A couple months ago I wrote a post about my dad’s glorious sayings…the ones he repeats to himself (self-talk!) as well as to his children, his wife, the secretary at the church, the grocery store clerk, the lady he meets in the parking lot, the Girl Scout who knocks on his door selling cookies, his neighbor, etc.  You get the point.  He says them all the time – to just about everyone!

“Education is one thing that no one can take away from you,” is one of his mantras, and the one that likely prompted him to take a second mortgage on his home in order to pay for my sister’s Yale education and then four years later for my Northwestern ventures. “Someone can take away your car, your wallet, even your sibling,” he says, “but no one can take away your education.”

So true.

But does “education” have to cost so much money?

Below is my preliminary list of educational experiences that do not cost a dime – or at least don’t demand that you to dip into your savings account in order to nurture your child’s curious mind and need for social connection and belonging.

  1. Talk. Yes, talk is cheap. When a parent converses with a child, he or she is framing the ways for a child to see the world…wonder about it, engage in it, respond to it.  We often think that the content of what we talk about with our kids is important (and it is) – but equally as important is how we talk to our kids.  We can nurture their curiosity, offer them an identity as “a learner,” provide them with information, etc…through conversation.
  2. Visit the library….the oft-forgotten resource in just about every town in America.  Make friends with the children’s librarian!  They’re a wealth of knowledge.  I love talking to them about books, and they ask kids great questions about what they like, can do, etc.  It’s really fun to watch a good children’s librarian scout out new books with a kid.
  3. Play in the park. Pretend to be pirates on a ship.  Dress up as superheroes on a mission to save the world.  You catch my drift – PLAY!  Hands down, play helps children (and adults) develop critical cognitive and emotional competences that not only nurture a child’s spirit, but helps them sort through complex data in envisioning new possibilities.  Make-believe type play, especially, is an exciting time when kids and teens talk to themselves.  Self-talk often knows no boundaries…it can carry over into other aspects of a child’s life.  When pretending to make chocolate oatmeal for me in the bathtub two-year old Siena, for example, needs to figure out what she is going to do next, and how she is going to do it – especially if she wants to get my attention and taste her concoction.  This is a similar cognitive processing a scientist goes through when planning out a research design, or a CEO goes through when strategizing next steps with his or her Board of Directors.  What next, and how to do it….and whether she thinks she is capable of succeeding at it.
  4. Go for a drive.  Okay yes, you have to pay for gas, but you can use that to your child’s educational advantage.  She can calculate how much money the family car is getting per mile, how much it will cost to make it to Grandma’s house, etc.  One of my favorite stories about an impromptu “educational drive” comes from my college roommate Kelly who grew up in rain-soaked Seattle.  She didn’t believe that her home state could actually have a desert in it (the other side of the Cascade mountains).  Her dad opened the passenger door, buckled Kelly into the Station Wagon, and started driving.
  5. Practice. Whatever it is your child is on the way to mastering – a safe roll on the soccer field, a dramatic hit on the hockey rink, a new line in a play, a solo in the school band’s upcoming concert – he or she must practice if she’s going to get any better.  No matter how brilliant our children, at some time in their educational journey they are going to run into challenges in school – something that they can’t do or “get” at first exposure to it.  If she’s in the habit of practicing to get better at something, then she’s well on her way to a life of educational success.