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.