Challenging Learning At Home

Activities to keep young people reading, thinking and engaged

The 30 of us in the Challenging Learning team come from six countries and three continents. We have all been teachers and leaders in educational settings covering the 3-19 age range. Many of us are also parents. On this part of our site, we share resources and recommendations for adults everywhere to engage young people in thoughtful conversations and problem-solving activities at home.

Guide to Challenging Learning At Home

Our recommended activities are designed to stimulate thoughtful conversations and problem-solving approaches to learning.

Every one of our resources are designed to help young people learn HOW to think rather than what to think. In so doing, they provide a welcome (and often much needed) counter-balance to the many worksheets being sent home from school for kids to complete.

The resources will work best if …

  1. You set up opportunities for conversation with your child (with you, with siblings, with friends via video chat, with pets …)
  2. You think of yourself as an encourager and devil’s advocate, rather than an instructor or judge. Don’t answer their questions – instead, question their answers; Don’t praise their first answers – instead praise perseverance and open-mindedness; Don’t help your child to reach the ‘answer’ as quickly as possible – instead help them to explore as many avenues as possible.

You will see ‘dialogue’ mentioned frequently in our resources. When engaged in dialogue, children have the opportunity to deepen their thinking; challenge their own and each other’s ideas; think about reasons; check assumptions; and question and wonder.

Dialogue challenges ideas, reasons and assumptions and causes the participants to question and wonder. When people are engaged in dialogue, they deepen their own thinking by considering the ideas of one another and often combine their thoughts and ideas to make new meaning.

Strategic questioning can turn an ordinary conversation into effective, high quality dialogue. A simple shift in questioning from evaluation questions to exploratory questions. There is nothing magic about the questions you ask, but rather how you respond. For example, ask a question that will raise more questions or will keep the dialogue going.

Like this:

  • What is a toy?
  • How do you know it is a toy?
  • What makes it a toy?
  • If you don’t play with it, is it still a toy?
  • What else could be a toy?

First and foremost, read the whole book first. Just enjoy the story and let your child enjoy the story. Do not feel like you need to ask questions throughout. When you are done reading, think about a big idea from the book and ask about that. If there are concepts like friend, truth, value, right/wrong, hero, you can start with questions like:

  • What is a hero?
  • What makes them a hero?
  • Are heroes always good?
  • What does it mean to be good?
  • Can a hero be an animal?

In addition to activities, we will also share a book list with questions already prepared.

Guide to dialogue activities

As educators, parents, and guardians we all want the same things for the children we care so much about- for them to be successful. We know that this can happen when they love learning and are independent thinkers. Unfortunately, our children are often taught what to think and seldom taught how to think. Through effective dialogue, children can explore ways to think, and can engage in inquiry to deepen their learning.

The good news for parents and guardians is that you do not have to be content experts, or even know specifically what content your child is studying to engage them in rich dialogue that will support and enhance learning. We have provided, and will continue to provide, activities that can be used to engage in productive dialogue at home. This quick guide will help to provide you with support in using these activities with one or more children, or with the whole family!

Dialogue challenges ideas, reasons and assumptions and causes the participants to question and wonder. When people are engaged in dialogue, they deepen their own thinking by considering the ideas of one another and often combine their thoughts and ideas to make new meaning.

Strategic questioning can turn an ordinary conversation into effective, high quality dialogue. A simple shift in questioning from evaluation questions to exploratory questions. There is nothing magic about the questions you ask, but rather how you respond. For example, ask a question that will raise more questions or will keep the dialogue going.

Like this:

  • What is a toy?
  • How do you know it is a toy?
  • What makes it a toy?
  • If you don’t play with it, is it still a toy?
  • What else could be a toy?

First and foremost, read the whole book first. Just enjoy the story and let your child enjoy the story. Do not feel like you need to ask questions throughout. When you are done reading, think about a big idea from the book and ask about that. If there are concepts like friend, truth, value, right/wrong, hero, you can start with questions like: What is a hero? What makes them a hero? Are heroes always good? What does it mean to be good? Can a hero be an animal?

In addition to activities, we will also share a book list with questions already prepared.

The resources will work best if …

  1. You set up opportunities for conversation with your child (with you, with siblings, with friends via video chat, with pets …)
  2. You think of yourself as an encourager and devil’s advocate, rather than an instructor or judge. Don’t answer their questions – instead, question their answers; Don’t praise their first answers – instead praise perseverance and open-mindedness; Don’t help your child to reach the ‘answer’ as quickly as possible – instead help them to explore as many avenues as possible.

You will see ‘dialogue’ mentioned frequently in our resources. When engaged in dialogue, children have the opportunity to deepen their thinking; challenge their own and each other’s ideas; think about reasons; check assumptions; and question and wonder.

Home Learning Activities

OUR NEW BOOK NEEDS YOU!

We are very excited to announce that the home learning activities that Jill Nottingham and Carmen Bergmann have been posting are to be published in our latest Challenging Learning book. This will be a book aimed at parents, guardians, grandparents or indeed anyone supporting children’s learning and keen to deepen children’s thinking at home or in a childcare setting. The book will be published within the year so please watch this space!

The book will include enhanced and elaborated versions of the home learning activities we have been sharing here, as well as brand new themed activities and theory, research and guidance about how to support children going into the Learning Pit, and how you can get in there with them.

In the meantime, we have taken down the home learning activities so that we can develop them further. Should you wish to revisit any specific activity in order to give us material to include in the book, please contact us and we can send it to you.

We have also published 50 picture book activities, each rich in dialogue and questioning, to help you continue on the learning journey with your children.

Click on the link below to find out more about how you and your child can feature in the new book.

Home Learning sharing page

Home Learning Activities

OUR NEW BOOK NEEDS YOU!

We are very excited to announce that the home learning activities that Jill Nottingham and Carmen Bergmann have been posting are to be published in our latest Challenging Learning book. This will be a book aimed at parents, guardians, grandparents or indeed anyone supporting children’s learning and keen to deepen children’s thinking at home or in a childcare setting. The book will be published within the year so please watch this space!

The book will include enhanced and elaborated versions of the home learning activities we have been sharing here, as well as brand new themed activities and theory, research and guidance about how to support children going into the Learning Pit, and how you can get in there with them.

In the meantime, we have taken down the home learning activities so that we can develop them further. Should you wish to revisit any specific activity in order to give us material to include in the book, please contact us and we can send it to you.

We have also published 50 picture book activities, each rich in dialogue and questioning, to help you continue on the learning journey with your children.

Click on the link below to find out more about how you and your child can feature in the new book.

Home Learning sharing page

Picture Book Activities

Picture Book Activities

Further Reading 

We do have the following books that support parents in their learning journey to assist their children’s learning:

Further Reading 

We do have the following books that support parents in their learning journey to assist their children’s learning:

Encouraging Learning

Encouraging Learning is the perfect guide to support your children’s learning at home. It shows you how to help children of all ages grow in confidence, thoughtfulness, and independence.

Its author, James Nottingham has spent the last 20+ years advising teachers, leaders and parents as to the best ways to encourage, challenge, engage and significantly improve learning. He is also the founder of our company, Challenging Learning, with its team of 30 teacher-trainers, designers, and researchers.

Encouraging Learning explores the attitudes, skills and knowledge needed to excel in all areas of learning, and gives guidance on:

• Helping children develop curiosity and a love of learning
• Developing questioning techniques that will encourage wonder
• Using games to develop problem-solving skills and children’s imagination

Challenging Early Learning

Challenging Early Learning is written primarily for Early Years professionals running childcare facilities, EY centres, pre-schools and nursery provision. Parents with a grounding in education, child psychology, or social care will also appreciate the insights and guidance. The book shares some of the best ways to enhance young children’s learning (particularly for children aged 3-7-years-old).

Highlights of the book include:

  • Proven strategies for helping young children (particularly those aged 3-7) grow into curious, resilient, happy, articulate and thoughtful learners
  • The best ways to use feedback and praise to ensure that all children flourish
  • Growth mindset strategies that build self-efficacy and self-esteem
  • Questioning techniques to engage and extend children’s thinking
  • Photocopiable activity cards to support language and boost confidence
  • Practical ‘Now Try This’ sections to link theory with practice
  • A ‘Review’ section that focuses on building a broad tool kit of pedagogical strategies

James Nottingham’s TEDx Keynote, 2012

February 21, 2020

James Nottingham: Benefits of Challenging Children

May 21, 2020

Carol Dweck: Should We Praise Children?

February 21, 2020

Stronger Learning for Stronger Lives

For Any Questions Please Contact Us

Stronger Learning for Stronger Lives