Playing games is a great way to help kids feel challenged.
While struggling with homework is an all-too-real frustration for some kids, making thoughts about back to school a nightmare, others struggle with just the opposite: They aren’t challenged in class and homework is a repeat of what they already know.
What’s a parent to do? Of course, there are supplemental workbooks available. However, the goal should not be to create a larger academic gap in school; it should be to get your child thinking in new ways, to discover a new passion and to question the world around them.
There are so many fun ways to foster a love of learning while challenging your child at home through authentic opportunities. Here are just a few to get you started on enjoying the journey together.
Find free classes
Most libraries offer classes on a variety of topics, such as chess, learning about various cultures or a book discussion group. These are often places to find like-minded kids and adults who share similar interests.
Any writing is beneficial. Have your child choose a blank journal to write whatever he wants, such as personal thoughts, comics or poetry. Allow time and opportunity to journal, such as bringing it on a nature walk or allowing them to stay up later to write in it.
Try board games
So many higher-thinking skills are addressed through board games. For instance, in Monopoly, you learn how to make change and manage money. Clue is a great way to learn deductive reasoning skills. And Catan allows for practice with probability. If an aspect of the game is too difficult, alter it. (I made a picture guide for Clue so my 5-year-old was able to play.)
Allow your child to use (and even make!) weather instruments: a thermometer, wind vane, rain gauge and anemometer. Have her make predictions and figure out the average temperature for the week.
Look into taking part in Citizen Science Projects from The National Geographic. These allow you to participate in scientific data collection. Some include Bird Watch, Classify Galaxies and Butterfly Census.
Cook up challenges
Baking is a yummy way to challenge kids of all ages. Skills that can be addressed include measuring, fractions, chemistry and scientific experimentation. Figure out what each ingredient does in a cookie. What happens if you alter one of those ingredients? Baking can be altered for various aged children to meet different needs. Supervision may be required.
Get dirty in the garden
Like baking, you can simplify this for younger kids and have an older or more experienced child learn about things such as soil texture and pH.
If you’re not an expert, places such as JoAnn Fabrics offers classes for kids to learn basic sewing skills or you can find sewing videos on YouTube. Otherwise, maybe there’s a neighbor who would love to help teach your child the basics.
Dig into science
Is your child inquisitive and asks “I wonder” questions a lot? Anything you can try out at home? Help your child set up an experiment with items around the house: What type of cheese melts the fastest? Which flavor of juice takes the longest to freeze? There are many easy experiments that can be done with seeds and plants.
Do community service
Consider finding a way to help others. Send DIY toys to an animal shelter. Collect books for a book drive. Round up toys to donate. There are a variety of organizations that allow children to participate.
Write fan fiction
If your child loves a particular book or book series, have them write his own story using those characters. Search for more fan fiction online (be sure to monitor/preview for appropriateness). Read together and discuss what he thought of it.
Even good readers don’t necessarily want to be constantly challenged. Try to balance between fun, easy reads that your child picks out and more meaty texts that you select. As a reward for a tough read, go somewhere related to the book, if possible. For that meatier book, read it together.
Speak with a librarian for suggestions of higher-level books that are age appropriate. (Although your second-grader is reading on a sixth-grade level, the content of middle-grade books may not be appropriate, too scary or irrelevant to a younger child.)
Stop to discuss the book. In addition to comprehension questions (What was the name of the spy?), ask higher-level thinking questions. For instance, if reading The Three Bears, ask question such as: How do you think the bears felt when they discovered Goldilocks? What could the bears have done when they discovered her? What would you have done? Have your child come up with questions for you to answer as well.
This article originally appeared in the August issue of Chicago Parent. Read the rest of the issue.