As school districts across the country continue responding to COVID-19 by utilizing online learning techniques, many parents have been given the added responsibility of making sure that their children receive a high-quality education while they are at home. Though districts will likely provide lessons and assignments for students to complete, the importance of additional activities that utilize the effectiveness of free-choice learning cannot be overstated.
What is Free-Choice Learning?
According to Oregon State University, an institution nationally recognized as leaders in free-choice learning, this type of self-motivated education puts students in control of what they explore. Traditionally, natural places of discovery such as museums and zoos are popular places to embrace this pedagogy. However, free-choice learning can also take place at home.
For example, let’s say your child has always been interested in outer space. In a traditional classroom environment, students might learn about the names and characteristics of different planets within our solar system. Instructors might teach topics like gravity and space flight using mathematical equations and scientific concepts.
While this foundational knowledge is critical, so too are activities that encourage exploration. It is here that free-choice learning techniques really shine. Using upcycled materials from around the house, you could ask your child to invent a device that would transport them to their favorite planet. Once they arrive on the planet, what kind of supplies would they need to survive? Would they need to build a vehicle to move around the planet’s surface?
Much like a snowball rolling down a hill, activities that encourage children to ask their own questions build upon previous learning and help develop both their creativity and problem-solving skills. The power of free-choice learning occurs when students realize they can explore on their own terms.
Rely on Education Experts
Recently, with generous support from the Burton D. Morgan Foundation, NIHF partnered with John Falk, founding director of the Center for Research on Lifelong STEM Learning at Oregon State University, to study the effectiveness of our Camp Invention® program. As an internationally recognized authority on free-choice learning, Falk found that participating in just one week of camp resulted in measurable improvements in creativity, STEM interest and the ability to apply problem-solving techniques.
This year, summer learning will be more important than ever before, so we remain optimistic and intend to run Camp Invention throughout the country. This opportunity is an excellent way to engage in free-choice learning, and in 2019 we were able to inspire 130,000 students with this flagship program.
As you continue to ensure that your child remains inspired while at home, we invite you to try out our many hands-on STEM activities developed by the same team of education experts responsible for Camp Invention’s innovative curriculum. These activities not only embrace free-choice learning but also provide hours of fun for children to stretch their imaginations.