Children who grow up curious about the world around them, encouraged to pursue their interests and free to make independent choices, are more likely to enjoy the process of learning. What’s more, when children feel good about themselves and are happy with their achievements regardless of their level of skill, it ignites a desire to improve. As competence increases so too does enjoyment.
However, when children reach school age they often find themselves in an environment that neither suits their individual learning style nor caters to their strengths.
They have to study according to the school curriculum and a single teaching methodology. From young, they endure endless tests and exams, while at home; they may be pushed to perform like an older sibling or even a friend at school.
Sending out the right messages about learning is so important, especially if we want to avoid instilling in our children the idea that gaining knowledge or a skill is a chore to be dreaded!
But how do we instil a love of learning in our children when they are faced with so many challenges and external pressures?
1. Help them Find their Passions
What is your child interested in? Find out what they like and dislike and play to their strengths. As author Raymond Wlodkowski says, “That’s our job as parents; children point the way, and we help them clear a path.”
2. Let them know that Failure is Positive
Help your child understand that failure is not something to be ashamed of or to deter them from trying again. Facing a challenge can be exciting! When the stress of what the possible outcome may be diminished the process is altogether more enjoyable.
3. Know your Child’s Learning Style
Is your child predominantly an auditory, visual or kinesthetic learner? When you are aware of how your child learns best, you will be in a much better position to help them. Seek activities outside of school that play to their strengths and nurture their curiosity. Whether a sport, creative activity or even a quiet phase at home, allow them time to explore instinctively what they are interested in.
4. Find a Balance
Our children have to sit exams and study core subjects – that’s the school system – but avoid the temptation to stop extra curricular activities that provide a release from formal learning, during certain times of the year, in favour of additional academic study. Perseverance, diligence and consistency certainly increase knowledge and hone skills.
But, the things we remember for life, naturally and effortlessly, are the things we experience in a joyful context. Even though the school system may feel like a pressure cooker, as parents it is our job to find a healthy balance for our children.
Try to avoid a system of ‘teach, test and reward’, as this can cause resentment, stunt confidence and degrade the natural development of skills. Instead, focus on the process; concentrate on what your child is doing rather than how well they are doing it.
5. Start Young
Lay strong foundations for an enjoyment of learning at the earliest opportunity. From very young, aim for objects and activities that promote imaginative play, enhance creativity, build language and encourage independence.
When learning is fun from the outset the whole process becomes altogether easier. Your child will absorb information and acquire knowledge naturally. Common activities such as baking, shopping, gardening, cleaning, making lists or caring for a pet can be enjoyable learning experiences that teach children about maths, science, biology, money, colour, shapes, the weather and much more.
Learning to read, a concern for most parents, is so much more enjoyable for everyone if, as a process, it is absorbed naturally into your child’s daily routine from very young. Don’t worry if your child cannot read yet, just immerse them in all forms of print media. Let them choose to browse different books, brochures, newspapers, or simply flick through the pages of a storybook. Whether it’s a book in the bath or reading a favourite bedtime story, ensure that books and the written word are something they grow up with.
6. Role Model what You Love
Let your child see you engaged in an activity you love doing, whatever it is. Talk about what you learn the more you practise or research your subject. Let your child see the joy in the process of discovery and achievement.
7. Share in the Fun
Be curious together with your child. If they ask you something and you don’t know the answer build up excitement by suggesting you can research it together. “Let’s play detective!” It might involve putting on a silly voice or getting messy but delight in playing together and don’t worry about the results! Listen to your child as they express their ideas or concerns. Feeling loved, supported and noticed is a great motivator for learning.
Fiona Walker is the Principal of Schools / CEO of Julia Gabriel Education. She holds a Masters in Early Childhood Education and is a qualified Montessori teacher with more than 20 years of experience in providing quality education for young children.