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Can you teach kids to love learning?

Can you teach kids to love learning?

Perhaps as a parent, you have witnessed it yourself, with your child exclaiming that he or she hates school or showing a lack of interest in a particular topic. What happened to the curiosity your child exhibited as an infant or a toddler? How do you encourage your child to embrace a love of learning that extends beyond the school walls? Here are five steps to get you started in encouraging your child to fall in love with learning again.

Step 1: Discover your child’s interests.

Be a student of your student: are there books, TV shows, games, or activities that your child is naturally drawn to? While some things might not seem academic at first glance, entertainment can be a good springboard for further learning. Provide support and encouragement along the way, even when your child is an infant. For example, if your child is interested in animals, take him or her to a zoo, check out books about various animals, or watch an animal documentary together like one of the Planet Earth series. Point your child to resources that might be interesting to him or her, and help grow that interest. An interest in one topic, like animals, might bleed into an interest in other things, like ecosystems and habitats or the climate.

Step 2: Cultivate curiosity. Let your child take the reins.

Give your child the independence and autonomy to take the reins on learning what interests him or her. Don’t try to move your child on so quickly to something else; instead, allow him or her to take ownership over what he or she wants to learn. Doing this will empower your child to take greater initiative with his or her own learning in the future. Asking questions that require some critical thinking is also a good way to engage with your child further and what he or she is learning. Rather than asking simple questions that warrant only a yes or no response, ask questions like: “Why do you think…?” and “how does…?” and “what do you think about…?” Posing these kinds of questions can spark greater curiosity or thinking.

Step 3: Encourage effort. Focus on the process, not the outcome.

Offering extrinsic rewards, like giving away candy or money or treats for specific outcomes like grades or accomplishments, may work in the short term, but it might end up backfiring on you as your child begins to expect treats or rewards for what he or she is doing. This works against developing a love for learning in your child. Rather than focusing on grades and accomplishments as your child tackles different things for school, concentrate your praise on your child’s effort or progress. Don’t emphasize the outcomes of his or her efforts.

Step 4: Model learning. Learn alongside your child.

Dive into learning with your child. You don’t necessarily have to be an expert in something to cultivate a love of learning in your child; you just have to show that you are a lifelong learner as well. Ask questions to your child along the way which encourage him or her to think more critically about something which you yourself are curious about. For example: “Why do you think some trees have leaves that change colors faster than others? Is it cheaper to buy three packs of a dozen eggs or two packs of 18 eggs?” Another way of cultivating curiosity is to share interesting facts that you have learned or things that you are curious about, and demonstrate to your child your own excitement for learning.

Step 5: Have fun!

Show your child that learning doesn’t have to be boring or dull, nor does it have to be limited to just the classroom. Visit a museum, attend a live reading at a bookstore, or create science projects at home. Combining learning with bonding with your child will create positive associations with him or her that will last a lifetime.

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Elaine Ho
Elaine Ho studied Political Science and Education at the University of California, Berkeley and previously served in Americorps teaching and mentoring high school students. She is interested in connecting parents with the resources and information they need to help their children succeed. She also curates a free weekly newsletter called Beyond the Classroom, which collects the top need-to-know education news for parents.