Children are hard-wired to learn—how to help them keep that spark once they start school

Learning requires opportunity and motivation—not one or the other. For many children, learning is perceived as a chore, as the majority of their waking hours are engaged in non-self-directed education.

Children are hard-wired to learn—how to help them keep that spark once they start school

We live in an era uniquely conducive to independent learning. Between YouTube tutorials, online courses, private tutors, and of course, an almost infinite range of books, there isn't much you can't learn if you really put your mind to it. However, not everyone enjoys learning—you have to possess a will to learn.

A thousand instructional cupcake videos could crop up on my newsfeed, but unless I have a yearning desire to create fondant-covered-masterpieces, I will not absorb any of the information, regardless of how prettily it may be presented.

Learning requires opportunity and motivation—not one or the other. For many children, learning is perceived as a chore, as the majority of their waking hours are engaged in non-self-directed education.

As parents, our main goal is to raise happy, healthy, independent adults who possess the skills and mindsets required to lead fulfilling lives. But what if the ways we are taught to parent are having the opposite effect?

Our well-meaning words and actions might be silently reinforcing the message that learning is a chore, which must be forced onto children whether they like it or not. Then we wonder why our children spend what little free time they have engaged in passive play, as opposed to immersed in creative, constructive or informative pursuits. From their earliest days, children are hard-wired to learn.

So how do we prevent our children from losing that spark once they hit school age? Here are seven actionable tips you can start today.

1. Model a learning mindset.

Let your children witness your own curiosity on a daily basis. Instead of saying, "I don't know," try, "Let's find out." Immerse yourself in hobbies of your own, and include your children in that process. They will learn more from how you behave than from what you tell them.

2. Respect their interests.

Don't judge any of their passions as being more or less worthy than others or make disparaging remarks concerning their idea of fun. Instead of insisting your kids learn what you want them to, try learning about the things that interest them. You just might be surprised.

3. Clear the schedule.

Ensure your children's waking hours include plenty of time for free play, daydreaming and self-directed learning.

4. Let your children quit.

By allowing your child to quit an activity or extracurricular lesson that is no longer bringing them joy, you are reinforcing their autonomy in learning, and you and sending the message that learning is, and should be, enjoyable. Not allowing them to quit will only make them less inclined to try new things in the future.

5. Focus on the process, not the outcome.

We live in an achievement-based society. Goals are great when they are intrinsically motivated. But enjoyment of the process will always be more valuable. Don't push your child to achieve. Instead, encourage them to explore whatever it is that excites them. Achievement may come naturally when they truly enjoy the process, but if it doesn't, it doesn't matter.

6. Expose your kids to as much of the world as possible.

Take them to museums, art galleries, plays, sporting events, conventions and festivals. Follow their interests and see where it leads you.

7. Provide your children with opportunities to engage in the community through volunteering, and involvement in community projects.

Do not base your opinion of your children's innate ability on their grades at school. Grades are irrelevant in the larger scheme of things. Creativity, perseverance, dedication, innovation and motivation are impossible to grade and are far more important than memorization and obedience. And, it's okay if your child doesn't excel academically. There are plenty of ways to learn, and most of them don't involve school.

Above all, have fun. If your child has begun to resent the idea of learning, you can counteract that by providing plenty of opportunities outside of school for enjoyable, rewarding learning experiences.

We need to lead the way by changing our own patterns. Our kids are among the first to grow up in this digitally connected world, in which innovation trumps tradition and creativity conquers conformity. Let go of outdated models of what parenting means and make way for the borderline-genius knowledge-addicts our children could be, if we would only get out of their way.

You might also like:

10 must-have registry items that will change your life, mama

The baby gear heavy hitters that should be top of your list

Calling all mamas-to-be! It's a fundamental truth of (impending) motherhood that your prepping-for-baby To Do list can feel a mile long, but really the best way to feel organized is to sort out the most important item at the top of your list: your registry. Sure the items you choose to include will end up running the gamut from nice-to-haves to absolutely essential game-changers, but mamas in the know quickly learn one thing: Not all baby gear is created equal.

So while you can and should pepper your registry with adorable inclusions that aren't necessarily can't-live-withouts (go ahead, add 'em!), you should make sure you're ticking the boxes on those pieces of baby gear that can be absolute life savers once you're in full-blown mama mode. From car seats to bouncers and playmats, your play and travel gear will be some of the most obvious important items on your list, but so can unexpected things, like a super comfy baby carrier and a snooze-inducing white noise machine. So to help you sort through the must-have options, we turned to the holy grail of motherhood that is buybuy BABY and handpicked 10 of the very best essential pieces that will change your life, we promise.

Keep reading Show less
Our Partners

Every week, we stock the Motherly Shop with innovative and fresh products from brands we feel good about. We want to be certain you don't miss anything, so to keep you in the loop, we're providing a cheat sheet.

So, what's new this week?

Earth Mama: Effective, natural herbal care for mamas and babies

Founded and grown in her own garage in 2002, Earth Mama started as an operation of one, creating salves, tinctures, teas and soaps with homegrown herbs. With a deep desire to bring the healing powers of nature that have been relied on for thousands of years to as many mamas as possible, Melinda Olson's formulas quickly grew into Earth Mama Organics. Since then, the brand has remained committed to manufacturing clean, safe and effective herbal solutions for the entire journey of motherhood, including pregnancy, breastfeeding and baby care, and even the loss of a baby.

Bravado Designs: Soothing sounds for a good night's sleep

With 28 years of serving pregnant and postpartum mamas under their belt, Bravado Designs is a true authority on the needs of changing bodies. It's true that we have them to thank for rescuing us from the uncomfortable and frumpy designs our own moms had to live with. Launched in Canada by two young mamas, they designed the first prototypes with extra leopard print fabric certain that a better bra was possible. Throughout the years they've maintained their commitment to ethical manufacturing while creating long-lasting products that truly work.

The Sill: Instagram-ready potted plants

We've long admired this female-founded brand and the brilliant mind behind it, Eliza Blank. (She even joined Motherly co-founder Liz Tenety on and episode of The Motherly Podcast!) The mission behind the business was simple: To make the process of bringing plants into your home as easy as possible, and as wonderful as the plant themselves. With their in-house, exclusively designed minimalist planters, the end result makes plant parenthood just a few clicks away.

Not sure where to start? Here's what we're adding to our cart:

Keep reading Show less

The 6 biggest lies I believed before having kids

Just about all of us had set assumptions about raising kids before we became parents ourselves.

Just about all of us had set assumptions about raising kids before we became parents ourselves. Some of these ideas might have been based on our own ideas of how we would absolutely do things differently than everyone else. Others, we believed what everyone else told us would happen would apply to our littles, too. But, that's not always the case, mama.

Below are six of the biggest lies I believed before having kids—and the reality of what actually happened for me.

1. Put your baby down drowsy, but awake

Keep reading Show less