Home is the child’s first school, and whether he then goes on to public school or continues in a homeschool, the home should always be the center of learning for a child. Parents can, with planning and thought, create a home in which learning is celebrated for its own sake, and not just to satisfy a grade or a career requirement.
Raising children who love to learn requires four steps: setting a good example for the children, developing a positive attitude toward learning in the entire family, teaching children how to learn, and planning for learning to happen. Let’s look at each step in the context of a family-centered education.
Setting the Example
Parents cannot simply tell their children to continue a life-long pattern of learning or to learn something not required by the world. They must set the example in their own lives. Children are always watching their parents and will frequently model their own behavior on that of other family members.
One way to model a positive attitude toward learning is to read. Your children need to see you reading often, both for pleasure and for learning. It is not enough to hold a book in front of your face. Having spent time reading, a parent needs to share with the children a little of what was learned and how the book made you feel. “I’ve been reading about stars this week, and when I looked outside last night, I was actually able to find three constellations. I think I’d like to learn more. I enjoyed looking up and knowing what I was looking at.”
Reading should be seen as a way to relax, as well as a way to gain knowledge. With this in mind, a parent can read in a manner that demonstrates pleasure-reading outside, in a comfortable chair, while waiting for an appointment. The parent can also speak aloud a need to consult a book when he needs to know something. In addition, the home should be filled with books. The more books a home contains, the more likely it is that children will see books as an essential part of everyday life.
When parents need to learn something new, they should monitor how they talk about the experience. Complaints that the research is taking too much time or that the parent hates doing things he isn’t familiar with tells the child learning is a burden. An attitude of cheerfulness and excitement about the new challenge, even if the parent is struggling, tells the child learning is an adventure, even if it’s hard.
Parents should intentionally plan learning opportunities for themselves and let their children see what they’re doing. “This month, I’m going to start learning to speak Spanish. It’s been on my list of goals for a long time now.”
Developing a Positive Attitude
Sometimes, after a child starts school and learning becomes confused with the need for good grades or meeting the learning expectations of others, children develop a negative attitude toward learning, particularly if school is a struggle for them. They confuse school with learning. The parent’s job is to help children see learning as a wonderful opportunity, both in school and out of it. Learning and schooling are not synonyms.
Make a point of talking to children about their schooling experiences, and avoid allowing them to get away with saying, “Nothing” when asked what they learned. Once you know what they’re studying, help them identify the interesting parts of the topic. Sometimes, in the crush of a busy school year, schools only touch on the basics of a topic. The most interesting parts of any subject are outside the basics, and those can be tackled at home. If your child isn’t interested in the subject, explore it in more depth until you find an aspect that does interest him. This will improve his grades and make school more interesting. For instance, if your child is passionate about gardening, and finds his study of pioneer life at school dull, help him find out what the pioneers planted, what gardening techniques they used, and what role gardening played in their lives. Build on his own interests to make school subjects more interesting.
Teaching Children How to Learn
Many people go through life believing the only way to learn is to have a teacher. In order to create life-long learners who are independent scholars, parents must teach children how to learn. In order to do this, guide your children through questions. If they want to know how to do something, or if they need to learn something, avoid the temptation to tell them what they need to know.
Jonathon’s bicycle is broken. He doesn’t have the money to get it repaired. His mother knows how to do it, but doesn’t say she does. Instead, she asks, “I wonder if this is something you could fix yourself? Is there a way to find out if it’s something an amateur could fix?” She continues to ask questions that help him figure out what to do. “Who do you know who knows a lot about bikes? Where else could you learn what to do?” After a brief discussion, Jonathon goes to the Internet, finds out what needs to be done, and contacts a church leader who is a competitive bicyclist for further advice. He’s learned how to learn and the next time he needs to figure something out, he will apply what he’s learned. However, each time he has a problem, his mother will ask other questions that guide him to finding even more ways to learn-libraries, museums, and bookstores, for instance.
Teaching children how to teach themselves makes them independent, builds confidence, and ensures they will always be able to learn, even when they can’t afford to go to school.
Planning for Learning to Happen
Parents with education-centered homes become skilled at making children feel learning is spontaneous, entertaining, or natural. However, this actually requires a fair amount of planning.
The first step is to have a great many learning activities in the home, including books, educational games, and supplies for various projects. Time must be made for family field trips. Parents must take note of what interests a child or what he is learning in school and then plan ways to build on it.
Another way to expand a child’s horizons is to deliberately create an interest in something new. For instance, a parent who loves history decides she’d like her children to become interested in the Middle Ages. She begins by focusing their attention in that direction, without delivering a lecture. She purchases some toys related to the time period-dragons, castles, and knights. As she plays with the children, she’s able to drop in occasional bits of interesting information. She adds a movie or two on the same themes. She might encourage them to do a puppet show centered around the knight theme. Books on knights, castles, and dragons, both fictional and non-fiction, find their way into the house and are left on the coffee table for the children to pick up and read or to be used as bedtime stories.
By now, the children are fairly focused on the subject. It’s time for more structured learning. The mother plans an outing to a history museum, and later to a re-enactment fair. Within a month, the children have learned quite a lot about the Middle Ages without ever doing a worksheet or taking a test, and they think this has developed out of their own interest in the subject.
With a little planning, parents can raise children who thrive on knowledge. While they may not always study what you want them to study, they will be constantly learning and won’t lose the love of knowledge they had as small children.