As the head of an independent school with a 150-year legacy, I may seem to be an unlikely proponent of what I’m about to tell you: Some of the most impactful and powerful learning students can experience is outside traditional educational programs.

Oscar Brett

While, of course, we will offer a rigorous academic curriculum at Franklin School, which opened last month in Jersey City, including AP, honors, and elective classes, research and decades of experience has shown us that young minds are sparked by the kind of engaging, hands-on learning that happens beyond classrooms — in many ways, the more unconventional the better. Applied learning should begin as early as possible. Regardless of where your children are in their K-12 journey, it’s never too early to offer them opportunities to put what they’re learning into action and ignite new interests and skills.

At Dwight School in Manhattan — Franklin’s affiliate — we have seen how transformative it is for students to brainstorm creative solutions to real-world problems, especially those that they feel passionate about, in the School’s incubator program. Students come away from these problem-solving experiences more confident, and with a stronger sense of purpose and skillset to apply their knowledge. They also may uncover a pathway to pursue in college and/or as a career.

There are many ways applied learning can be encouraged. Here are a few examples:

Makerspaces: Freedom to Create through Trial and Error
Curiosity and imagination are key ingredients to learning, and makerspaces are engines that fire up both. They’ve grown in popularity over the last decade, and many forward-thinking organizations, community centers, and public libraries now feature a makerspace to encourage exploration.

In a makerspace, children use real-world and digital tools to design, tinker, and make things, often as part of STEAM learning or a focus on developing entrepreneurial skills, which are invaluable in a rapidly changing workplace. They hone problem-solving skills while constructing things of their own imagining. Where the classroom provides the opportunity for finding the right answer, a makerspace is a safe creative place for sharing ideas and gaining hands-on knowledge and experience through trial and error, which also builds resilience and flexibility.

Look for a makerspace for your child that taps into as many areas as possible, including science, engineering, art, design, programming, robotics and architecture, and provides opportunities and tools to turn their own ideas into something tangible. Families curious to experience hands-on design are invited to a free Design Expo in Jersey City on Saturday, October 23 from 11 am -3 pm.

Internships: On-the-Job Learning
While internships are more often associated with college students, many businesses and organizations offer high schoolers opportunities to gain on-the-job experience. Nothing may provide a sense of purpose and maturity the way work experience can, and if the internship fuels a teen’s personal passion, their future may start to take shape earlier.

Think about how to align your child with an internship based on their individual interests and college aspirations. You can do this by tapping into your network of friends, family, and colleagues — or they may wish to conduct their own search. Either way, internships enable teens to gain hands-on job experience early and make connections with potential future employers. Some companies, like Google and Newark-based Audible, have programs designed specifically for high schoolers.

Oftentimes, internships lead to mentorships. These powerful relationships help teens perform better on the job. With the support and guidance of a mentor, they can gain deeper insights into the knowledge and skills required to be successful and may forge connections that will help them along their career path for years to come.

Community Service: It’s Often Personal
Children’s passions can often be discovered in their own backyard and serve their local community. Local-area groups and nonprofits offer programs where teenagers can volunteer and contribute. Many teens are already connected to causes they care about, helping to raise awareness and eager to make a difference; and impressively, many are also starting their own organizations fueled by personal passions.

While some teenagers feel the need to “check the box” through a community service program, the right one can make all the difference in inspiring a new interest, deepening one they already have, or sparking a life-long commitment to helping others.

No matter the endeavor, when children and teens explore what speaks to them, the door to deeper learning in other areas is opened wide.

William Campbell is the head of Franklin School in Jersey City. He is the founding Head of Franklin School with numerous leadership positions globally, including former Head of Education at a college in Sydney and Director at Dwight School in New York.