August 23, 2018

Tracy Emond

Opportunistic Teaching Outside the Classroom

Topics: Learning at Home, Learning Through Play


As an educator and a mother of four, I find that everything becomes teachable. Frankly, these 'unexpected moments' become the ones that they most remember.

At first, beginning the mindset of the 'teachable moment' may feel strange, or you might find that you have been doing it all along.  I thought I would share some of our family learning adventures to help spark that 'teachable moment' in your home.

child reading

Stuffed Animals (or Toy Figures and Models)

I think every child has a collection. Let’s put these fluffs of cotton to work!  First, we name the animal. But that name must in some way spark a learning moment about the animal.

  • For instance, we have an opossum that we named Benjamin. Opossums are marsupials, which means that they carry their babies in a pouch. The opossum is the only marsupial in Northern America. Most are found in Australia. Right off the coast of Australia is the island of Tasmania. In a zoo on Tasmania they had the last known Tasmanian Tiger, also known as a Thylacine. His name was Benjamin. The opossum and thylacine also have jaws that are hinged similarly. All of my children can tell you this information with understanding. They remember it because we named the stuffed opossum Benjamin.
  • Another stuffed animal we had was a little brown bat that we named Stellaluna, after the book of the same name. We discussed how her name is really two latin roots mixed together; “stell” which means “star” and “luna” which means “moon”. With just learning these two roots from the book/stuffed animal, they are able to apply those roots to other words and deduce what they mean, such as: lunar or stellar.


Room Decorations

My children love the glow in the dark stars. We bought a bunch of them and hot glued them to push pins so we could stick them into the ceiling. We did not just stick the stars randomly into the ceiling. We placed them in the shapes of constellations. At night, we can turn out the lights during bedtime and review our constellations.

As they got older, they could choose the constellations they wanted to add to their ceiling. This also led to discussions about seeing these constellations in the night sky and why constellations move and change. The constellations that they remember the most are the ones they picked to add to the ceiling!



Park Time

Going to the park is always fun. They get to play on the park equipment and run free like puppies. As a family, we enjoy walking through the woods and seeing what nature wants to show us. Before we go to the park, I like to check with their curriculum and see what nature items they are studying. We make a point to look for those items on our nature walks.

  • Tree & Leaf Types: If your children are learning about tree and leaf types have them collect different leaves that demonstrate the different leaf vein types, or get them to point out to you which trees are broadleaf and which ones are coniferous tree.
  • Seeds: Trees and plants all start from seeds. Collect seeds that you find. Bring them home and try to identify them. Compare size of seed to size of plant.
  • Food Chains: Perhaps you have a chance to watch a spider spin a web or see a lizard catch a meal. These are great jump off points to talk about the food chain.
  • Tracking: The most fun is finding animal tracks. If you find tracks, you can look and talk about what kind of animal it belongs to. Point out foot characteristics. How do they help the animal to survive? Was the track webbed? That is good for paddling in the water. Was the foot hooved? That is good for walking through fields. If you really want to make finding animal tracks fun, take a container of Plaster of Paris with you. Add water to it AFTER you find the track. Use a stick to stir it, and then pour it into the track. In a few minutes it will harden, and you can take your animal track home with you.


The opportunities are endless. The best ways to implement “teachable moments” are:

  • Find simple ways to add details to whatever you are doing.
  • Ask the child to share with you what they already know about what you are doing (this will give you the best idea of the next step in information).
  • Empower the child to draw the conclusions or choose the design.
  • Allow the child to teach you! They remember the most from teaching it themselves.
  • Coordinate those moments with current school curriculum for the greatest impact.


Everyday is filled with opportunities to expand our children’s excitement for learning. The moments where they can see something touch something, and share it with you are the things they will remember the most.




Tracy Emond graduated from the College of Charleston in 1997 with a Bachelors in Elementary Education. Over the past two decades, she has taught in public school, private school, and is currently home schooling. Her family comprises avid board game enthusiasts and they play games daily to teach strategy/ logic skills and build relationships.



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