Nurturing a love of learning begins by knowing or getting to know the child. What are their interests? Loves? What gets them talking for hours on end? Learning doesn’t happen without interest and enjoyment. Memorization for the moment, perhaps, but when a child is not interested or forced to learn, they might actually “learn” to avoid the topic or subject, learn to feel inadequate, or figure out how to hide a novel in their math book. To effectively teach a child, children must be engaged in what they are learning and engagement happens when they are interested.
Nurturing Means to Encourage, Not Force
One of the most important lessons I learned as a teacher and as a mother is force, even when backed by good intention, does not lead to an enjoyment of learning or actual learning. It might equal minimal engagement, a child trying to please, but eventually, the other pieces, the child being developmentally or emotionally ready, interested, and a supportive learning environment are necessary before mastery can begin to occur.
My daughter, a beginning reader, can feel frustrated when she’s repeatedly challenged. Over the years her interest in learning how to read has wavered. Recently, at seven, she’s become more interested and is starting to find success. She often asks if she can help me read the book I’m reading to her at bedtime, yells out from the backseat of the car the signs she can read, and picks games where reading is required. She is, however, typically not interested in reading when I have time to sit with her or I ask her to read. I know from experience if she is resistant and I push, she’ll resist even more, and eventually, the challenge will transfer from learning to read to learning with me.
It is easy to get into a power struggle with our children when we think they need to do or know something and they don’t agree or aren’t ready. It doesn’t mean we give in or give up. If we’re trying to help a child learn and it leads to struggle, chances are they are either not ready or need a different approach.
Instead of making my daughter read when it is convenient for me, I try to remember what I am hoping to achieve. I need to make time when she is ready and interested and offer opportunities to encourage interest.
So we spend a little more time reading together at night, use the humane society’s read to the animals program, play games that encourage reading (including the ones she makes up), and when I can, I stop what I’m doing when she asks what a word is or wants to read, even when it’s inconvenient.
Helping her learn to read and most importantly love to read is my main priority. Dinner, bedtime, whatever I’m doing can wait a couple of minutes.
Anytime we play with our children, show interest in what they are excited about, take the time to listen to their questions and help them find answers, we build curiosity and help their love of learning grow. It doesn’t matter if we homeschool, where or how our children are educated; play, as Fred Rogers so wisely said, “is the work of childhood.”
How to Nurture a Love of Learning
Observe- offer- facilitate- sometimes wait- repeat.
- Pay attention to what children/students are interested in.
- Find out what is happening in the community, what books, movies, games play into those interests.
Recognize everything we think they might love may not be a good fit, and try not to give up or take it personally.
When my family first started homeschooling, I came across a curriculum I thought was perfect. Focused on nature and animals, something our family loves, instead of diving into the curriculum and enjoying it, I spent months trying to convince my son what we were doing was a good fit. The truth was, it was a good fit for ME and had I been the homeschooler, it would have been fine, but what we needed to find was something that suited him, not what I thought suited him. My pushing did the opposite of what I intended to do. Had we looked through the books, found activities and topics he was excited about, we could have used the resources. Instead, set on following a linear path, I set up a situation of opposition.
It was a good reminder, there isn’t one way to learn.
Find interest in our children’s interests.
- Play the game, read the book, watch the movie they love. I often find that something my children enjoy leads me to my own enjoyment. I have an appreciation of construction sites, fire trucks, dinosaurs, and bugs thanks to my children.
- Ask them questions about their interests. Even if the interest is not shared, listen for what they love.
When children have to know something, figure out ways to make the information they have to know interesting.
- Play games
- Take the learning outside, to a coffee shop, somewhere fun
- Find movies, field trips, music, picture books- don’t be afraid to head back to the children’s department, watch the Magic Schoolbus, or seek out creative ways to access information. I wish I’d known about Magic Schoolbus when I was struggling and bored in science.
Say yes to messy, to projects taking a lot of time, to doing the same thing over and over.
Be okay when children aren’t ready to learn what others think they need to know.
I’ve also learned it’s important to breathe, deeply. To remind myself and the families I work with no one asks us when we learned to read or how high we can multiply in our head.
I’ve learned after working with children for twenty years, it doesn’t matter if children are in school or learn at home. It doesn’t matter if they are 3 or 23, any time we encourage and nurture a child’s natural curiosity, their love of learning, we help them learn.