“Education is the key to unlocking the world, a passport to freedom.” — Oprah Winfrey.
We are a couple of weeks into school, and let’s just say — the honeymoon is beginning to wane. The thrill of new notebooks and markers has dimmed. The blare of the early alarm annoys. The weight of the work to be done begins to wear children down. If you are a parent like me, you might be wondering, “How do I instill a joy of learning — even as the excitement of the newness wanes? How do I show my children the key to unlocking the world?”
Parents should keep learning, too. As with most things, children copy parents. If it’s been a few years since a parent has read a book or took a class, it can be hard to pass a love of learning onto children. Parents who continue to explore the world—through reading, through traveling, through conversations with others—instill in their children an explorer’s attitude.
To get started — focus on an interest you would like to pursue or a problem you would like to solve. To explore new ideas, join a book club. To explore an interest in painting — take a class. To resolve the trouble with the lawn mower—look up a You-Tube video. In short, let your children seen you exploring.
As we parents get excited by new ideas, struggle to master new skills, or persist in taking on a new discipline — we encourage our children. They follow our model as a way of building their own excitement and their own perseverance. Even more importantly, we can better relate to our children when we are feeling the same struggles and the same thrills. It’s much easier to offer tips on how to stick with writing a challenging essay if we’ve just had to use those skills in our own learning. More, as we share our excitement about engaging the world in new ways — our children’s attitude shifts to wanting to see what else is out there.
Work with your child’s learning style. If you are looking for a place to start, one of the best books ever written is Cynthia Tobias’s The Way They Learn. It’s short, easy to read, and details the variety of ways people take in information and then use it. Understanding those differences helps us better relate to our children (and most everyone else).
More she gives specific tips we can use to help our children learn. For example, a concrete-sequential child will likely need a private space with desk, supplies, and books all organized to excel in homework. She might thrive on a homework schedule that allows plenty of time to work at her slower pace, so she can focus on the details. A concrete random child might thrive doing homework at the dining table with music blaring and mixing homework with outside play. Understanding the differences helps parents support their different children in the best ways.
When possible, apply their learning to real life. Learning comes alive when we see how what we are learning affects our life. So, provide opportunities to pair what they are learning in school with family life. For example, give children a portion of the grocery money and a list of the meals planned, then let them shop — with the bonus that they can keep what they save. Math skills never prove more valuable than when cold, hard cash is on the line. Check out novels written in the same time-period as the history they are studying. Find a book of simple experiments to cover the science curriculum. Even if you repeat a school experiment at home, children enjoy showing their parents what they have done even as they learn how experimental outcomes can vary. To go even bigger, plan to use fall and spring breaks to travel to historic areas they are studying in school. In short, make the learning a true gateway to the world.
The honeymoon may be fading, but learning is a long-term joy. As parents infect children with an excitement for learning and support their child’s unique style, you give a passport to the world.