37 ingenious summer learning resources for your kids

Kids lose 22% of their academic skills over the summer. Help them avoid the dreaded summer slide with these top-rated apps, websites, books, clubs, and camps.

Teachers often joke about clearing out the cobwebs at the beginning of each school year. Some call summer learning loss the “summer slide “or “brain drain”, and research shows kids do indeed lose approximately 22% of their academic skills over the summer.

According to the Summer Learning Association, kids score lower on standardized tests at the end of summer vacation than they do on the same tests at the beginning of summer vacation. Most kids lose about two months of math computation skills over the summer, while kids who don’t participate in summer reading can lose up to two months of reading achievement.

Aside from loss of academic skills, many kids also experience summer weight gain from lack of physical activity. According to the American Journal of Public Health, most kids gain weight more rapidly over summer break. Kids gain body mass index (BMI) nearly twice as fast during the summer as during the school year.

The good news is there are tons of fun ways to keep kids engaged in learning and outdoor play during the summer. Here’s a comprehensive guide to a variety of learning opportunities and activities to personalize your child’s summer experience and keep their brains and bodies active all summer long.

SUMMER ONLINE LEARNING OPPORTUNITIES

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DIY Summer Camps, Ages 7-16

Kids earn skills badges by completing different camps, such as cooking, movie making, outdoor adventures, bookbinding, comic book making, lego building and more. Each DIY camp lasts four weeks. Instructors post daily videos, and kids can post as little or as often as they like. First camp costs $10. Subsequent camps cost $39. Parents can track progress and view projects, and kids names are kept private. There are no chat options on this site.

Brain Chase Challenge, Ages 6-16

This five-week challenge begins June 22. Kids compete in a real-life treasure hunt for the chance to win $10,000. Completing an hour of academic work a day unlocks animated videos and clues. Brain Chase partners with some of the best academic resources on the web, such as Khan Academy, Rosetta Stone and credentialed writing instructors. It’s a fun way to keep math, reading, writing and foreign language skills up over the summer! You can learn more in this recent Parent Co. interview with Brain Chase.

Khan Academy, Ages 5-18

Khan Academy offers a range of subjects online for free. Kids learn at their own pace, and parents can track progress. Subjects include math, science, coding, history, art history, economics and more. Khan Academy partners with institutions, such as NASA, The Museum of Modern Art, The California Academy of Sciences and MIT to provide state of the art content. Kids learn through practice exercises and instructional videos. One advantage to using Khan Academy is it can be accessed all year long.

Virtual Tours, All Ages

Take a virtual tour of a museum without leaving your home! Enjoy a 360 degree view of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel. Go on a panoramic tour of the Smithsonian’s Museum of Natural History. Interact with the flight deck of the Space Shuttle Discovery. Travel to locations all over the world through 360 degree interactive views.

Science House App, Ages 4-18

Science House is a free science app that includes over 80 science lessons and videos. These inexpensive experiments will inspire curiosity and inquiry in your kids.

Duolingo App, Ages 4 and up

Learn a foreign language for free! There are up to 11 languages to choose from with this app rated App of the Year by Apple in 2013. Great for parents too!

Code Academy, Ages 12 and up

Learn to code for free. This online program is for beginner coders or aspiring computer programmers. Covers HTML/CSS, jQuery, Javascript, Python, PHP, Ruby and APIs. Courses range from 3-13 hours. It’s a great way for both kids and parents to learn more about coding.

Today Box, Ages 4-10

Today Box is a non-commercialized site for kids, parents and educators that hosts highly-curated content safe for curious kids. Explore videos on animals, nature, art, music, active play, robots, space, STEM and more. Head to the grown-up blog for activities and reviews of books and apps. Pro Tip: Make the site a homescreen app on your phone or iPad for easy kid access.

Virtual College Tours, Ages 14-18

Do you have a teenager looking at colleges? Introduce them to virtual college tours, where they can check out campuses across the United States for free. Teens can view video tours, manipulate interactive maps and take mobile walking tours.

FOR TINKERERS AND MAKERS

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TinkerLab for Mini Makers and Inventors, Ages 2 and up

TinkerLab ranks as one of the top 25 creative mom blogs by Circle of Moms. Rachelle Doorley, an arts educator and parent., posts tinkering projects and ideas on TinkerLab. The site is easy to navigate as projects are listed visually and alphabetically by category. Participate in the tinkering sketchbook challenge, build a Rube Goldberg machine, fly a tea bag hot air balloon or get messy in the kitchen!

Make a Kid Tinkering Kit, Ages 6 and up

Put together the perfect tinkering kit for the summer, so your kids can build and tinker to their hearts content. The blog Katydid and Kid: Adventures in Making and Doing has an excellent guide to putting together a tinkering kit. Many of the items you probably already have around your home. This kit is designed by a mom, blogger, and former artist, museum educator and arts educator. Her site also includes lots of fun tinkering activities for kids.

Seedling Kits, Ages 3-12

Imagine, explore and create with playful and affordable activity kits from Seedling. Shop by price, age or theme. Make a superhero cape, invent your own insects, design a pirate ship, sew a dino(sew), and more! Great for a rainy day or summer travel!

Hatch Early Learning STEM Kits, Ages 2-5

This company sells STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) Kits designed specifically for preschoolers. Kits help kids learn about gravity, volume, engineering, robotics and more at a developmental level appropriate for kids ages 2-4. Buy kits or get ideas for making your own.

Lakeshore Learning STEM Kits, Ages 5-14

Buy real-world challenge kits to stimulate your child’s STEM skills. This site allows parents to search by age, price and topic making it easier to see what’s available. Kits include water play, fairy-tale problem solving and engineering. These kits are perfect for a rainy summer day or outdoor play.

Makers Camp, Ages 13-18

This free online digital camp is for kids who love to hack, tinker, build and discover. Camp runs six-weeks from July 6 – August 14. This site uses Google Hangout and virtual field trips, so we suggest it’s more appropriate for middle school or high school. Campers also get instructions for making their own DIY projects at home. Last year’s camp included a hangout with the White House Executive Chef and a live assembly of a telescope at NASA.

Brit Kits, Ages 12-18

Brit + Co. sells DIY and design projects perfect for teenagers and parents. Design a cheeseboard, learn to letterpress or design your own leather lamp. Parents might like etching their own champagne flute or whiskey tumblers. Brit + Co. also offers great prices on online classes like calligraphy, sewing, jewelry making, sketching and more at just $19.99.

Carolina STEM and Inquiry Kits, Ages 12-18

These kits are perfect for keeping middle school and high school students engaged in building STEM skills over the summer. Parents and kids can search by topic or grade level on this site. Experiment with solar water heating, urine purification, balloon rockets, wind power, the circulatory system and more.

STEMfinity Summer Camps, Ages 6-18

STEMfinity makes kits for various STEM courses lasting about 12 hours. Kits include instructions, lessons, suggested schedules, as well as all the materials needed. Tinker with robotics, circuits, build your own roller coaster, develop your painting skills, explore the ocean, learn about farm to table and more. If you’re not looking for a summer-long course, there are STEM kits under $100 as well.

NATURE AND OUTDOOR LEARNING FUN

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This Book Was a Tree, Ages 2 and up

The best part about summer is spending time outdoors! Each chapter of science teacher Marcie Cuff’s book encourages kids and families to reconnect with nature. We love the simplicity of design and the detailed illustrations of this book, as well as the outdoor activities. Touch, collect, document, sketch, analyze, explore, and unravel the natural world. Make mud-pies, build forts, sketch maps, make natural bug repellants, create sundials and more. You can find a more detailed review of Cuff’s book here.

Nature Rocks: Let’s Go Explore, Ages 2 and up

This site by the Nature Conservancy features tons of activities that encourage kids and families to spend more time outdoors. Activities are divided up by age, location, weather and time in order to make it easy to navigate the site. Activities include making an outdoor xylophone, creating a fairy village garden, outdoor obstacle courses, growing vegetables, star gazing, bird watching and more.

National Park Service Junior Ranger Programs, Ages 5-13

Do you have a National Park near you? Are you planning to visit any this summer? You might want to check out this free program that encourages kids to complete learning challenges and activities in the parks, share their learning with park rangers and earn a Junior Ranger badge and certificate. Can’t get to a park? Check out web rangers, a site where kids can virtually explore and hike the parks, earn rewards and learn about the parks through online activities.

Outdoor Games for Kids, All Ages

Education.com has a lengthy list of outdoor activities perfect for a party or outdoor fun. Try yoga with your dog, nature tic-tac-toe, making your own Frisbee, have a watermelon seed spitting contest, have a phonic scavenger hunt and more. Each activity includes instructions and reviews.

Volunteer Match, Ages 14 and up

Summer is a great time for teenagers, parents and families to get out and volunteer some time out in the community. Volunteer Match helps match volunteers with organizations based on interests and location. It’s also a great way for teenagers to learn about other fields they might be interested in pursuing in the future like education, healthcare, nonprofit work, museum studies and more.

RAINY DAY PHYSICAL ACTIVITIES

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Kids Skate Free, Ages 12 and under

Roller skating burns 330-600 calories per hour, and it’s a fun way to get some aerobic exercise into your family’s day. It also helps build balance and flexibility in kids. Check out this national program to see if there’s a skating rink near you that participates in the Kids Skate Free program.

Kids Bowl Free, Ages 12 and under

This national program allows kids to play up to two games in the bowling alley for free per day. Parents will need to cover the cost of bowling shoes only. Check out the link above for a participating bowling alley near you!

Museums on Us, For Parents

If you’re experiencing a rain summer day, why not walk around a museum and feed your brain a little culture? If you’re a Bank of America customer, enjoy free entrance to over 150 museums and cultural institutions across the United States on the first full weekend over every month this summer and year round. Each cardholder gets one free admission, and many of these museums are free for younger kids. You can find a full list of participating institutions here.

Summer Reading, Writing and Publishing

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Scholastic Summer Reading Challenge, Ages 5-12

This free summer reading challenge encourages kids to read books and log their progress over the summer for the chance to win virtual prizes. The contest runs from May 4 through September 4.

Summer Reading Lists, Ages 5-14

Visit your local library and check out some of these books recommended by the Association for Library Service to Children. Lists are divided by early education, elementary, and middle school.

Barnes and Noble Summer Reading, Ages 5-12

Kids read eight books and log progress in a reading journal. Once kids have read eight books, they can choose a free book from the Reading Journal List at any Barnes and Noble Store. Parents can also pick up a free summery activity kit at the store. The program includes suggested summer reads broken down by age level.

TD Bank Summer Reading Program, Ages 5-11

Are you a TD Bank customer?  If your child reads and logs ten books this summer, they can receive $10 in a new or existing Young Saver account.

Neighborhood Book Clubs, Ages 5-18

Start a neighborhood book club! PBS Parents has helpful tips for starting a book club with kids.

Young Adult Summer Reading List, Ages 12 and up

Mashable put together a list of 23 young adult books for summer reading that both teenagers and adult fans of YA literature will love.

Make Your Own Comics, Ages 6 and up

Learn how to make and publish your own comics for free with Bill Zimmerman. There are helpful resources for parents, educator and English Language Learners too.

Time 4 Writing, Ages 6 and up

This online writing resource features four-week online writing courses for elementary, middle and high school students. Students learn on a virtual campus with certified writing teachers and work at their own pace.

Scribblett, Ages 4 and up

Design, illustrate, write and publish your work using Scribblett. Kids can also enter contests, order hard copies of notecards or books featuring their work and share directly on the site.

Taking a trip and looking for even more ideas and reviews for online learning or education apps this summer? Check out this summer learning guide from Common Sense Media.

 

Books With No Pictures: Using novels to spark your child’s imagination

Reading novels to your kids teaches them to focus on longer texts while capturing their imagination.

My son, Cash and I read together as part of our nightly routine. Since he was an infant, bedtime stories have been his norm and our literary relaxation has blossomed into something he looks forward to. Initially we thumbed through picture books together that included sensory aspects such as sounds and different materials to touch and feel. Eventually we graduated to nursery rhymes and short stories.

Recently I decided to ask Cash if he would like to change our reading routine.

Among his book collection we have always kept a selection of short novels. These books are visible and accessible and have peaked his curiosity from time to time. Rummaging through them he expressed amazement about the number of words on each page and that what little pictures there were, weren’t in colour.

Although I was unsure if he was developmentally ready to engage in wordier texts, as this time is different in all children, I asked if he would like me to read him a novel.

“What’s a novel?” he asked, looking at me inquisitively.

“These are novels”, I replied, grabbing the handful of books that he had been so eager to play with.

Novels interested him even though he didn’t completely understand their function. To him, they were different among the ordinary. He was curious and it was my duty as a parent to exploit his innocent prying.

I suspect that he initially chose a novel as a form of bedtime procrastination – the books were long and the expectation was that I would read from beginning to end as I did with preceding stories. It would be unusual to him for a story to be left unresolved.

Out of our small collection he chose James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl – a childhood favourite of mine. In preparation of our literary adventure I primed Cash’s imagination. To engage him in the content I described to him the aspects of the book that I felt he would find interesting – oversized fruit, creatures, magic, a young boy, and an adventure. I painted a vague picture of the story, releasing general details.

From the moment I provided my high level synopsis he was hooked.

Readying him for the lengthier read, I also discussed descriptive words and visualization and their importance to stories. To foster his understanding of illustrative language I asked Cash to describe his bicycle to me.

“My bike is blue and has a silver bell on it.”

“What else can you tell me about it?” I asked.

“It has a brown seat and brown handles. And black tires.”

“Is it a big bike?” I continued.

“No! It’s small so I can ride it, daddy!”

“I can only assume that the wheels are purple, can’t I?” I would provoke him.

“You’re silly! They’re not purple, they are silver!” he corrected me while laughing.

I explained that he was using descriptive words to create a picture when there was no picture to look at. The author uses words to describe what is happening and it is up to you to see it in your mind and that’s how stories work.

Reading the novel was an exploration of descriptive words. When Dahl would introduce a character or describe a setting or detail an event we would stop reading and review what terms the author used to bring the adventure to life. Cash wasn’t always able to fully grasp the events in the novel, but as we read he become more in tune with the impact of the words and how to better visualize the story.

I often glanced over at Cash while I was reading to him. He would have this look of amazement in his eyes. He was intently focused on what I was saying and the words were capturing his imaginative mind. It was a proud and exciting moment for me, and one that I have been fortunate enough to relive since that evening.

Thinking about graduating to novels with your toddler?

James and the Giant Peach captured my son’s imagination, which was vital in allowing him to focus on reading a longer text aloud. Find stories that best suit the interest of your child. Choose tales that inspire them with characters they can connect with. Review the author’s words as you read and nurture the mind’s eye. Encourage your child to ask questions and discuss the story even when you aren’t reading to keep them engaged.

Unsure if your child is ready? You may want to consider starting with longer story style picture books. Experiment with stories with full text pages and books with frequent and infrequent illustrations. Try stories with black and white pictures or detailed illustrations. All of these factors can influence your child’s imagination and how they engage with a book. You will not know until you try. And if a book isn’t connecting with your child, it’s okay. Leave it for the next chapter in your child’s literary journey.

The Brain Chase Challenge keeps kids engaged with summer learning

Our interview and overview of Brain Chase, a five-week online treasure hunt / learning competition for kids ages 6-16.

Brain Chase is a five-week summer online treasure hunt competition for kids ages 6-16. This summer’s competition starts on June 22. Brain Chase partners with education programs online to provide math, reading, writing and foreign language support.

Certified teachers provide daily feedback on writing, and kids must meet certain daily goals in order to unlock clues, riddles and animated videos to solve their way to a real-life treasure worth $10,000. Kids also receive mail, such as letters from characters, seeds to plant with clues that grow on them or tools like a sundial.

We interviewed Neylan McBaine, Chief Marketing Officer for Brain Chase.

Parent Co: I’ve seen a lot of excitement building with parents online, as they sign their kids up for Brain Chase. What makes Brain Chase different from other summer online learning programs?

Neylan: I think the big difference is that we have this motivational platform built in to the online work. Not only have we curated and partnered with the best online curriculum providers that the web has to offer currently, but we’ve created this really fun motivation for the kids to do the work that is usually lacking in summer workbooks, online classes or summer school.

That motivation is just enough to keep the kids excited and let them feel like they’re on a real summer long adventure, without it sort of overshadowing the rest of their summer fun.

The kids get to follow along with our kid archeology team. They’re looking for lost treasure. Then we take the adventure offline as well, and the treasure is actually a real treasure hunt. So the kids feel like they’re participating in something online, but they know that there’s also something real buried in the earth that they potentially could be working towards.

It’s hard and riddled during the whole five weeks of the animated series, but it’s solvable and someone’s going to win $10,000 and this very cool golden mechanical trophy that looks like the ancient lost treasure found by Cortez.

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It looks like the parents on your site have great things to say about the program. You also enrolled your children in the program last summer before you started working with Brain Chase. What was your family’s experience with the program?

One of the things that worked best for my kids was simply becoming familiar with some of the resources. My kids don’t do a lot of stuff online. They’re not big gamers or anything like that, so they’re young enough that they sort of aren’t already online for other purposes.

My oldest was ten last year, so I had my ten-year-old and my eight-year-old do it last year. It was really cool to have them become familiar with Khan Academy and see them start navigating their way around it.

My kids particularly liked the writing exercises. They felt like it was really neat to have a real teacher on the other end of it that was giving them feedback on their writing in a fun, but productive way.

I think for me, the experience was really about having my kids become familiar with these really great, sort of super foods of the internet, like our curriculum providers are, and become comfortable and get to know their way around them.

Absolutely! I’m an educator in a school with one-to-one technology, and our kids use Khan Academy. It’s amazing, so I thought that was fantastic that you’re partnering with some stellar education companies like Khan Academy and Rosetta Stone.

What languages are offered through Rosetta Stone when kids sign up with Brain Chase?

They can actually choose from 30.

Wow!

The entire Rosetta Stone offering. That’s a big addition for us this year.

Our vision is to have a full curated library of these partners, so that parents don’t have to go and study up on all the different offerings themselves, but they can drag and drop the options that they want their kids to take every summer.

Next year maybe we’ll add a coding module or something else that the parents can select from. The core is always probably going to be reading and math with other modules built. Maybe we’ll have a science module.

We’ve talked about wanting to do a physical education module where maybe they upload activities from a pedometer that we give them, or something like that. Then they have to do a certain amount of physical exercise each week.

There’s a huge range that we can do in being this platform for a library of curated partners.

That’s incredible. The program seems like it’s really grown in three years. It’s great that it allows for more personalized learning, and that’s a growing movement in education right now. It’s also excellent for homeschooling.

Do you see Brain Chase ever being offered during the school year or other school breaks?

Definitely. In fact, we’re looking for partners right now with which to create after school partnerships, so that we can create a program for any number of students in an after school setting very easily.

We have content from our past year that we could be repurposed and sort of rewrite the clues. We’re looking for partners to do that right now, so if you have any recommendations or if any of your readers know of actual programs, we’re looking!

We do group rates and we can scale, so the per child cost of doing an actual program is actually very manageable for groups that are used to getting grants and funding for much more expensive programs.

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I know that students are working with academic skills like math, reading and writing, but what kind of social skills do you think this program helps kids develop as they work through the competition?

I think the academic work is entirely intended to be done by the child, but the riddles, watching the videos, deciphering the clues and learning together about where these clues might be pointing…that could potentially and is very likely to be a family activity.

The winners from last year said it was really a family event for them. We heard that a lot last year, that the parents would get involved with their kids and help them understand riddles and clues. They would kind of work together.

From all of the accounts last year, it was really a positive family activity that lasted the course of the five weeks. Not too heavy-handed, just fun. So parental support is definitely encouraged with the treasure hunt. The family collaboration was really powerful.

That’s amazing. I think what often happens is kids are learning at school, but when they come home parents don’t always know the right questions to ask about their day, and they get the same vague answer – “School was good.”

So I think that is what’s great about this program. They’re learning at home, and they sometimes need to rely on their parents or siblings to help them with riddles or accessing different technologies. It probably gives some great talking points for families about learning and technology.

Exactly.

Is there anything else that you think is important for our readers to know about Brain Chase?

One question we always get, is about the price. I think if people are comparing Brain Chase to an app that they can download from the Apple Store, it seems expensive. But if you’re comparing it to five weeks of a summer school or five weeks of a camp, 85% of our parents from last year said that they would’ve paid the same price or more for Brain Chase.

The value of it and everything that’s included in the program is a little bit hard to communicate because there really is nothing out there like it. The value we’re bringing is this curated library of content providers. We’re providing the whole motivational platform. We’re providing easy, all inclusive access to all of those partners. So you don’t have to buy your own Rosetta Stone subscription.

Then there’s the whole offline components. There’s the animations, the adventure tools that we send through the mail to help kids each week with the bonus challenges and deciphering the clues. And of course there’s the treasure at the end.

It’s a complex program with a lot of motivating factors. Once they’ve tried it and understand the full scope of it, parents overwhelmingly feel like it’s a really great value.

I definitely think so. I can already see the value because it’s less than the cost of a week of summer camp, or even the cost of Rosetta Stone. I was impressed with the price actually.

Oh cool. We’re very happy to hear that!

Absolutely. I plan to sign my daughter up this summer!

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This is why comic books are awesome for kids

WE’RE CELEBRATING COMIC BOOKS for kids (and grownups) this month at Parent Co!

We’re interviewing prominent comic book writers and illustrators. We’ll show you how your kids can make their own print and digital comics at home and in school. We’ll recommend great comic book titles. And we have some awesome contests and giveaways for indie comics and comic-inspired tee shirts.

Follow the latest updates here.

Reading and making comic books is an enriching experience for kids. They:

– increase inference:  Claudia McVicker, Ph.D., professor of language and literacy at the Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville, studied how comics boost inference skills for elementary-school readers. Inference is critical to comprehension.

– sharpen reading skills: Several studies show that comic book readers read above grade level. The compressed language used in comic panels is surprisingly advanced. And comics and graphic novels often use literary themes, with all the elements of storytelling: protagonist, antagonist, story arc, resolution.

Claudia McVicker says: “And if you really consider how the pictures and words work together to tell a story, you can make the case that comics are just as complex as any other kind of literature.”

– expand vocabulary: My 7-year old constantly asks the meaning of works she’s encountered in comic books. She also constantly asks us how to spell words that she’s using in her own comic book stories.

– spark reluctant readers: many kids that don’t like to read enjoy comics. This seems especially true for boys, who tend to be more reluctant to enjoy read than girls.

–  inspire a shared / social reading experience:  Many kids like to pass comics around, sharing them and discussing their stories. Their serialized plots and bold characters inspire discussion.

– improve visual literacy:  this is the ability to integrate text and visuals simultaneously. It’s worthwhile to skill to impart early in our screen and graphics-driven culture.

– diversify reading: most kids enjoy reading comic books along with picture books, chapter books and prose-based stories and novels.

– inspire kids to draw: Kids love to draw their own versions of the comics they’re reading. They also learn how to draw from studying comic panels.

– teach kids about continuity and frames of reference

When my 7-year old is working on a comic, she’s really also practicing writing, drawing, creating and thinking. (It’s complicated to create a story that works panel-to-panel, even when it’s about a detective that’s also a dog.)

Superheros are awesome, but there are also many other types of comic book stories. They range from funny to sad, fantastic to realistic, historical or far-flung.

Likewise, there are many types of comics: strips, editorial and gag cartoons, manga, graphic novels (or “graphic books” as the New York Times bestseller list calls them) as well as online webcomics.

Stay tuned as explore this universe all month.

Comic books are enriching for kids, but let’s not forget that they’re also FUN. Kids love them. That’s because comic books are awesome.

5 TED Talks that will help you understand learning

The research is clear. Children learn best in environments that value relationships, curiosity, creativity, making mistakes, reflection, and personalized learning. Every parent should see these five TED Talks on learning by these dynamic and humorous speakers.

How to Escape Education’s Death Valley by Sir Ken Robinson

 

Sir Ken Robinson is a leader in developing creativity, innovation, and human resources in education and business. He works with government and education systems in Europe, Asia, and North America. Robinson says there are three principles schools need to adopt in order to improve and meet the needs of all students:

  1. Human beings are naturally different and diverse.
  2. Curiosity is the engine of achievement.
  3. Human life is inherently creative.

Robinson reminds us in this humorous and provoking TED Talk that the current American education system is a “human system involving people who want to learn, and people who don’t want to learn.” We need more parents and educators to advocate for a system where all people want to learn.

3 Rules to Spark Learning by Ramsey Musallam

 

Ramsey Musallam is a chemistry teacher and father of two young daughters. A life-threatening health scare a few years ago led Musallam to rethink his teaching practice and the purpose of learning. Musallam offers three rules to spark learning in children inspired by one of his doctors:

  1. Encourage curiosity and asking hard questions.
  2. Embrace the messy and inevitable process of trial and error.
  3. Reflect intensely to gather information needed to design and revise.

He asks educators and parents to “leave behind the simple role as disseminators of content and embrace a new paradigm as cultivators of curiosity and inquiry” in order to bring more meaning to learning.

The Power of Introverts by Susan Cain

Susan Cain is the author of the bestselling book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. Cain discusses the challenge that introverts face as schools and workplaces shift to spaces designed mostly for extroverts and for extroverts’ need for lots of stimulation. Research points to the fact that some of the most productive and creative people “have a serious streak of introversion in them.” Cain calls for a better balance in education and work spaces, where introverts aren’t seen as outliers.

Every Kid Needs a Champion by Rita Pierson

Rita Pierson is an educator with over 40 years of teaching experience. She discusses the value and importance of human connection in schools in this humorous and moving talk. “Kids don’t learn from people they don’t like,” says Pierson, who believes you can’t underestimate the power of relationships between teachers and students.

The Puzzle of Motivation by Daniel Pink

Daniel Pink is the bestselling author of Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. Pink shares powerful research in his talk that shows that intrinsic motivation matters more than extrinsic motivation. People are intrinsically motivated by three factors:

  1. Autonomy: the urge to direct our own lives.
  2. Mastery: the desire to get better and better at something that matters.
  3. Purpose: the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves.

Pink’s talk focuses on business, but the implications can also be applied to education and learning. What would happen in a classroom where students had more autonomy, mastery, and purpose? What if schools used less “carrot and stick” extrinsic rewards and switched to investing in intrinsically motivated students?

Every parent should see these 5 TED Talks on education

Why are we still running schools the same way we did fifty years ago?

This is the question students, teachers, parents, and researchers now wrestle with in the 21st century.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, over 1.2 million students drop out of high school in the United States every year. That’s a student every 26 seconds – or 7,000 a day.

Even college graduates face challenging odds. Harvard professor Tony Wagner claims half of all recent college graduates are either unemployed or underemployed, and one-third are living at home.

Fortunately, there are some solutions.

Here are five TED Talks every parent should see to understand the most current brain research, psychological studies, and tried-and-true tested methods to improve education.

The Key to Success? Grit by Angela Duckworth

Angela Duckworth is a psychologist, educator, and former management consultant. She’s dedicated much of her research to understanding which factors lead to success in school and the work place.

Duckworth says the answer is grit and “living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint.”

The Power of Belief – Mindset and Success by Eduardo Briceño

Eduardo Briceño is co-founder and CEO of Mindset Works, an organization that helps schools and other organizations foster a growth mindset culture.

His talk refers to brain research and studies conducted by Stanford professor Carol Dweck that show the way we understand intelligence and abilities impacts our success in school, relationships, sports, the arts, and the work place.

The Myth of Average by Todd Rose

Todd Rose is a high school drop out turned Harvard professor. He’s also co-founder and president of Project Variability, an organization dedicated to supporting individualized and personal learning.

Rose points out the problem is that we’re still running schools today the way we did 50 years ago. Schools were designed for the average learner, and therefore designed for nobody. He challenges schools to “ban the average” and “design to the edges.”

Danger of the Single Story by Chimamanda Adichie

Chimamanda Adichie is a best-selling author and master storyteller, who divides her time writing and teaching in Nigeria and the United States.

Adichie ponders the problem of telling a single story about a people or culture in media and literature. Stories are incomplete without multiple perspectives, and we should reexamine the stories we share (or fail to share) with children.

 Play, Passion, Purpose by Tony Wagner

Tony Wagner is the founder and co-director of the Change Leadership Group at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. He’s also a former educator and best-selling author.

Wagner challenges us to rethink education in an age where you can Google anything, and it’s not what you can Google, but what you can do with that information that matters. He suggests seven skills all students need to acquire prior to graduation in order to succeed.

Painting Like Pollock

[stag_intro]I first learned about Jackson Pollock when I was 13-years-old. My dad and stepmom enlisted the help of the family to create an oversized painting for the living room wall.[/stag_intro]

I should note that my parents weren’t artists. They were doctors.

Dad hauled a massive canvas onto the lawn and handed us paintbrushes and cans of paint. “Do whatever you want,” he said. “Throw paint. Drip paint. Splatter it all around.”

This was different from our past experiences with paint. Preschool taught us to color within the lines in coloring books. Art teachers emphasized realism as we painted the likeness of a fruit bowl or a kitten statue. It took us a few minutes to let loose and roll with it.

I have fond memories of that day laughing and making a mess with paint. It was a liberating way to paint at an age when you’ve started letting go of childhood, rushing your way to adulthood. For years that painting hung on their living room wall.

I later studied art history in college and worked at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. I laugh to think that my family thought they could paint just like Pollock did, but that isn’t the point. Action painting is a fun way to engage kids and free their creative spirit.

Like Pollock and other abstract expressionists, I want my own child to learn that she doesn’t always have to color in the lines, that she can color the sun blue and the sky pink. I want her to get messy, be creative, and have fun with art.

When my daughter was three-years-old, I handed her a blank canvas, paints, and various painting tools (paint brushes, sponges, spatulas, spoons, a turkey baster). I told her there were only three rules to this art activity: get messy, have fun, and cover up the canvas.

Paint 1

I forced myself to step back, keep quiet, and just watch. First she didn’t know where to start. She dripped a little paint. Then she picked up a circular sponge and started stamping circles on the canvas.

Paint 2

Eventually she went wild. Spatulas smeared paint across the canvas. Bright pink hands smashed down, a three-year-old’s signature.

Paint 3

That was her first canvas, and the painting still hangs on the wall outside her bedroom.

Canvas

Sometimes I find myself asking my daughter to color inside the lines too much. Sometimes she gets frustrated if her drawing doesn’t look just like it does in the picture. It’s times like this I remind her and myself that sometimes you just need to get messy, be creative, and break the rules.

Try action painting with your kids. You don’t need paintbrushes. All you need is a large canvas, paint, and any utensil you can spare. It’s a fun activity for parents to do with kids or teachers to do with a class.

Here is a video from the Museum of Modern Art explaining how Jackson Pollock painted to share with your kids.

You can find a Jackson Pollock lesson plan here.

If weather or space doesn’t permit you to get too messy outside or indoors, you can find a marble action painting activity here from Today Box.