With the new school year upon us, it’s easy to get lost in the endless to-dos of shopping for back-to-school supplies, buying new clothes, and making sure your little one is good and prepped for that first-day-of-school separation anxiety. But, in the hustle of the moment, we’re often not thinking about the entire goal behind back-to-school – to raise curious and avid learners.
As parents, we want our children to be thirsty for knowledge in an organic way, but managing and developing a love of learning in a society that promotes a “win” mentality, values competition, and is full of comparison is not easy. Kids, like adults, are all different. They learn in different ways and appreciate different things. With a government that seems removed from how children actually learn, our schools may be unfairly pushed to subject students to age-inappropriate expectations and standards. It’s easy for kids to feel discouraged.
But, being an active and lifelong learner is vital in life, and there is a lot we can do to promote those skills in our kids.
Here are 12 ways you can instill a love for learning in your kids outside of the classroom.
1. Read Widely And Often
Books have this magical quality about them – they can take us anywhere. Valuing reading and books in your home is one of the best things you can do for your kids. Not only is it an awesome activity for quiet time, but surrounding them with a variety of books will ensure their minds grow to be open, appreciative, and curious. Books can provide the information they crave, and also stretch their imaginations and sense of wonder regarding the world.
Shop Our Reader’s Favorite Books
Brain Rules For Baby is a book that considers brain development of children in conjunction with how most people parent. You’ll learn things like nature vs. nurture, why impulse control is more important than intelligence, and how your parenting decisions will affect your child within the first five years of their life.
2. Keep Good Company
It’s true that we won’t always be able to have a say in the company our kids keep, and so, it’s important to teach them to be aware of the people around them in a non-judgemental way when they are young. Being able to decipher between fact and opinion is not only integral to building confidence and a positive, loving mindset, but also necessary in lifelong learning (and, as we see now, not being able to decipher between the two can cause an incredible amount of harm in our society).
Help your children learn the skills to think critically about their friends and their opinions, be able to stand up for themselves and others, and always regard others’ opinions with curiosity instead of as truth. Learning is something we do to develop our own personal growth, and though we learn so much from others, we need to maintain a certain mindset in order to do so. It’s not as easy to remain open and appreciative if the people around us are negative and judgemental.
3. Keep A List Of Things To Explore
This is especially helpful for parents like me who want to do everything with their kids but can’t always keep track of those things. This list can encompass anything – places your kids want to see, processes they want to learn about, subjects they’d like to explore, foods they want to try.
Break this list up into attainable sections: books to check out from the library that explains certain topics, local trips you can take, foods to buy or try, and big bucket list items (like seeing a volcano). It might take time to check things off the list, but that’s very okay. What’s more important is garnering this deep appreciation of the world in your children, while assuring them that their learning interests the are of utmost value and definitely worth exploring. No subject is too big or too small if it’s something they want to learn.
4. Be A Model For Lifelong Learning
Children often think that adults have all of the answers and know all of the things, which is obviously not true. So, admit it. When you don’t know something, say so, and then find the answer together with your kids. Show them what learning looks like, how and where to find knowledge, and why it’s important to keep learning. Recognize your errors and admit your mistakes. And, when they rattle off a random fact that you may or may not have already known, marvel in the fact that they’ve taught you something. Encourage the thought that learning does not come from one place; we can learn from everything, every place, every experience, and every kind of person.
5. Know What To Say
As parents, we don’t always know the language to use when encouraging our kids. “Good job!” and “Great effort!” tends to come rolling out of our mouths because we’re too exhausted to come up with anything else. But, what we say to our children in terms of their learning can do a lot to build their confidence in the learning process.
Take cues from Carol Dweck’s Growth Mindset. She says that if we praise effort alone, even if the outcome is not satisfactory, we might hear ourselves say things to just make our kids feel good. It’s better to “praise a child’s process and strategies, and tie those to the outcome.” Here are some of Dweck’s examples:
- “Wow, you really practiced that, and look how you’ve improved.”
- “You tried different strategies and you figured out how to solve the problem.”
- “You stuck to this and now you really understand it.”
Encouraging their process can go a long way in helping kids understand that learning takes time, effort, and patience.
6. Redefine Failure
It’s hard for anyone to fail, but some kids take it very hard. Redefining the meaning of failure can help little ones understand the role failure plays in learning. Like Gazelle sings in Zootopia, “Nobody learns without getting it wrong.”
Failure should be seen as an opportunity to reflect, improve, and grow. When kids are afraid or ashamed of failing, they’ll do anything to avoid it or hide it. All this does is set up a cycle of caution and resisting new things, which hinders the learning and growth process.
Using the process of scaffolding when encouraging and teaching your kids can help them establish realistic expectation, maximize their successes, and push through failure. It’s a long process, but we knew that going into this parenting gig, right?
7. Teach Them Ownership Over Themselves
Throughout their lives, kids will be told and taught things that they might not agree with or believe. Being a lifelong learner means having the ability to consume outside material and then making a choice on what to think, say, and feel. Our children need to know that no one can control our thoughts and beliefs — that ultimately, we are in control of our own selves.
As our kids get older and are surrounded by lots of negatives, it will serve them well to be able to use logic and compassion on their own negative self-talk and the talk that others may place on them.
8. Encourage Creativity
Creativity is quickly becoming a highly coveted skill as its merits become more known and talked about. Creativity is the foundation of innovation, problem-solving, independence, and many more things you likely want for your child. Unfortunately, kids don’t always have a lot of opportunities to remain creative in formal schooling, so this is definitely one of the things you can encourage them to pursue elsewhere.
Anything from athletics, crafts, arts, coding, or web design can help your child maintain and develop their creativity. Whatever their creative hobbies or pursuits may be, be sure they are theirs and not yours.
Giving them plenty of opportunities for free play and imagination, which encourage creative growth and critical thinking, allowing them to be flexible, self-sufficient, and aware as they continue to grow.
9. Value Their Uniqueness
It’s our responsibility to bring out the best in our kids. In order to do that, we have to know and love who they already are. If we know them, we can support their interests and strengths, recognize how they learn, and, hopefully, create a love of learning within them.
10. Don’t Focus On Grades
Focus on growth. Focus on depth. Focus on their ability to think. Focus on their persistence, their courage, and their heart. Grades don’t mean anything unless they are actually learning, and learning encompasses all aspects of life.
11. Let Them Ask Questions
Yes, our children’s incessant questions get annoying, fast. But, when you think about it, all of those questions are coming from a place of genuine curiosity and interest. That’s something we want them to continue to have, so questions should be welcomed around the home.
It is important how you respond to your child’s questions, and it’s also important that you teach them a few things regarding questions – how to find answers, and also that there aren’t always answers.
If there are answers, how do we find them and how do we use judgment and context to decide whether those answers are relevant and applicable? If there aren’t answers, why aren’t there any and why is ambiguity and not knowing okay sometimes? Being able to sit with wonder is a key factor in being a lifelong learner.
12. Don’t Be So Sure
Above everything, our children learn from us. So, we can’t always have the “right” answer. We have to learn alongside our kids. Even when you do actually know the answer, take some time to explore with them. Consider other points of view, why people may think differently about the same thing, and stay open to perspectives so they can learn to, too.