Everybody is born with a love for learning. Look at a baby. She wants to explore everything around her, tasting, touching, smelling, feeling, hearing – learning all about the environment (including her own body). Nature set things up that way so that we’d always be learning, growing, and adapting to an ever-changing environment.
Something, however, happens along the way. A lot of it occurs when kids go to school and discover that ”learning” has become very tiny indeed: limited to words and numbers, and even within that, to words and numbers in textbooks and worksheets. So it’s no wonder that kids lose their all consuming love for learning as they grow up.
Here are 5 things you can do as a parent or teacher to help reawaken that innate joy of learning that is the birthright of every child:
- Get back in touch with your own love of learning. If you’re not excited to learn new things, then why should kids be excited? Pay attention to what filled you with passion when you were younger: was it reading? painting? acting in a theater group? Start doing those things again. Your child will be inspired by your example.
- Pay attention to what your child does when he is most alive and joyous. The fact is, your child is already in love with learning. It’s just that you’re not noticing it, or valuing it as something worthy of being learned. Maybe your child loves his bicycle, and wants to know everything about how to fix it. Or perhaps he is crazy about sports and wants to perfect his skill in one or more of them. Don’t always expect that your child’s love of learning will be school-related. After all, the schools have done a lot, unfortunately, to dull kids inborn love of learning, so it makes sense that children might look for their joys outside of the classroom.
- Do things as a family to expose your child to new learning experiences. Go to museums, take walks in nature, create art together, play games that involve mental skill, go to musical concerts. There’s no assurance that your child will be ”captured” by any of these activities, but there’s always a chance that something will click and he’ll be off and running with something new to learn about.
- Provide your child with tools that enable them to explore in greater depth something they’re excited about. Once you’ve noticed what sorts of things absorb the attention of your child or teen, then provide them with the means to go deeper. Joshua Bell’s mother noticed her young son making sounds by plucking rubber bands tied to a dresser’s knobs and so she got him a violin, and now he’s one of the most famous and accomplished violinists in the world. Other possibilities: a science kit, a pet, a globe of the world, a telescope, some books or movies in your child’s areas of interest. But make sure not to inundate your child with things that they don’t need or want, or that put pressure on them to succeed. Real love of learning is unforced, spontaneous, and natural.
- Look for resources in your community that will provide your child with ”the next step” in his learning adventure. Notice if there are classes at a community college that focus on areas that turn your child on to learning, or teachers or tutors that can give your child the learning stimulation that they crave. Look, too for more informal groups that focus on nature study, Great Books, extracurricular sports, chess, or other potential areas of interest.
Keep in mind that reawakening your child to a love of learning is a potentially tricky business. You’ve got to make sure that you’re not subliminally influencing him to follow a certain path because you think it will be ”good for him.” Real love of learning is unforced, and should always proceed from the child’s own fascination or even obsession with a topic or skill. In a sense, you almost need to get out of the way and let the child progress according to their own timetable, in their own way. You might even find that the things that he loves learning about most are things that you find troubling (e.g. a love for extreme sports). Naturally you want your child (or teen) to be safe, but beyond that, you should give him a lot of latitude in what to explore or learn about. In this way, you will help reconnect him to that love of learning that we all were born with; that joy that links us up with our deepest sense of vitality and self-worth.
For information about promoting love for learning, curiosity, imagination, and creativity in a school setting, see my book If Einstein Ran the Schools: Revitalizing U.S. Education
This page was brought to you by Thomas Armstrong, Ph.D. and www.institute4learning.com.
Follow me on Twitter: @Dr_Armstrong