on the Prairie series. Augment science lessons with the Magic Schoolbus books.

• Open the daily newspaper. Few parents have the time to read the newspaper from cover to cover. Even so, you should skim with a keen eye to articles that might supplement lessons learned at school. If your child is studying Japan, you might share a newspaper article that recounts the devastation of a recent Japanese earthquake. Is she learning about the dangers of smoking and drugs in health? Share the article about the boy who drowned while under the influence of alcohol.

• Become computer literate. Computer games and software offer entertaining learning opportunities.There are CD games designed with learning in mind. For example, Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego not only teaches your child about world geography, it also provides games of adventure. Your child won't even realize he's learning.

• Surf for information. Children today have access to an inordinate amount of information via the World Wide Web. Although use of this resource needs to be carefully monitored, it can open a vista of learning opportunities that just boggle the mind. Is your child studying African art? Visit an art studio in Zimbabwe and see what's new. Is she learning about space in science? Track the space shuttle's path around the Earth. If you don't have access to the Web yet, look for access at the local library or your local school district. Often such resources are available to the public. Don't know where to start? Use a search engine such as AltaVista ( or Yahoo ( to find sites that have information on the subject your child is interested in.

• Plug in the television. No question about it, children watch too much television these days. Nonetheless, it can offer some excellent learning opportunities.You just need to be selective about what your child watches. In addition to great shows on PBS, network and cable programming also offer excellent learning opportunities. If you don't have cable or satellite dish programming, now might be the time to rethink subscribing. Look for these jewels: The Learning Channel, The Discovery Channel, The History Channel, Arts and Entertainment, and Animal Planet. Each offers more educational programming that one could watch in a lifetime, so be selective. In addition to series which originally aired on PBS or broadcast television, these educational channels also produce new documentaries and series. Use your discretion and the newspaper television listing to chose programs which augment classroom learning. Has your child just finished a unit on Australia? Watch the Discovery Channel program on marsupials. Is your child interested in paleontology? Tune in to a series that explores the realm of the dinosaurs. Has she just finished a unit on space exploration? Watch the documentary on the latest Mars mission. Don't forget the miracle of modern technology — the video cassette recorder. Tape shows that may be of interest to your child, or pertain to upcoming lessons. In this way, you can time your viewing so that the show has the most learning impact.

• Teach through experience. Not only can your child study science, she can be a scientist. Is she studying about plants? Grow one. Impressionist paintings? Make one with small circles punched out of construction paper. Is he interested in astronomy? Take a blanket outside and look at the stars.

Look for Outside Enrichment Opportunities • Keep your eyes and ears open. Learning opportunities are everywhere. Get to know your community and its available the resources. For example, if your child is studying state history, visit your local museum and learn about the history of your own community. What was the area like where your house or apartment building now sits? Are there pictures of the town's early days? If so, compare the city then and now. If your child is reading Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, find out what other titles she wrote. Are any available in your local library? Suggest to your son that he might enjoy Little Men. Your daughter might be interested in a biography about the author.

• Look beyond your local community. Do you live near a major metropolitan area? Large cities have an infinite array of resources available to parents. If your child is learning about great American artists, plan a trip to visit the state art museum to see the works up close. If your son is studying the solar system, visit a planetarium. Do you live near a university? Often, they provide numerous outreach learning opportunities for young learners. Just call and ask about such programs. Visit the Vet School's open house to learn more about animals.

• Plan ahead. As summer vacation nears, ask about the topics that will be covered next year. If your child will be studying National Parks, consider visiting one during the break. Is American history on the agenda? Visit sites of historical significance.

Life is about learning. You can ensure that your children reach their maximum potential by using the world around you as your personal classroom. When you make learning fun, children are eager to learn.