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Supplementing Your Child's Education

Updated: Jul 28, 2020

Supplementing your child’s education, whether they are homeschooled, cyber schooled or traditionally schooled, allows for interesting, informal learning. Supplemental activities allow your student to learn from people with expert knowledge or passions. It also can provide opportunities to jump start your child’s future career by connecting them with mentors.

Supplemental education takes- many forms. The most common form of supplemental activities is attending programs, lectures and events but there are so many ways to enhance your child’s interests and knowledge. Look at organizations, institutions and places of interest in your community. Some of these community resources are obviously put on hold or modified by the current pandemic restrictions.

Local Colleges

· Many colleges offer programs for school-age children. These programs often include the arts, sports, history and science. Sometimes, the topics offered can be surprising. For example, Shippensburg University offered chemistry and forensic science camps for elementary school students. Many of these programs are offered in the summer but some colleges such as Messiah University offer programs throughout the school year.

· For older students, check out public events or programs that supplement their course of studies. Programs can range from plays, faculty and student recitals to guest speakers. The programs are often free or affordable. Throughout our years of homeschooling, we were able to listen to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas discuss history, Astronaut Buzz Aldrin give his views on space travel and Holocaust survivors discuss what it took to survive. Always look for opportunities to learn history from the people who made history.

· If your child has a specific interest, make sure to look at the programs and events offered by related departments at the local colleges.


· Look for special public events and programs offered by area museums. Many museums offer programs specifically for children or homeschoolers. For younger kids, some museums have opportunities for families to stay overnight in the museum. Messiah University has an excellent natural sciences museum in the Oakes Museum which offers science programs for homeschoolers of all levels as well as for traditional students. For older homeschoolers, the Oakes Museum even offers labs.

· Pennsylvania and the surrounding states are so rich in wonderful museums of all sizes. Keep your eyes out for unique, often overlooked museums. For example, you can tour the house in Chambersburg where John Brown stayed while planning the raid on Harpers Ferry.

· Look for public programs that may not be specifically for kids but fit into your studies. For example, we spent a day at the Brandywine River Museum touring the studios of Andrew and N.C. Wyeth followed by a gallery tour by a curator who matched poetry with the works of the Hudson River School artists on display. It was an interesting and active way to study both art and literature.

· Take advantage of free tours of the Pennsylvania State Capital which combines history, civics and art. The Pennsylvania State Museum next door offers a variety of public programs throughout the year on science, history and art. A bonus is that admission is often free on select holidays. If you go to the museum on Charter Day in the beginning of March, they display the actual charter giving ownership of Pennsylvania to William Penn.

· Another gem in Central Pennsylvania is the Army Heritage Center in Carlisle. Not only is there an interesting, state of the art American military museum, the Center provides public programs throughout the year on American history. These programs are an excellent supplement to the American history studies of older students. During the winter, there is also a foreign affair group that offers weekly public lectures on current foreign affairs. The topics are varied with past topics ranging from the attempted coup in Turkey, the history of NATO to artificial intelligence in the military. The lectures are often by retired military officers and advisors.

Community Organizations

· Local theaters can be a tremendous supplement to your child’s education. For students who live theater, many local theaters offer acting programs or opportunities to participate in local theater. Theaters will also have performances of classic plays that can supplement your studies. For example, a local theater in Harrisburg performs “The Diary of Anne Frank” every spring for the public and school groups. We used the performance to supplement our history studies of WWII as well as reading the book for literature class. The performance also included an unforgettable presentation by a Holocaust survivor of the same camp where Anne Frank died. There is also a Shakespeare theater group in Dover, Pa that performs out of a barn and has summer Shakespeare camps for younger students. There are wonderful local theater groups in most areas.

· Look for community groups that support your student’s interest. My son had a passion for natural science from a young age. In junior high, he started joining conservation groups such as Audubon where he met mentors and had incredible leadership opportunities. These connections and opportunities led to his first internship while still in high school. In addition, activities such as writing newsletter articles and presenting programs with these groups supplemented his studies, especially English and science. Find your child’s passion and then get them involved in appropriate groups. Don’t limit the activities to only kids of their own age. There are definite benefits to your child having mentors and friends of various ages.

· Scouting organizations are also a way to supplement your child’s studies. Your child can work on merit badges such as the citizenship badges or science badges to supplement their formal studies. The badges such as First Aid, Emergency Preparedness and Physical Fitness nicely compliment a formal health or physical education program. In addition, scouting activities such as touring historical sites supplement a history program. Our scout troop has a tradition of placing a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns every year and touring Washington D.C.. Experiencing history is the best way to learn history.

· Local historical societies on a county or town level are wonderful resources. These societies often present interesting programs on both local and Pennsylvania history. Since children don’t frequently attend these programs, it is an opportunity for your child to network with adults in your area and to learn some backyard history.

State and National Parks

· Pennsylvania has an incredible network of free state parks. Most parks offer a variety of educational programs throughout the year covering not only natural science topics but also art, music and local history. Some parks, such as Kings Gap State Park outside Carlisle, have specific education centers. Most parks have specific programs and summer programs for younger students. Many parks have unique places of interest or museums. For example, Pine Grove Furnace State Park not only has the Appalachian Trail and beautiful lakes but it is home to a former iron furnace, the Appalachian Trail Museum and the remains of a former POW camp. Just down the road is the Caledonia State Park which is home to an iron furnace owned by Thaddeus Stevens and the Forest Heritage and Discovery Center. The state parks will also offer unusual ways to supplement your child’s education such as courses in wilderness first aid or trail building.

· Pennsylvania is also home to excellent national parks including the Gettysburg National Park which offers a variety of programming throughout the year as well as a wonderful visitors center. For younger students, the park offers programs on topics such as a soldier’s life. During the summer, the rangers offer daily history tours and fireside programs in the evening. While the programs are history-based, one of our favorite programs is the Geology of Gettysburg. If your child is a scout, check out the Gettysburg patch which can be earned by touring the battlefield and town.

There are so many ways to supplement your child’s education. It is important to see how your child learns and help develop their love of learning. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box. If your child has a passion for a subject, expose them to programs and activities that will challenge them and develop their skills. Encourage your child to get actively involved in organizations to develop their social and leadership skills. The key is to integrate education into the daily life of your family. Your child will see that learning is lifelong and takes many forms. In supplementing your child’s education with interesting, meaningful activities, you will be enriching your own life.

~ Ann D.

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