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Learning Beyond the School Day: Alternative Learning Activities

Posted by Dr. Danielle Barton, Lower School Division Head on Apr 1, 2020 12:00:00 PM

As mentioned in a previous post, there are other ways to extend learning beyond the school day. Instead of requesting more traditional school work, consider a number of alternatives that promote a range of other skills. 

Outside play and physical activity: In his book, Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, author John Ratey (2008) argued that exercise, particularly aerobic activity, “is the single most important thing a person can do to improve their learning.” Encouraging outdoor play promotes physical activity, as well as imaginative and social skills. Traci Alloway (2014), a leading researcher in the field of working memory, found boosts in working memory following active periods. In addition to the positive impact physical activity can have on academics, health and behavior, studies have shown that exercise can improve attention, general processing abilities and problem-solving skills (Finnish, 2012). 

Imaginary play: Asking your child to take on an alternative personality requires the executive function skill of cognitive flexibility. The child has to consider the perspective of the assigned role and how that person may behave. In addition, as others engage in creative play, a child must shift his or her behaviors to maintain play (Sarathy, 2017). Imaginary play requires abstract thinking, which benefits critical thinking and problem-solving skills.

Family dinners: Schedule time to eat dinner as a family a couple of times throughout the week. This strengthens family relationships and develops conversation and other social skills, such as active listening, reciprocity and empathy. 

Music lessons: Encourage your child to learn a musical instrument. Generally speaking, music can positively impact mood. However, learning to play a musical instrument also accesses the same parts of the brain involved in reading (Rampton, 2017). In addition, the musician must coordinate and process several things simultaneously, which is critical to building executive function skills (Rampton, 2017). He or she must interpret the notes on the page, decide how to play those notes, self-monitor for pace and volume, and be thinking about what is coming next in the song. In order to ensure motivation and dedication to the art, it is important to consider your child’s strengths and interests and get their input when making this decision.

Family learning experiences: Create family learning opportunities, such as scavenger hunts, cooking activities, field trips to a local museum, or a family book club. In addition to enhancing knowledge in a variety of subjects, family bonds are also deepened through regular time spent together. Building background knowledge through a variety of life experiences has been correlated to improved comprehension of material presented in school. Studies have shown that students with more knowledge in a certain area are better able to comprehend material related to that area than students with an overall higher IQ (Elleman, 2014). 

Learning shouldn’t solely take place in the form of pencil-paper tasks. Rather, it should occur in a variety of different ways and in a wide range of settings. I encourage you to think creatively for ways to enrich and enhance your child’s learning experiences.

  • References:
  • Alloway, T. (2014). The new intelligence: Why working memory matters at school. Currey Ingram Professional Development.  
  • Elleman, A. (2014, January). What did I just read? Improving educators’ abilities to improve students’ reading comprehension. Presented as part of the It’s All About Language Workshop Series at Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN.
  • Finnish National Board of Education (2012). Physical activity and learning. Retrieved on Feb. 14, 2016 from:
  • Rampton, J. (2017). The benefits of playing music help your brain more than any other activity. Retrieved on January 29, 2020 from:
  • Ratey, J. (2008). Spark: The revolutionary new science of exercise and the brain. New York: Little, Brown.
  • Sarathy, P. (2017). Enhancing Executive Function in the Early Years: Environment, Instruction and Adaptations To Promote School Readiness. Horsham, PA: LRP Publications

Topics: education, Learning

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