Hot Wheels & Summer Learning

The summer slide: it’s not just about losing ground.  Get your kids racing their Hot Wheels cars down an inclined plane, and you could help them keep their math and language skills in gear all summer.  And who doesn’t love a toy that gives extra mileage?  (I’m all out of slide and car puns now.  Promise.)

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Hot Wheels has great resources available to parents and teachers to help kids from JK-Grade One maintain their learning through summer play.  From making predictions to taking measurements, there are endless ways to incorporate math and language skills into car play.  Hot Wheels sent us some of their sets, and we took them to school for the kids in my son’s Grade 1 class to build and share in the last days of the school year.  The kids read the instructions, assembled the kits (with a bit of adult help) and then played with the fruits of their labour.  (Your kids can get in on this too!  Hot Wheels has a programme to get their toys into schools.  You can apply here.)

More and more, education in preschool and the early grades is play-based, active, and tactile.  By teaching math and measurement through play, we can engage tactile and kinetic learners who thrive on movement and touch.  By asking a few simple questions during organic car play, we can keep learning alive and active all summer long.  One of the most magical things about putting this kind of thing into practice is seeing how quickly it becomes part of the kids’ own method of play.

If your house is anything like mine, the Hot Wheels cars appear to reproduce like gremlins over night.  Put those toys to work!

  • Ask, “How many cars long is your bed?”  (Estimating, then counting and measuring)
  • Line up some cars in a simple colour pattern and ask, “What colour comes next?” (Patterning, colour recognition)
  • Line up the cars at the end of play time and ask “How many cars in the parking lot?” (Counting, patterning, estimating)
  • Take the play outside!  Use sidewalk chalk to create city streets and landmarks (school, library, hospital).  Give driving instructions to the Hot Wheels driver: “Take the first left.  Drive two blocks.  Turn right.  Where are you?”  (Orientation, instructions, reading and writing)

There are lots of ideas on the Hot Wheels FUNdamentals web site, as well as activity sheets to download.  Both incorporate learning so organically, the kids won’t even know you’re sneaking some learning in with their summer fun.

Encouraging Unplanned Learning by guest author, Catherine Ross

One of the biggest defining factors of a school education is that the learning that happens there is almost always planned. Teachers begin with a curriculum, from which they formulate lesson plans. During the lesson, all learning is directed to fit into the structure advised by the lesson plan. Teachers have a clear goal when they begin, and then test the students to see whether the goal has been achieved. At the end of the year, there is a clear record of what the students have learnt, and to what extent they have learnt it.

However, the learning does not stop when kids leave the classroom. It continues in the playground and after school hours, perhaps with more interest and involvement than ever expressed in the classroom! When kids capture and observe a worm that they dug out of the backyard, or experiment with various structures to figure out how to make their wooden blocks building sturdier, they are learning very important lessons in science and math without even realizing it. This alternate, unplanned way of learning comes naturally to kids and requires no formal structure or process at all. This is unplanned learning, and based on my experiences I have come to believe that it is the more effective and enjoyable form of learning for all involved.

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Photo by James Emery

Unplanned learning can happen anywhere, and at any time of the day. It can happen with kids who go to school, as well as those who are homeschooled. It can happen on a lazy summer day or while you’re vacationing in Hawaii. It can happen between any two individuals. It is inexpensive, exciting and stays with the learner for much longer. However, it does require a few basic conditions in order to be effective.

Imagine a classroom setting, where the teacher is discussing insectivorous plants. A student, excited by the topic, asks the teacher more about how the insects are tricked into landing on the plants. However, the teacher, equipped with a lesson plan and limited by time constraints, tells the student that the question is not related to what they are supposed to be learning. While this began as a perfect opportunity for unplanned learning, it progressed in a way that was demoralizing to the learner and may even dampen the student’s natural desire to learn. While unstructured learning does come naturally to kids, certain experiences may reduce the frequency of their occurrence and sap the joy of learning and discovery from their lives.

However, as a parent, you are in the perfect position to encourage unplanned learning right at home. Here are a few things that you can do to get your child learning by leaps and bounds, and enjoying every minute of it.

1. Take every interest of your child’s very seriously. If your daughter is fascinated by horses, take her to the library to pick out books on horses. Better still, take her to a stable where she can pet, feed and interact with them and get her questions answered by the caretaker. Apart from learning more about horses, your daughter will be practicing her reading and social skills and learning lots about animal behaviour in general!

2. Look out for learning opportunities. When you are at the grocery store, allow your first grader to pay for your things and collect the change. When your child asks you a question, encourage him to do research instead of answering it directly. While waiting at a doctor’s office, give your child reading practice (and a few lessons in life science) by helping her sound out the posters on the wall.

3. Create a healthy learning environment.Instead of waiting for learning opportunities to come your way, create them on your own. Buy your children educational toys such as tangrams and let them play learning games online. Plan trips to a zoo, a nature center or/and a museum. Make regular trips to the library. Do fun science experiments at home. Supplement these learning opportunities with interesting discussions and additional reading material, especially if they show an interest in the subject.

And very importantly, never ridicule a question of any type. If you don’t know the answer yourself, find out together. Show your child that learning does not just happen with textbooks and worksheets. You will plant the seed for a lifelong love for learning in your kids, and they will be ever grateful for it.

Author Bio: Catherine Ross is a full-time stay-at-home-mum who believes learning should be enjoyable for young minds. An erstwhile elementary school teacher, Catherine loves coming up with creative ways through which kids can grasp the seemingly difficult concepts of learning easily. She believes that a ‘fun factor’ can go a long way inenhancing kids’ understanding and blogs at http://kidslearninggames.weebly.com/