Learning is about more than school. For one thing, its starts sooner. The evidence is in: when we read to babies they begin to read sooner, and better. When children see books and readers around, they’re interested, especially if the readers are enjoying themselves. When children talk more, with adults and with each other, they build bigger vocabularies, not to mention social skills.

This isn’t just about parents. Uncles and aunts, friends and neighbors help; famously, so do grandparents. Organizations can play a big part. All our local libraries care about children’s reading; they offer books, story-telling sessions, etc. If your local library is small, with limited hours, it can only do so much. Consider joining (for very little money) a bigger library like Norway Memorial, with its spacious, welcoming children’s room, dedicated staff, summer programs, junior graphic novels, board books for the very young, a parenting collection…

Mahoosuc Kids offers out of school programs focusing on STEM (science, technology, engineering, maths), visual and performing arts, and international cultures. The Bethel Historical Society’s summer Mornings at the Museum offers hands-on activities for kids aged 5-10. Other towns and villages do their versions.

Families can learn together. Children’s museums are fun for all, and they fill gaps in adults’ knowledge, too. Adult museums can be fun for kids: keep in mind attention spans, bathroom breaks, etc. A trip to anyplace is a learning experience; make the most of it. (Try Quebec city for a whole new, but very old and very different lesson, pretty close to home.)

Early schooling also works. A file of day care kids marching to the Bethel library every week is a good sign. Scientists say that pre-kindergarten benefits all recipients; Portland’s school superintendent calls it “an investment in our students…”. Later schooling works too. When a parent takes a course, long or short, children notice.

Another thought, not mine but Pamela Paul’s, writing in The New York Times on first September, 2019 (incidentally, the Sunday New York Times for Kids, marked “This section should not be read by grown-ups, is a great read): “Really want your child to hunker down and read one book in particular? Tell her she can’t. She’s not ready yet. That it’s too old for her, too difficult, too dark and entirely inappropriate for children. Put it up on a high shelf and walk away. You may never see it again.”

David R Jones has taught in Australia and the United States, and written and talked about education on four continents and several islands.


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