At The Family Center/La Familia, we strive to give families the tools they need to raise children who Thrive By Five. A child’s experiences in these early years directly affect how their brain develops, with long-term impact on the child’s health and ability to learn.
Instill a love of learning in your young child with these ten easy tips you can implement at home:
1. Provide Hands-On Experiences
Children have shorter attention spans than adults and are more engaged by hands-on activities. Complement your book learning with a themed excursion, or get creative to make any subject hands-on with a tangible element. For example, you can use colored discs to teach addition and subtraction, or sandpaper letters to teach the alphabet. If you read a book about animals or history, follow it up with a visit to a zoo or museum.
2. Encourage Their Interests
Pay attention to what your child enjoys reading, watching, and talking about. Give children plenty of opportunities to develop new interests by exposing them to lots of different subjects. Take advantage of a dinosaur craze with a trip to the museum or an under-the-sea obsession with a trip to the aquarium.
3. Focus on the Journey
Your focus should be on the learning itself, not the outcome. There is no such thing as failure in the learning process. This is not the time to worry about college or your child’s future academic achievement. If you nurture a love of learning without pressure, your child will be more likely to enjoy school, exhibit independence and responsibility, and do well academically.
4. Pursue Questions
Try to see your child’s constant “why?” as a positive thing. Your child is showing interest in the world around them, a quality that should be encouraged. If you find yourself at your “why?” limit, switch things up and ask the questions yourself. The best questions are open ended with no obvious correct answer. So, rather than testing your child and asking, “What color is this?” try something like, “Why do you think geese like to stay together in large groups?”
This is less about assessing knowledge and more about encouraging your child’s critical thinking and wonderment about the world around them. Start your questions with phrases like “Why?” “How?” or “What if?” Try open ended responses as well, like “That’s an interesting idea,” or “I can tell you’ve been thinking about this.”
5. Make Learning the Reward
Do not dole out punishments for perceived underachievement or rewards for completing a learning activity. Both of these have been shown to diminish children’s natural curiosity about the world. Let the learning itself be the reward, and you’ll never have to fight with your child about homework years down the road.
6. Provide Choices
This goes hand-in-hand with encouraging interests. Your child cannot discover their interests if they are never exposed to them. Surround them with books, educational programs and discussions about a great variety of topics, and see what sticks.
When you are teaching, experiment with different methods of getting your point across. Some kids learn best visually, others audibly; some need to use their hands and/or their bodies; and there are still those who will learn best in a quiet room alone with a book.
7. Be an Example
Just with everything else, children imitate their parents’ or guardians’ learning habits. Let your child watch you seek out information and expose yourself to new ideas, and explain what you’re doing. Highlight the question that made you seek out new information, what you learned, and how you’re using that knowledge in your own life. Be a passionate lifelong learner.
8. Have Discussions
You may well know the answer to your child’s latest question, but simply giving them that answer bypasses the learning process. Instead, try guiding your child to the answer with a series of questions, or prompt them to find the answer on their own with a question like “Do you think the encyclopedia would have a section about that?”
These types of discussions also open the door to even more learning experiences, like how to use an encyclopedia or dictionary. If you don’t know the answer to something, don’t pretend you do or dismiss the question. Seek out the knowledge together with your child.
9. Don’t Micromanage
Again, no pressure. Don’t give your child unsolicited feedback, don’t say “You’re doing that wrong,” and don’t jump in when they’re attempting something new to finish it for them. Parents of the most successful children let children figure things out on their own while showing support for their learning process – mistakes and all.
10. Read – and Read Some More
Start as early as possible reading to your child at least once every day to hone their listening skills, vocabulary, active thinking, creativity, imagination, and social and emotional development. Bonus: This is a great way to bond with your child. Many children who read with their parents easily recall these happy memories decades later.
But don’t stop there. Variety is important, too. Keep books readily accessible in your home, and stockpile as many as you can. The U.S. Department of Education found that simply being around many types of reading materials increased childrens’ motivation to read on their own as they aged.
Some of these techniques for raising children who love to learn will take some adaptation on your part, but they can all be done anywhere, anytime, by anyone who spends time with a child, on any budget. Take advantage of free or low cost local programs, and of course, visit your local library (or take advantage of curbside pickup).
When we as a community foster a love of learning in today’s children, we are helping to build a future world of confident, creative, visionary adults.