With the new school year upon us, it’s easy to get lost in the endless to-dos: shopping for school supplies, buying new clothes, and ensuring your little one is 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 and, in turn, effectively support your child’s learning at home.
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—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 pushed to subject students to inappropriate expectations for their age. 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, we’re sharing 12 ways to instill a love for learning in your kids outside the classroom.
How to Support Your Child’s Learning at Home
1. Encourage Creativity
Creativity is quickly becoming a highly-coveted skill as its merits become more known and discussed. Creativity is the foundation of innovation, problem-solving, and independence. Unfortunately, kids don’t always have a lot of opportunities to remain creative in formal schooling. So, this is one of the things you can encourage them to pursue elsewhere.
Activities such as athletics, crafts, arts, coding, or web design can help your child develop their creativity. Whatever their creative hobbies or pursuits may be, ensure they are theirs and not yours. Give them plenty of opportunities for free play and imagination, which encourage creative growth and critical thinking. This allows them to be flexible, self-sufficient, and aware as they continue to grow.
2. Read Widely and Often
Valuing reading and having books in your home is one of the best things you can do for your kids. First of all, it’s an excellent activity for quiet time. In addition, surrounding them with a variety of books will ensure their minds grow to be open, appreciative, and curious. Books have this magical quality about them—they can take us anywhere. They can provide the information kids crave, stretching their imaginations and sense of wonder.
3. Keep Good Company
We won’t always be able to choose the company our kids keep. So, it’s important to teach them to be aware of the people around them—in a non-judgmental way—when they are young. The ability to decipher facts and opinions is integral to building confidence and a positive, loving mindset. It’s also a necessary skill in lifelong learning.
Help your children learn the skills they need to think critically about their friends and their opinions. Give them the tools to stand up for themselves and others. Teach them to always regard others’ opinions with curiosity instead of taking them as truth. Learning is something we do to develop our personal growth. Though we learn so much from others, we need to maintain a certain mindset to do so.
4. 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 wish to learn about, subjects they’d like to explore, and foods they want to try.
Break this list up into attainable sections: books to check out from the library, local trips you can take, foods to try, and big travel-bucket-list items like seeing a volcano. Although it might take time to check things off the list, that’s OK. Above all, it’s important to garner this deep appreciation of the world in your children. Simultaneously, you are assuring them that their interests are worth exploring. No subject is too big or too small if it’s something they want to learn.
5. Be a Model for Lifelong Learning
Children often think that adults have all the answers and know all of the things, which is not true. So, admit it. When you don’t know something, say so. Then, find the answer together with your kids. Show them what learning looks like, how and where to find knowledge, and why it’s essential to keep learning. Recognize your errors and admit your mistakes. And, when they rattle off a random fact that you may not have known, marvel at the fact that they’ve taught you something. Encourage the idea that learning does not come from one place. We can learn from everything: every place, every experience, and every kind of person.
6. Praise Their Process
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 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 just to 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.
7. 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 of failing, they’ll do anything to avoid it. All this does is set up a cycle of resisting new things, which hinders the learning and growth process.
Using the process of scaffolding when teaching your kids can help them establish realistic expectations, maximize their successes, and push through failure. It’s a long process, but we knew that going into this parenting gig, right?
8. Teach Them Ownership Over Themselves
Being a lifelong learner means having the ability to consume outside material and then making a choice on what to think, say, and feel. Throughout their lives, kids will be told things that they might not agree with or believe. Our children need to know that no one can control our thoughts and beliefs. Ultimately, we are in control of ourselves. As our kids get older, 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.
9. Value Their Uniqueness
It’s our responsibility to bring out the best in our kids. 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, 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. But, when you think about it, all of those questions come from a place of genuine curiosity. We want them to stay curious, so questions should be welcomed. It is important how you respond to your child’s questions, and it’s also vital that you teach them a few things regarding questions: how to find answers and the reality 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 applicable? If there aren’t answers, why aren’t there any, and why is ambiguity okay sometimes? Sitting 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 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, as well. The learning process is never finished. And, if we can hope to teach anything to our kids, it should be that.