As babies, children have an innate curiosity. They’re eager to explore the world around them, soaking up new information and skills like sponges.
But somewhere along the way, this natural love of learning is often lost. Many children grow to dislike and even dread school and learning new things.
Fortunately, the love of learning can be developed and cultivated using a few simple strategies.
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1. Help Children Discover Interests and Passions
Naturally, one way to spark a love of learning is to help children discover and explore topics that interest them.
Studies show that learning is enhanced when children are allowed to select topics of interest to pursue. This is one reason it’s so effective for teachers to build choice into the classroom.
Sally Reis, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Educational Psychology at the University of Connecticut, explains that the key to unlocking a child’s potential is finding that child’s interests and helping the child develop them.
Talk to your child about what he is doing, reading, watching, and learning. Expose him to different experiences like museums, theatrical performances, zoos, etc. Help him check out books on a variety of topics from the local library. All of these activities can help you find and spark your child’s interests.
There are various questionnaires designed to help you identify a child’s passions. Once you’ve identified what your child enjoys, provide resources to help him further explore these interests.
This can be done in a classroom as well: If you know that one of your students loves monster trucks, get him interested in reading by finding books on this topic. This will naturally make learning more exciting.
2. Provide Hands-On Experiences
Again and again, research has shown that hands-on learning is the most effective for kids. When students move, touch, and experience, they learn better.
For instance, studies show that students who act out a mathematical word problem are more likely to answer correctly than students who don’t.
“A very strong predictor of academic achievement was how early kids were moving, exploring their world. When kids can explore their surroundings, all of a sudden, things change.”
- Sian Bilock, professor of psychology at the University of Chicago.
Not only does hands-on learning help children process information, but it’s also a more enjoyable way to learn.
Most children simply don’t enjoy reading from a textbook, copying notes, or “learning” through rote memorization. Experiences and hands-on activities, however, will spark a child’s interest and imagination.
Teachers should incorporate movement, interaction, and tactile experiences in the classroom as much as possible. One simple and effective way to do this is through the use of manipulatives.
If you’re teaching basic addition, for example, you can have students count using any object, like crayons or marbles. When teaching classification, have students sort blocks of different shapes and colors.
Parents can provide additional enrichment from home. If your child is learning about aquatic animals in school, take him to visit an aquarium. If he’s studying a certain artist, take him to a museum to look at their work.
Try to find hands-on, engaging experiences for your child. Make learning an adventure. Check out the Growth Mindset Activity Kit for lots of fun growth mindset activities. Kids will practice creativity, probably solving, and learning from mistakes.
These experiences will help your child learn effectively, and they’ll also give him positive and enjoyable experiences with learning.
3. Make Learning Fun
Even seemingly dry subjects can become more fun through songs, academic games, scavenger hunts, or creative activities.
For instance, if kids are learning about the thirteen colonies (in the classroom or at home), you can provide clues and ask children to guess the correct colony. You can easily create academic BINGO, crossword puzzles, or word searches. Websites like Kahoot make it easy to gamify learning digitally as well.
You can also incorporate art projects, music, or creative writing into just about any academic subject. Create a song about the water cycle, or write a story from the perspective of a tadpole as he transforms into a frog. Build a model of the solar system using materials you find around the house or classroom.
Sometimes simply using humor or telling an interesting story related to the material being taught is enough to make the experience more fun.
Another way to make learning more fun is to use “brain breaks.” Brain breaks are short, typically silly activities. They disrupt the monotony or difficulty of a lesson or assignment so children can return to the task feeling re-energized and focused. As children begin to see learning as more fun and less stressful, their love of learning will grow.
4. Demonstrate Your Own Passion
Be a great role model for your child by enthusiastically exploring your own interests and passions. Show that YOU are passionate about learning.
If you have the time and resources, you can even take a course (online or in-person) in something you’re interested in: cooking, photography, literature, etc.
Talk to your child about what you’re learning: the challenges, the excitement, how you’re applying what you’ve learned to your own life, and so on.
Even if you can’t take a class, you can read books or watch videos to learn more about a topic that interests you. It sounds simple, but demonstrating your own enthusiasm for learning helps instill this same passion in your child.
For teachers, it’s important to show passion and enthusiasm for the subject you teach. If you aren’t excited about it, your students won’t be either. A teacher who seems genuinely enthusiastic about the subject he or she teaches can engage students and spark their interest.
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5. Find Your Child’s Learning Style
Children have their own unique learning style, or a type of learning that is most effective for them. Educators and psychologists have identified three main learning styles: visual, auditory, and kinesthetic.
There are many quizzes available online to help you determine a child’s learning style, but you can also make a solid guess based on the child’s interests and the type of activities he seems to enjoy.
- Visual learners process information most effectively when it’s presented in writing or in images. They’re very observant, have excellent memories, and often enjoy art.
- Auditory learners like to hear information. They’re good listeners, follow directions well, and often have verbal strengths and/or musical aptitude.
- Kinesthetic learners are physical, often excelling at sports or dance. They learn best through movement and touch. They may count on their fingers or use frequent hand gestures.
Many children show ability in all three of these areas, but one is likely stronger than the others. If you can find a child’s strength, you can help him learn in the way that he finds most comfortable and enjoyable.
6. Have Discussions, Not Lectures
Make learning a conversation that your children or students can actively participate in, not just a lecture that they must passively receive.
When your child demonstrates curiosity by asking a question, do your best to answer it. This is true in the classroom as well. Even when a question is slightly off-topic, it shows interest and creates a learning opportunity for your students.
If you don’t know the answer to a question, discovering the answer together can be a fun and memorable experience.
You can also expand the conversation by asking open-ended questions yourself. Begin your questions with, “Why,” “How,” or, “What would happen if….?” These questions can move children to higher levels of critical thinking and problem-solving.
Paying attention to the questions your child asks will also help you discover your child’s interests, which you can then incorporate into future conversations or lessons.
7. Be Supportive and Encouraging
One reason many children lose their love of learning is that they begin to associate learning with anxiety and pressure. They’re worried about getting a bad grade, answering a question wrong, or failing the test.
When learning is only about outcomes, it’s no longer fun. Make learning more about the process and the effort that your child puts into his work.
It’s important to teach children that success is not the result of innate abilities like “intelligence.” Instead, success comes from persistence, practice, hard work, and many failures.
Stanford University researcher Carol Dweck found that when students are praised for their effort instead of their ability, they actually score higher on intelligence tests.
This is because children who associate struggle or failure with a lack of intelligence are likely to avoid difficult tasks or give up when they encounter them.
On the other hand, children who view challenges as learning opportunities are more likely to persist, strategize, and keep working until they find a solution.
Have reasonable expectations for your child, and be supportive and encouraging when your child struggles or fails. Help him learn from these experiences, and don’t put excessive pressure on him to make straight A’s or be an exceptional student.
When your child understands that learning is about just that—learning—and not all about achievement or perfection, he’ll be able to relax and enjoy the learning process much more.
If your child’s love of learning has faded, it doesn’t have to be gone for good. Parents and teachers can cultivate a love of learning by:
- Providing hands-on experiences
- Making learning fun
- Helping children discover their interests and passions
- Demonstrating their own passions
- Finding and appealing to the child’s learning style
- Asking and answering questions
- Being supportive of the effort and the process, not just successful outcomes
Give your child room for error and experimentation, and make learning an interactive conversation between the two of you. Provide opportunities for hands-on, personalized, and creative education, and you’ll be surprised how much his love of learning grows.
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