The Case for Interdisciplinary Learning in Your Child’s Education

Interdisciplinary study is having a huge comeback in education right now, and its benefits aren’t exclusive to liberal arts graduates. We’re now seeing many of the societal benefits of interdisciplinary education, which was popularized in the late 1990s and early 2000s. 

Interdisciplinarity helps students develop their minds in powerful ways. Fortune 500s, tech startups, and nonprofits alike seek out collaborators with a robust, interdisciplinary background. The inclusion of liberal arts as a general education requirement for colleges across the country also suggests that many institutions value these foundations in all students.

An interdisciplinary approach can serve anyone, and there are some key ways to introduce this concept to your child even at an early age. By encouraging interdisciplinary thinking in your child, you can help them reap long-term benefits and set them up for success. 

What is an interdisciplinary curriculum?

An interdisciplinary curriculum is different from one that is cross-disciplinary or multidisciplinary. In a cross-disciplinary or multidisciplinary curriculum, multiple experts or disciplines each present independent steps in the solution to a problem. Oftentimes, each individual expert doesn’t have much knowledge of the other experts’ disciplines. The different approaches may work toward a common goal, but each discipline remains separate.

A interdisciplinary curriculum synthesizes new approaches, methods, and perspectives to problem-solving. It draws upon different disciplines for a single, integrated solution. An interdisciplinary approach requires that students have a working understanding of each element. While this is demanding, it can result in solutions that are more efficient, elegant, and powerful.

What are the benefits of early interdisciplinary learning?

1. It promotes creativity. Interdisciplinary approaches often allow students to find multiple solutions to a problem. When students combine skills and knowledge from different subjects, the possibilities are endless. Interdisciplinarity rewards critical thinking and innovation, which encourages students to create new, untested solutions.

2. It doesn’t punish students for struggling with specific disciplines or approaches. Rather, it encourages them to discover and utilize their strengths. Students learn to solve problems in the most efficient way for their skillset. This emulates real-world challenges with open-ended problems and no solution “manual.”

3. It breaks down time-blocked schedules and divided study. The body’s internal clock has a huge impact on learning and memory. This means that having certain subjects only at certain times throughout the day may hinder learning in some of those subjects. Early interdisciplinary learning provides diversified exposure to different knowledge and skills, which can help students learn and remember material better.

How to Promote Interdisciplinary Thinking in Your Child

Encourage both breadth and depth. Your child needs a wide base of knowledge to draw from in order to integrate multiple subjects into a single approach. However, they also need to have strong enough foundations in each subject to engage meaningfully. Introduce new topics to your child on a regular basis, but don’t overwhelm them with too many at once. Allow them time to absorb each new skill. This will make them comfortable applying these skills in new contexts, maximizing your child’s learning potential.

Introduce math at an early age. Early math skills are one of the best predictors of academic achievement, and math is inherently linked to other STEAM subjects. Math describes quantitative observations in the world, which includes science, technology, engineering, and art. Math is a good predictor of achievement because of these connections, so encourage your child to learn and practice math in other activities. Baking, drawing, and DIY science experiments are all great opportunities to integrate math. You can get activities like these delivered to your inbox if you sign up for our FREE Idea Lab Kids newsletter!

Present open-ended challenges. Learn together with your child how an integrated approach might be more efficient than relying on a single method by discussing problems without prescribed solutions. You child can seek out a variety of alternate solutions to a single problem, then discuss the benefits and drawbacks of each one. This is also an opportunity for your child to identify their own strengths and weaknesses. Your child will challenge themselves while building their confidence.

How to Take Advantage of the “Learning Pods” Trend

Learning pods are a hot trend in education right now, and they may be the key to success for some students as schools adapt to new routines.

Because of their size and personalization, learning pods offer unique benefits to young learners both academically and socially.

If you overcome some of the challenges that accompany this opportunity, your child can flourish in their educational journey. Follow some of these steps to take advantage of the benefits of learning pods.

What are learning pods?

Also known as “pandemic pods,” learning pods are small groupings of students (often five or less) that meet to work with a teacher or tutor. These groups usually meet in a private home setting, and students in the pod don’t mingle with students from other pods or groups. Some pods even encourage distancing between students within the same pod.

Learning pods have become increasingly popular during the COVID-19 pandemic. The small size  gives families more confidence in their child’s safety and enables more personalized instruction. Learning pods offer a huge advantage to students struggling to keep up with their academics. They also provide additional supervision and guidance to students whose guardians are currently working.

Advantages of learning pods?

Learning pods decrease overall contact with other students. Therefore, a child’s risk of exposure to COVID-19 also decreases. Pods are often seen as a safer or healthier alternative to traditional daycare services and afterschool programs.

The smaller size also offers an improved student-to-teacher ratio. This enables more one-on-one instruction for students, which can help them keep up with their studies. For students who are currently online-only or have limited attendance at school, this is especially valuable.

Learning pods also improve students’ sense of normalcy compared to online-only learning. Kids can socialize better in-person than in a virtual classroom, and going to a learning pod every day creates a routine that includes a designated time and space for learning. Learning pods also can fill the role of childcare for working parents who previously relied on school, daycare, or afterschool programs.

How to overcome potential challenges of learning pods

Expense. Many families are understandably concerned about the high cost of elite, suburban backyard pods with private educators. To lower the cost of a learning pod experience for your child, consider hiring less-experienced but passionate tutors. College students pursuing education degrees would love a chance to work with children on days when they don’t have class. You can also have a different tutor each day of the week if they have a particular subject focus like math or art.

Exposure. Even in a small group, some families may be concerned about pandemic risk. Keep pods as small as economically feasible, and encourage children to continue distancing practices (including proper mask-wearing and washing hands) while in pods. Learning pods should meet outside when possible to improve recirculation of air. Outdoor learning also helps with children’s energy levels and provides opportunities for physical activity.

Environment. Backyard or spare-room learning simply isn’t an option for many families, especially in urban areas and for those that live in apartments or condos. Accessibility to learning pods can be hindered by distance, transportation, and special needs. If you live in an area with public parks that are safe and easy to access, these can be a great option for learning pods. Otherwise, reach out to your community. Religious institutions, small businesses, and community centers may have available spaces for learning pods to meet. Community-focused groups may be willing to offer these spaces at low or no cost, so call around!

More tips for learning pods

Virtual learning pods. If cost, location, or weather are an obstacle, try virtual learning pods! Although an online pod might not be as hands-on as an in-person one, your child can still benefit from the increased instructor attention and greater opportunity for social interaction in a small group. 

Pods at school. Reach out to your child’s teacher or school administration about the possibility of implementing learning pods in the classroom, both online and in-person. Many schools using remote learning have reduced or altered schedules with large time gaps for independent work. This is often referred to as asynchronous learning. Ask about staggering these schedules among students so that online pods can work with teachers during these asynchronous periods. Similar models might be possible for in-person classrooms, too!

IDEA Lab Plus. Many of our locations now offer a learning pod experience for students in our program IDEA Lab Plus. Children enrolled in IDEA Lab Plus work in learning pods while their IDEA Lab teacher helps them through their online school schedules. Our teachers provide additional assistance by mediating activities when the school hub crashes, filling in learning gaps with IDEA Lab’s STEAM curriculum, and using an SEL (social and emotional learning) model to teach empathy, respect, and responsibility. Call your nearest IDEA Lab Kids location to ask about IDEA Lab Plus and take advantage of learning pods!


5 Ways to Help Your Child Succeed in Remote Learning

September is back-to-school season, but this year holds new challenges for students. Schools across the country have adopted a variety of in-person, online, and hybrid class schedules. And while we hope that each school strikes the right balance between safety and learning, many parents are concerned that their children may fall behind. Helping children succeed in remote learning is just the newest challenge among many that families face this year.

Online school is new for many families, and remote learning demands a different level of support from parents. If you’re newly working from home, active parenting has shifted from an evenings-and-weekends job to a 24/7 marathon.

Despite these new challenges, parents can make a huge difference in their child’s confidence and ability to succeed in remote learning

You might not remember long division or the fifty state capitals, but you don’t have to revisit these lessons to help your child succeed in remote learning. Instead, focusing on communication and empathy will probably be most impactful for your child.

Here are five tips to help your child succeed with remote learning that don’t involve learning their whole syllabus.

1. Team up with the teacher

If you’re nervous about becoming a homeschool teacher, don’t stress—you’re not expected to suddenly replace your child’s teacher. However, you can help your child significantly by becoming their teacher’s teammate.

Take some time to get in contact with your child’s teacher either via email or your school’s learning interface. Ask them about their expectations for your child and how you can help promote those goals from home. Remote learning support may look different from the support you gave your child for on-campus schooling!

In the physical classroom, the teacher can keep everyone on-task. The online classroom is a totally different story, though. Ultimately, you will be responsible for your child’s behavior and discipline during the workday. That said, resist the urge to become a “helicopter parent!” Try not to interrogate your child about every assignment. You’ll probably have greater success by inviting them to comment on how they feel about schoolwork over dinner.

2. Role-model healthy working behaviors

Let’s face it, Zoom fatigue is real. Sitting in front of the computer all day for work or for school is exhausting. One of the best ways to help your child excel in remote learning is to model healthy engagement with work. Especially if you’re working from home, this is both easy to demonstrate and good for your own productivity.

While working, stay on-task. Don’t downplay the importance of being engaged! Scrolling social media or playing word games on your phone while you’re in a video conference implicitly gives your child permission to do the same. If you both struggle with this, you can set restrictions on certain apps during class periods or working hours.

Break up these focused sessions with intentional breaks, at least ten minutes every hour or so. Set up each break as a mini-vacation for your brain and your body—get out of your chair to refill your water, stretch out your back, and get your eyes away from a screen. If your child emulates this behavior, they’ll have a much easier time staying focused in class. And chances are, you’ll feel better, too.

3. Help your child generate a routine

Having a predictable routine provides stability for both your schedule and your mental health—and your child can reap these benefits, too.

You can help by establishing regular mealtimes and a consistent sleep schedule. Sleeping and eating at the same time every day regulates the body’s internal clock (AKA circadian rhythm), which maximizes energy and focus. Your child can boost this effect with physical activity and natural light. A 20-minute walk in the neighborhood or some stretching next to a bright window can be enough to reap the benefits.

Additionally, if you’re working from home, see if your work schedule can coincide with your child’s class schedule. This also gives you a chance to work on role-modeling and can keep you both accountable. You may even bond over the perks of telecommuting—try sneaking them a snack to share while you work, or make inside jokes with them during meetings (as long as your microphone is muted)!

4. Empathize with your child

This situation is hard for you—but it’s hard for your child, too! Temper your expectations with empathy, now more than ever. Remember that it might be difficult for kids to be vulnerable about learning difficulties or separation from their friends. Younger children especially may not have strong coping skills for the emotions they’re experiencing right now.

Your child may need more emotional support than usual. If they need to vent, make time and space to listen actively. You’ll probably have ideas and solutions that you want to offer, but try not to throw too much at them. Sometimes, kids—like adults—just want someone to listen.

At the same time, respect your child’s boundaries. If your household is all working or schooling from home, you’re probably all in each other’s space more than you’re used to. Try to create time and space for everyone in your home to have their own recovery time. Sometimes your child just needs an hour to cool off by themselves before they want to share their frustrations or seek advice. If you’re unsure, ask! Most kids would LOVE to hear their guardian say, “I’m happy to either chat or give you space. What would help you the most right now?”

5. Supplement your child’s learning

Remember that learning and personal development happens outside the classroom, too! Play some casual tennis or basketball with your child for at-home recess. If the weather is bad or you don’t have a good outdoor space, board games or party games are another great option! Logic, math skills, and reading comprehension can all benefit from play. 

You can even try taking on some learning projects at home. DIY science experiments and art projects offer hands-on learning for your child, which is especially important for remote learners. You can find a variety of these projects online, and our STEAM @ Home newsletter brings a curated selection straight to your email inbox. To register for this free newsletter, sign up on your local IDEA Lab Kids website!