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Public School Problem-Solving

Not quite confident in your kid's public schooling, but don't have the means to do anything about it? Try these ideas for at-home learning.
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We've all seen and heard the news reports chronicling the failure of America's public schools to teach our children properly. To avoid this threat of a subpar education, some disheartened parents shell out extra money to enroll their children in private schools. Others opt for homeschooling or self-created "co-ops," pooling their resources so that small groups of kids can learn together. As increasingly popular as these choices are, however, the vast majority of American parents are too constrained by a lack of time, money, and resources to have any meaningful choice in the matter of their children's education, so it's off to public school they go. The quality of public schools can vary of course, with many parents feeling satisfied with their local school system. For those who aren't, though, it's crucial to remember that there are any number of stimulating extracurricular activities available that can supplement a child's learning.

Teach Your Children Well
This task is easier with younger kids, primarily because they still enjoy hanging out with their parents. Weekend library programs, museum tours, plays and trips to the park all offer the chance to gather exciting information and improve social skills. At home, lively discussions of current events, magazine articles and other topics can also stimulate thinking.

Smells Like Teen Spiritless
On the other hand, getting preteens and teens to participate in educational activities can be trickier. Adolescents naturally pull away from anything deemed "dorky" or requiring parental supervision. Still, there are plenty of ways to improve your child's mind, primarily by exposure to the world outside the classroom. For example, cooking classes, team sports, and even managing an allowance are ways a child can learn about creativity, teamwork, and budget-balancing, respectively.

It's also important to remember that "typical" teen activities that might seem to have zero educational value actually can offer valuable lessons. A concert -- even one by a band you consider thoroughly vacant -- isn't just a concert, for instance. Don't laugh, but it can also be a chance to talk about marketing, promotion, and music-related careers.

Parent, Heal Thyself
Corey Snyder teaches AP Language and Composition at McCallum High School in Austin, Texas, and recognizes the educational potential in pop culture. Liked and respected by his students for the way he challenges them and takes into account their perspective, Snyder has some thoughts on guiding your children's education outside of school.

  • Model: "Parents can contribute to their children's intellectual and social development by sharing their own," Snyder says. "Be a curious, courageous, and happy person yourself, and your children will imitate you."
  • Share: "Tell your kids what you're reading and take an active interest in what they're reading."
  • Pay Attention: "Let them see you learning, and always be mindful of the environment in which you and your children live -- are books, art supplies, and good conversation always available, or does TV drown out everything else?"
  • Listen: "Rather than characterizing the parent-child relationship as a one-sided conversation in which the parents know all and the children passively listen, try to create a relationship in which learning is a cooperative venture."
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