It’s sad that the old-school approach of “sit still, keep your mouth shut, and memorize the right answers” has led many children (and adults) to associate the word “learning” with drudgery. Learning was meant to be an ongoing source of joy extending beyond school years and continuing for life—a life of new experiences, steady personal development, and endless opportunities to contribute.
Here are eight ways you can encourage your children—outside of school—to embrace the true spirit of learning.
1. Read to them.
Yes, even after they’re fully literate (at which point you can also take turns reading out loud to each other). Choose reading that explores broad horizons: literary classics, National Geographic articles, optimistic social commentary, the Bible.
2. Watch some good television.
Emphasis on “good”—with typical mass-produced entertainment and news programs, all anyone “learns” is that the world is a fearful place and that retaliation and instant gratification are rewarding approaches to life. PBS and other educationally oriented channels are the best sources of good fare—or, use DVDs/downloads of old programs and movies that have stood the test of time.
3. Visit a museum.
Besides being another place to find good films and multimedia, today’s museums have all sorts of interactive exhibits and often sections specifically for children. Most also offer tours and special programs where kids can ask questions freely. Even if your town doesn’t have a “big” museum (even if it does!), every community offers fascinating specialty museums.
4. Go to the zoo.
If you can, get in on a special tour or go when the animals are being fed—then you’ll be able to learn directly from the people behind the operation. But even on an “ordinary” day, you can pick up a lot from informational signs and direct observation, and can make a list of questions to look up later.
5. Volunteer as a family for a service project.
“Learning” isn’t all about facts and figures: getting to know real people in real situations, and hearing firsthand about their struggles and dreams, is among the best ways to learn what the world really needs and how to go about providing it.
6. Get multicultural.
To further learn about real people who may seem “different,” read literature from other countries, attend an international festival, or have lunch in an “ethnic” neighborhood.
7. Put high value on courage to “fail.”
No one ever made a significant breakthrough by doing only what they were sure they could get “right.” Don’t stifle your children’s sense of adventure by constantly “correcting” their ideas or admonishing them to “be careful.” And let them see you regularly trying new things yourself!
8. Set an example.
When it comes down to it, most kids do as you do, not as you say. If you really want them to believe learning is something to be enjoyed, and enjoyed for life, participate in all the above, and more, yourself. And forget about doing it primarily for anyone’s “own good.” Contrary to what too many people think, anything really worth doing generates joy as a matter of course!