The Power of (Informal) Education

I have always loved learning. Education is an intangible gift that no one in this world can ever take away from you, and as a mom of two, I strive to teach my children the value of learning each and every day.

This year has certainly thrown a curveball to parents throughout our world, especially in regards to education. We have been challenged to find creative ways to teach our children, support our educators, and maintain our own sanity as we juggle all the other stresses of life. If you’re like me, there are numerous times I wonder if I’m even doing it right. Sometimes it has felt like I am completely unprepared to function as my children’s parent and primary teacher simultaneously.

However, education is more than lesson plans created in an institution. Learning can be done everywhere, even the McDonald’s play area.

Last fall, we let our children run around in an “all fun” environment, and it quickly turned into a moment of realization for me—they are learning even in the most simple ways, anywhere.

I saw my son reading the labels and rules posted at the play area, and I realized he was gaining understanding that reading not only appears in storybooks, but can also help him navigate safely throughout the area. I watched as they figured out what to do when other children were climbing up the slide when they wanted to go down; they were learning how to handle conflict. I smiled as I saw my six-year-old humor a younger child who wanted to be the monster and chase him throughout the area; he was learning patience and flexibility. I heard each of my kids call to each other, asking, “Where are you?” and “Are you ok?” across the room; they were learning the importance of taking care of the ones you love.

This informal intake of educational opportunities is just as important to our children as formal education in brick and mortar school buildings or online learning. There are some things that textbooks don’t effectively teach and it’s incredibly important for our kids to learn the things in life that help them become the people they will be as adults.

I worry whether my kids are learning everything they need to learn. Whether it is going over homework and practicing reading aloud, or selecting their Christmas presents and making sure they are educationally age-appropriate options, it is always on my mind. I pray they are on track and will have the knowledge they need to grow into intelligent, kind people. However, sitting outside the chaos of that McDonald’s play area, I felt an odd sense of calm and was reminded that even by taking them to the playground, I (along with the others around my kids) am teaching them.

From our role as parents, to teachers, camp counselors, Sunday school teachers, daycare providers, coaches, and countless others, we are all playing a pivotal role in our kids’ education as a community. The lessons our children learn through the observation and direction of these leaders in their lives are shaping the path of their future, and for that, I am so incredibly grateful for every person who has invested their time, energy, and heart into impacting our childrens’ lives.

Our schools are a pillar in our community, along with other structured, formal educational opportunities. But after that day at McDonald’s, I continuously ask myself: “After all my years of formal school and continuing my education after graduation, do I still open my eyes and heart to learn from life every day? And are my children learning that, too?”

It can be a difficult world to navigate as a parent, especially amidst the chaos we’ve been dealt. But know that you are not alone; we are all in this together—educating our children to be prepared for whatever life may have in store for them. As long as my kids are learning to follow the basic rule of being kind, respectful, and sharing God’s love, then I know they will be ok.

Education does not happen solely within the walls of a school or the traditional ways we think. Take some time to pause each day and see what both we (as parents) and our children can learn in the most unlikely of places…. even if it’s the McDonald’s play area.