Robert Nay, a teenage Mormon boy in Utah, created the most downloaded app, a game that is taking players by storm. What makes this accomplishment surprising is that he doesn’t work full-time for a major programming or gaming company. He doesn’t have time—he’s only fourteen and still has to go to school.
His parents credit his education for his accomplishments, but it’s his education at home that has made the real difference. Although Robert goes to a good traditional school where he learns a lot, his parents supplement what he learns at home. This is called afterschooling.
What did Robert do after school that made him able to win out over the professionals? He went to school and worked hard, but at home, he devoted a lot of his time to learning even more. Schools don’t have time to teach everything and a lot of times, they don’t teach what you are most interested in. You can do that at home on your own or with the help of your parents.
Robert spends a lot of his free time at the library looking for great books to read. He reads and writes when he doesn’t actually have to. When he was little, his parents took him on a lot of “field trips.” They went on family outings that were fun, but were also educational.
As he’s gotten older, he’s taken on more of the afterschooling himself. He started teaching himself HTML and CSS, both necessary for building websites. In fact, he built his very first website in third grade for his class. He’s been learning web development for five years.
Robert’s parents encouraged their children to learn more than the school requires them to learn and to do the best they know how to do. They watched to see what excited their children and then showed them how to learn about it themselves.
What do you want to learn that your school isn’t teaching you at all, or that they aren’t teaching you enough about? Just because your school doesn’t teach it doesn’t mean you can’t learn it. The library is filled with books on practically everything. There is a lot to learn on the Internet if you’re careful to choose reliable sources. There are people at church and in your neighborhood who would love to help you learn the things they love to do.
You might not end up inventing a popular app, but whatever your talent, there is a lot you can do. Some teens have written best-selling novels by learning how to write on their own. Other teens start charitable programs. Or maybe your goals are a little smaller. Maybe you love the Revolutionary War but your teacher only spent two weeks hitting the highlights. The really good parts of any subject aren’t usually found in the highlights. They come when you dig way down deep into the subjects.
Start then by figuring out what you would love to know more about. It might be a subject you’re learning in school or it might be something your school doesn’t teach. Then figure out how to get your hands on more information. Think about the museums near your home, libraries, bookstores, teen clubs, programs at colleges…there is more learning going on in most towns than you probably know.
Now think about how you want to learn the material. If you love to read, you’ll probably want to find the best books. If you intend to become a best-selling author someday, write a book. You don’t have to try to get it published unless you want to. You can start a website on the subject and put all your articles up there. Make a list of the places, people, and books you used to learn the subject, so other afterschoolers can use them, too. If you’re an artist, maybe you’ll want to draw or sculpt or build what you learn. Songwriter? Write a song about it. There are hundreds of ways to show what you’re learning. Choosing a project helps you figure out what you really understand and where your learning gaps are. Another good way to test your knowledge is to teach the material to someone else. You have to learn something really well to teach it. All these methods let you test yourself without taking a boring test.
How much do you need to study? Well, you’re in charge of your afterschool education, so it’s up to you. Sometimes I’ll read a few articles on a subject and decide I know as much as I’m interested in knowing for now. Other times I’ll get really excited about something and keep right on reading book after book.
But here’s how it usually works. I will read a book about George Washington. Then I’ll get curious about his wife Martha, so I’ll switch and read about her. That book talks about her friendship with a former slave and I’ll realize I’m kind of interested in the history of slavery, so I’ll study that for a little while. Along the way, I’ll find a novel by an interesting author and read more of her books and maybe a biography of her life. One of her books is about time travel and I start wondering if it is even scientifically possible to travel in time. I find some books on the science of time travel, which get me interested in…you get the idea. One subject gets me interested in another and after a year or two, I’ve explored all kinds of different things. I’ve studied some of it a lot and some of it a little, but my world just keeps getting bigger and bigger.
That’s what learning is really meant to do—to make your world more interesting, more exciting, and a whole lot bigger.