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It’s no secret kids love summertime. With no pressure to keep up on homework, no set schedules, and plenty of unstructured free time, it’s the perfect time to enjoy activities you can’t during the school year. With fall rapidly approaching, you may be wondering how to prepare your child for the transition into the classroom.
Getting kids excited to go back to school can be difficult, but it’s not impossible. Whether you have specific goals this semester or are looking to the future, the best thing you can do is foster your child’s love of learning. Schoolwork doesn’t feel like a chore when they understand why it’s important. Here are some ways to cultivate a passion for learning in your child:
Learning isn’t always about a specific learning material. It’s the process. Being a lifelong learner means practicing certain skills: asking questions, testing hypotheses, and seeking out other points of view. Reading helps children develop and hone all these skills and more - regardless of the subject. This is why one of the best ways to teach your child to love learning is to make books available in the home.
Books promote what’s known as slow thinking: the kind of thinking that’s deliberate, focused, and singular. In today’s technology dominated world, you can think of it as the anti-scroll. When you foster an environment of reading, you’re encouraging kids to block out distractions and immerse themselves in a story. This creates a much deeper connection to the content than scrolling through a social media feed or reading a quick article does. Giving them the ability to spend a chunk of time engaged with a single topic is crucial--and can even help build study skills and improve attention spans for other tasks.
The best way to get kids into reading is being a model for that behavior yourself. An easy way to start is by reading with them at night. This will not only begin a good night routine, but it will help them form positive memories of reading. Once it's set in motion, you'll find them reaching for books on their own - and not out of obligation.
You already get Mom-ed or Dad-ed to death as it is. And when you’re just trying to make it through morning carpool, the last thing you want to do is keep answering “But why?” Answering your child’s constant barrage of questions is one of the harder parts of being of a parent, but it’s also the most important. When you encourage their questions, you’re teaching them to value curiosity—something that doesn’t always happen.
For many students, their education is based on performance and failure. Schools, and adults, unintentionally teach kids that asking questions made you bad, unintelligent or out of line by dismissing them or putting too heavy of a focus on success. But you and your child don’t have to make this mistake going forward. When your child asks questions, show them that it’s safe and even encouraged to do so.
Moreover, there’s a way to answer questions that encourages independent discovery and critical thinking. You can ask their take on the topic by using the Socratic method and posing the question back to them. If you don't know the answer, you can say so and then direct them to a trusted information source. If you need to conserve energy or focus, let them know that you’ll get to their question later - and really do. Don’t worry about having all the answers, it actually increases your child's confidence when they can teach you something or see that grown-ups don't know everything.
Any parent who’s had to put together a science fair poster knows how much pressure school can put on a family. The race to start college starts earlier and earlier ensures we're chronically short on time. You may hear a lot of advice to build clear rewards and consequences into everything your child does. This kind of structure can be important in certain aspects of life--but school is one place where too much focus on the reward can actually backfire.
The truth is that all kids are learners, but many don't realize it. They may think because they have a hard time with one subject, for example, that they don't love learning. Schools don’t always help this when they set up learning in terms of rigid benchmarks. This is one place where you want to step back and focus on the process rather than the outcome.
How exactly do you put this advice into practice? Approach the process of learning as a cumulative achievement rather than a streak, making a small, consistent effort every day instead cramming before the deadline.
Another thing to keep in mind is that kids don’t need much external motivation to learn. They are eager to understand and want to know everything adults do. Kids will surprise you with their intelligence if you let them.
Most of all, accept that learning takes many forms and doesn't need to necessarily come in the form of a lesson with quantifiable outcomes. Conversation--the kind that happens over breakfast, as you tuck them in or on a catch-up phone call--is an opportunity for learning. Be aware of chances to press further and tease out observations or assumptions they may have. Let them simply babble, ramble and construct imaginative tales. Watch as your children learn about themselves and the world through asking questions and telling stories.
You don’t have to be a parenting expert to raise kids who love learning. You can start today, in small ways. One great starting point is to share your interests with them. These are the kind of lessons that become cherished memories, and they’ll create a foundation for your child to learn and grow into.
Sharing your hobby will demonstrate values like curiosity, dedication and creativity. It will also teach them skills specific to your interest. Talk to them about interesting articles you came across, a new recipe you want to try, or activities you’ve pursued throughout your life. Some kids may be resistant to adopting their parents’ interests - but this push-back can also be essential to their self-development.
Don’t feel like you have to be a perfect role model when it comes to this. Your position isn’t always going to be the expert—it’s ok to take a step back and learn something together. When you go somewhere new, even if it's in your own town, make a point to take something away from that visit. Learn about the history, origins and cultural tidbits. Take a trip to a restaurant or the grocery store as a chance to learn about different culinary traditions. Look up different wildlife you see at the playground or the park. One of the hallmarks of a lifelong learner is someone who's curious about the world around them.
Passing interests down in the family gives your child a built-in foundation for knowing a subject on a deep level. You become more invested in things you identify with. If you have family traditions rooted in a certain hobby or activity, this will become a point of pride. Bond with your children over learning in continuing to grow and change at every stage of life.
Many parents are feeling the crunch of over-scheduling. Once August hits, your life is about driving from activity to activity. But there’s a growing consensus that moments of quiet are essential to creativity and productivity. This is why it’s important to give your child the time to cultivate their own interests.
In your busy schedule, try to find time for unstructured play. Whether this means drawing, dolls or taking the kitchen apart (and hopefully putting it back together), know that none of this time is wasted. Take the warm weather as a reason for sidewalk chalk, bubbles, and playing with the hose. Plus, this provides plenty of opportunities for impromptu science lessons! (Just how does the sprinkler make a rainbow, anyway?)
For tweens and teens, this could mean encouraging them to try different clubs at school. In addition to local activities, your child may discover different talents through online communities. Like many parents, you may feel conflicted about your child’s screen time. But, used correctly, the Internet can open your child’s world up to different interests. With the many free resources available today, kids are able to teach themselves new skills like coding or crafting. In time, you’ll find then coming to you with new projects and discoveries.
Much of the advice around preparing kids for the school year can be alienating, adding pressure to an already stressful season. Bottom line: you don’t have to be perfect at this. Learning isn’t just about what you know--it’s a lifestyle. It begins with valuing knowledge and self-development. With these tips you can inspire confidence, curiosity, and passion in your child. Because learning is more than going to school, it’s life!