March 1, 2018

The Role Of Exploration In Your Child’s Education

Note: This post has been contributed.
It’s the great paradox of our time. We live in the information age, yet so many of us are misinformed. We have access to the sum total of all human knowledge, yet many people cling to their prejudices and preconceptions like a talisman. We are subjected to perspectives and opinions from around the world, yet all too many people uncritically see their own as the most important. Raising children in the digital age can often be a daunting prospect for parents. With so much out there yet such emerging critical faculties it can feel like you’re encouraging them to imbibe an ocean with a sippy cup. Aside from guarding them against content that is just plain inappropriate we worry about how the opinions and views they are exposed to online might shape (or indeed warp) their world view. Let’s face it, we know that not everyone conducts themselves with manners and decorum in the digital realm and we want to protect them from toxic attitudes, mentalities and modes of communication. Exposure to the internet is like a new best friend that we’re increasingly concerned might turn out to be a bad influence.
Our anxieties, however, go beyond the realms of the digital. It seems like there’s a threat lurking around every corner. Even when our kids aren’t in physical danger they’re in danger of their worldview becoming warped. As a parent, this is the point where your protective instinct may kick in. You feel an overwhelming urge to insulate your kids from the world and all its problems. But while this instinct is a biologically programmed imperative, it’s rarely the most helpful or beneficial attitude.
The dangers of an echo chamber and the value of exploration
Whether we like it or not we form the template for adulthood for our kids. They learn about what an adult is and their role in society through the way we behave. While they may criticize and disagree with us as they develop their own sensibilities, their expectations of what a human being does are formed by us. When our kids are young and influential, our word is gospel. They listen to us uncritically and accept what we say as rote. You may even notice them copying our mannerisms or turns of phrase. 
While we may consider this flattering, we must also recognize the potential dangers of living in an ideological echo chamber. We don’t want to raise our kids to parrot our beliefs or (if we’re honest with ourselves) inherit our prejudices. As informed as we are, we’re not always right and spoon feeding our children our political, religious or social beliefs can potentially impede our kids’ growth. While we may want our children to learn and embrace attitudes that we consider positive such as an appreciation and respect of others, an aversion to prejudice or a love of nature, for example, it’s vital that we encourage our children to find these values out for themselves. We can lead the horse to water but we can’t dunk their heads under that water until they drink.
Informations vs dogma
Let’s say you’re a vegan. The idea of your children eating meat or dairy products is anathema to you and you feel that they can be raised perfectly healthily on a vegan diet. You take great care to prepare delicious and nutritious plant based meals for them every day but you know that you can’t control what they eat at school or their friends’ homes. Do you outright ban them from eating meat? Or do you simply explain to them the reasons why you don’t advocate the consumption of meat and dairy in your household. Do you outline the issues with animal cruelty, environmental damage and impact on health that drove you to veganism and leave them to make their own decisions? Guess which of those approaches will have the most meaningful impact for your child.
There are many areas in their lives in which you should encourage exploration while defining clear parameters to keep them safe.
Combined with a genuine love of learning, the internet is a wonderful resource for parents. When we were kids, if we didn’t know the meaning of a word, our parents wouldn’t tell us… They’d send us over to grab the dictionary from the bookshelf to look it up for ourselves. The internet allows you to do this for more or less anything. While you should teach your kids to take everything they read online with a pinch of salt (since there’s so much information out there that is unproven or not properly cited) and employ their own critical faculties to what they read, kids should be encouraged to explore the world around them through online means. That should not, however, preclude them from...
In the natural world
From the wonderful outdoor plains you can check out today at to the bay yard, there’s a lot that kids can learn by engaging with the natural world. They can test and explore their physical capabilities and limitations by climbing trees and rocks. They can learn more about the flora surrounding your home and the marvels of nature that take place right under their noses. While you may not want to take your kids hunting, you can give them the same experience without pulling the trigger. As edifying and educational as a trip to the zoo can be there’s no substitute for seeing animals in their natural habitat (just be safe). 
In creativity
Reading text online or in books and journals may not be the most efficient ways for them to get to grips with an important issue. For kids of many ages, creative outlets are often far more meaningful ways of engaging with and exploring a subject. Art and drama teachers often encourage kids to use creativity as a means to explore an issue. Creativity not only helps young people utilise creative problem solving skills, research skills, teamwork and cooperative skills and simply a deeper level of engagement than they would reading about it. There are many creative outlets that will encourage exploratory learning strategies while also applying the introspective and self analytical skills that will make them more self aware. 
Exploration, in whatever sense you choose to apply it, can enrich your child’s education inside and outside of school.