What children learn at home, on the playground and from their peers is as important as lessons learned in the classroom. Too often, the lessons of the classroom reign supreme over supplementary education.
The knowledge, skills, values and behaviors learned outside the classroom are defined as supplementary education. Such lessons inform ambition, resilience, disposition, imagination, wit, appetite, values and respect. All of which are essential to a quality education. Yet, there are no grades, high-stakes accountability exams, and no compulsory education regulations that govern access to supplementary education. This is as it should be because of the huge variety of resources available in different communities.
Urban communities are famed for the resources available to children and their families. Rural communities have fewer institutional resources, but are, nonetheless, endowed with educational resources that are essential to the lives of poor children. Examples include libraries, recreation centers, churches, local businesses, farms, gardens and, of course, every adult.
In affluent communities and with affluent families, every holiday, summer vacation, weekend and school break is a time for powerful supplementary education. Such activities as travel, camping, music and dance lessons, social clubs, athletic teams, visits to work sites of parents or relatives, festivals, parties and home-based access to the Internet are educative and often are accelerants to school-based achievement. No less important is the education of parents.
In poor communities and families, the array of resources differ, but the opportunity for supplementary education is present and is equally important, perhaps more so. Indeed, there is a legacy of such places as Sunday school being as potent as the schoolhouse. Counting change at the grocery store is a compelling math lesson. So, too, is reading in church. Having older children work with and support the development of younger children inculcates values and behaviors that matter to success in school. And, every forest, field, pasture, garden, stream and night sky is replete with information that is critical to the knowledge and skills of young persons.
What is missing is the intentional delivery of supplementary education to the children who need it the most. It is essential to closing achievement gaps. This is not, however, the work of the schoolhouse. Supplementary education requires the intentional engagement of the “whole village.”