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Building Background Knowledge Through Fun Experiences

Building Background Knowledge Through Fun Experiences

Elyse Moore and Jiree Wilson, Speech-Language Pathologists

Summer is a time of relaxation for students, and it is much deserved after a rigorous school year.  But we want children to continue learning throughout the summer, and there are some very fun ways to make that happen!  Summer can be a great time to build upon background knowledge through life experiences.  Background knowledge is the information that students already know about a topic, and real life experiences they have had related to a topic.  Background knowledge can aid in a student’s academic skills in all areas.  For example, if a child has experienced a trip to the SAC Museum, the student will be more likely to be interested in a reading passage about military aircraft from the reading curriculum.  Or if a child visited the Lewis and Clark Center, when that topic comes up in Social Studies, the student will have experiences to relate the new learning to, and will therefore absorb more information.   Feel free to think outside of the box; you can make almost any new experience a learning opportunity by creating a language rich environment.  Talk about what you see, hear, smell, touch, taste, and think, and encourage your child to engage in learning by talking about what they are learning as well.  For example, if you are camping, talk about animal tracks you see on a hike and predict what type of animal it could be.  Then, you can take it a step further and look up animal tracks online.  Try to find the tracks you have found and figure out what animal it may be. 

Here are some examples of opportunities for building background knowledge:

  • Go to the zoo.  There is so much to talk about at the zoo, and an infinite amount of learning.
  • Have your child help you cook dinner or bake dessert.  Talk about measuring, conversions, texture, taste, etc.  They will likely take great pride in what they make, and, if you have a picky eater, they may even eat better when they have been invested in the preparation!
  • Visit a museum or park.
    • Lincoln Children’s Museum or Omaha Children’s Museum
    • Morrill Hall (Lincoln)
    • Pioneers Park (Lincoln)
    • Lewis and Clark Missouri River Visitor’s Center (Nebraska City)
    • Strategic Air Command & Aerospace Museum (Ashland)
  • Go camping or go on a nature hike.
  • Pick a topic each week and challenge your child to find information about that topic through books, TV, websites, etc.  The topics can range from Tractors to Whales to Computer Programming.  Make it fun and interesting for your child.
  • Go to the library.  Lincoln Libraries has weekly story times for younger children and events throughout the summer, such as a Heavy Equipment Day, when kids have an opportunity to interact with bulldozers, fire trucks, tractors, etc. and talk to the operators.  They also have opportunities for children to interact with robotics and learn about computer programming.
  • Take your child grocery shopping with you.  Remember to use a lot of language to talk about the foods you buy, using the five senses.  Talk about making a list from recipes and budgeting.  Take cash and have your child figure out how much change they should get back.  Teach social skills like asking for help or asking where the restroom is.
  • READ. READ. READ.  Your child gains vocabulary and background knowledge from reading.  And, even if your child is a great reader, there is evidence that continuing to also read TO your child is beneficial.  If your child doesn’t like reading, try audiobooks.  Lincoln Libraries has an app called OverDrive, in which you can download audiobooks for all ages for free (with a Lincoln Library card).
  • Go on a family vacation, or make an already planned vacation language and experience rich.
  • Limit screen time.  While TV can build background knowledge, research continues to show that screen time, including video games, TV, tablets, and phones, should be limited.  Limiting not only the amount of time a child spends on screens, but also limiting the content of what your child plays and watches can be very beneficial.  Ask yourself what your child is getting from the shows/movies they watch or video games they play.
  • Take your child with you to work for the day and talk about all that you do during the day.  This can be a great learning experience for your child, if it is possible.

Summer is a great time for children to get outside and play, as well as have some downtime.  But be sure to take some time to make your child’s summer rich in language and experiences as well.  Have a wonderful and safe summer!