Learning is not the product of teaching. Learning is the product of the activity of learners.”
Small children may not think about whether they have a love for learning or not, but despite their awareness (or lack of), learning comes naturally to them. They naturally explore. They naturally ask all (ALL!) the questions. They naturally want to seek out answers. It’s how they learned to walk and talk.
Unfortunately, a child who begins to think that learning is something only done at school, or something that leads to shame or embarrassment are at risk for losing their passion to learn, and becoming fearful of trying or making mistakes.
A Love for Learning
With that in mind, I’ve compiled some of my thoughts on helping children maintain their love for learning – based on observations and experiences with my kids, and my own background. Most of these go hand-in-hand. For instance, when I’m exploring with my children, I might also seek ways to make it fun and show my genuine excitement. But in the end, the purpose is to show children that learning never ends, can be exciting, and is worth it.
Explore with your child – regardless of their age. Point out things that you observe and notice.
We are a family that values curiosity and exploration. We love walks together, and most include pointing out things we notice and observing our surroundings. We encourage asking questions. We’ve always done that, whether sitting around or going for walks or tasting new foods. While it seems to come naturally to us, I believe that this is something that can be learned (<< see what I did there?) and grow into something that feels second-nature.
Share what you are learning
Let your children witness that learning is not something reserved for school, or for children. Talk to them about the computer software you are having to learn for your job. Share your experiences trying to solve a puzzle or crossword or learning a new language. Whatever it is that you are learning or doing to stretch your brain, dialogue about it with your child.
Let them see that learning never ends.
Make it fun and enjoy the process
Too many children have come to the conclusion that learning is boring. They associate it only with testing, grades, and rote memorization of topics they aren’t interested in. Sadly, the end result is that they are turned off from learning anything beyond what they have to.
Math can be learned in so many ways outside of a textbook or a class at school: baking, cooking, shopping — all include numbers and every day calculations. Allow your children to explore topics that they are interested in, and not just what adults have decided they have to learn. Remind them that learning isn’t just something that comes from reading a textbook, but it occurs in every day life: when they learned to ride a bike or bake cookies they were learning. And, while learning to do those things, they learned so much more through the process.
Show the struggle
Because so much learning seems to “just happen” early on, learning can feel simple to small children. But as they grow and run into challenges that they have to work for, they may begin to believe that it’s only hard because they are “stupid” or “dumb”.
This leads not only to low self-esteem, but also to missing out on the satisfaction that can come from achieving something, despite (or because of) the setbacks and struggles. When I was learning a new drawing technique, I struggled. I fought with myself and my own hangups. I got frustrated. I wanted to give up. But I pushed through and finally accomplished what I set out to accomplish. It was a huge moment for me – not just because I learned it, but because my children were able to witness it and see that pursuing something, even though it is difficult, is worth it.
Find something that you’d both enjoy learning and figure it out together. Take something apart together. Build something together. Cook a meal together. Take a class together. Got it?
When you get excited about learning new things, it shows. Let your children see this. (and if you don’t get excited about learning, this post is for you too). Get excited about what your children are learning and encourage conversations about it: share things that you know or questions that you have about the topic. Ask your children questions about what’ve they learned. A popular question around our dinner table is “what did you explore today?” I love hearing about what they are learning and I really love hearing about what they are passionate about, even if it changes from day-to-day or week-to-week.
At the End of the Day
If I could give one take-away from this, it’s that children are at risk when they see learning as boring or useless. It doesn’t have to be that way. Whether your children are home educated or attend school, encouraging a love for learning is something that we can all have a hand in developing within a child just by engaging them and exploring life together.