Remember: Every child is born to learn. Think about all that a baby learns in the first couple of years: How to get needs met from the big people; How to walk and talk, smile and frown; sleep through the night and play during the day. How to clap and play games, feed themselves, and both give and take with others. By the time a child is 4 or 5, most know their colors and numbers, how to ride a tricycle and how to manipulate complicated toys and equally complicated people. If more than one language is used in the house, kids under 10 can learn to speak them all like a native speaker.
For a child, every day is filled with a ton of new stuff to take in and learn from. Unless isolated or abused, every day is filled with learning. Every day is filled with joy at new accomplishments. Watch any small child who is determined to succeed at something and it’s a lesson in not giving up. We parents don’t need to teach kids to love learning. We only need to make sure that love isn’t squashed.
How to keep the love of learning alive:
- Love it yourself: As with all things, love of learning is something our kids take in with the air they breathe at home. If you love learning new things, if you love to solve problems, if you love to practice a skill until you master it, so will your kids. Your enthusiasm for expanding your knowledge and taking on challenges is contagious. Be enthusiastic about new discoveries. Share stories when you accomplish something that is difficult. Let your kids observe the effort it takes to fix or create something and your feelings of satisfaction that come with achieving it.
- Spend discovery times with your kids: Kids are naturally curious. Foster that curiosity by being curious yourself. Wonder aloud about how things work. Take the kids’ questions seriously. Answer their questions by pulling up information on the Internet and searching for it in books. Watch nature and science shows together and talk about what you learned from them. Do simple experiments at home. The internet is full of fun and surprising home projects that demonstrate everything from how a volcano works to how to learn chemistry through cooking. An hour or two of creating and exploring together on your weekends keeps the fun of learning alive.
- Read. Read. Read: Much of academic success depends on interest in and mastery of reading skills. Read aloud to the kids. Encourage them to read alternate pages with you. Find books that have “cliff hanger” chapters that encourage all of you to read the next chapter and the next. Make a weekly trip to the library and encourage each of your kids to take out books as soon as they are old enough to have a library card. Once they can read on their own, both knowledge and entertainment are open to them. Kids who love books and are comfortable with reading are less likely to be overwhelmed by assignments that depend on it.
- Write. Write. Write. I’ve always found it interesting that there is so much emphasis in articles like this one on reading and so little on writing. Yet writing well is just as central to doing well in school and in life. Many parents celebrate it when a child has learned to write their own name. Don’t let it end there. Just as with reading, start building writing skills when the kids are young. With little ones, ask them to tell you about a drawing so you can write a caption. Ask them to dictate good things that happened during the day so you can enter it in a nightly journal. As they start to learn how to write words, encourage them to help fill that journal as well. You and your children get to review your day while you give those events the importance that comes with writing them down. By the way: Those journals become precious records of your kids’ childhood when they are older.
- Be interested in what goes on at school: Kids take their cues from us. If we are genuinely interested in what they are learning, they will be too. Spend some time every afternoon or evening talking about what the children learned in school. Be interested, not critical. Look together at the papers that come home. Be interested in how they are going to approach the homework. Ask questions that require more than a yes or no answer. No, don’t do their homework. But do show interest and provide support. Most schools now have websites where teachers enter the homework assignments for the day or week and where parents can be in communication with concerns and applause. Use it.
- Set up a homework area: It doesn’t matter if a kid does homework on the kitchen table or at a private desk. What matters is that a time and a place is set up specifically for homework and that needed supplies are readily at hand. Setting up a physical space and identifying a homework time sends the message that schoolwork is taken seriously at your house. Making a rule that phones and TVs are shut off until homework is completed keeps distractions to a minimum and underlines your commitment to their learning. Check in now and then to see how they are doing, to offer support when needed and to celebrate achievements. Our interested and positive involvement is far more impressive our words.