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Helping Kids Continue Their Learning Outside the Classroom

Helping Kids Continue Their Learning Outside the Classroom

Today’s post is courtesy of Linda Whitehead, Ph.D., senior advisor education and development for Bright Horizons:

I sometimes struggle to find time for personal reflection, and yet when I do find the time, I find it so useful. Sometimes I can grab a few moments when an event ends earlier than anticipated, when I am scrunched into an airline seat and there’s not too much else I can do, or when I’m in the shower. I find it helpful to reflect on how a challenging conversation at work went, or how I might follow-up with my daughter about a recent sensitive conversation we had, or how I might provide support to a close friend struggling with health issues. We also teach teachers to build reflection into their daily planning for children so they can determine what worked, what didn’t and why and what they might do differently the next time.

Reflection is not only useful for adults. It is also helpful for children to develop skills in reflecting on their learning experiences as well as on their social interactions and other aspects of their lives. However, as parents we often get “nothing” or “I don’t know” as a response to “What did you think about. . .?”

To use a real-life example, children in Bright Horizons centers are currently working on projects related to wheels. Their learning will be maximized if someone follows up with them gently and asks, “I noticed some ramps in your classroom today. Did you or the other children use those? What did you notice about cars going down the ramp?”

Helping Learning Continue Outside the Classroom


  • It’s best to follow up on an activity soon after it happens, but as you’ve probably encountered with your child, on the way home from school or child care is often not the best time to ask questions. Just like us, children are tired from their day and need time to transition to home in their own way and time.
  • Instead, look for a time when your child is relaxed and engaged. It is always best if your child initiates the reflection, but you can try asking some questions yourself.
  • Keep it fun and conversational. Asking open-ended (What do you think about?) vs. close-ended questions (yes-no) can help children open up more.



For toddlers, try simple questions:

  • “What happened?”
  • “What if you tried this?”
  • “What do you think about. . .?”

With preschoolers, you can delve a little deeper:

  • “What else could you try?”
  • “Why do you think that happened?’
  • “If you did the project again, how could you do it differently?”

School-agers can handle even more complex questions:

  • “What did you notice from this activity?”
  • “If you did it again, what would you change?’
  • “Why do you think it didn’t work?”



    • Do a similar activity at home. Rather than helping your child reflect on an activity that happened hours before while he or she was at school, try encouraging reflection after a simple project that you do at home together. For example, “I noticed that the car was speedier than the truck going down the ramp you built. Why do you think that was?”
    • Use cooking as an opportunity for reflection. For example, while making English Muffin pizzas together, your child notices how the cheese looks different before and after it goes into the oven. Ask questions like, “How do you think that happens?’ or “What do you think makes the cheese look different?”
    • Use toys as learning tools. For instance, if your child is learning about what happens when you mix two substances together, you might give your child a small plastic bucket full of water to add to his sandbox and help him notice the differences. “How did the sand feel before it got wet? How did it feel afterwards? Why do you think that is?”


Reflection can be a powerful tool for learning. Look for opportunities to model reflection or build it into activities at home. Keep it light and fun; this is a great chance for you to discover together.


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