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.