10 ways to foster a love of learning

I grew up in a house with bookshelves in every room and was raised by a mother who dedicated countless hours to encouraging my imagination, my love of reading, and my appetite for knowledge. She created in our home something I call a culture of learning, and it’s one of the best gifts my mother gave me.

Now that I have kids of my own to teach, I want my kids to develop the same love of learning that my mother awakened in me.

So, how do you create kids who love to learn?

1. Read to your children daily

Whether it’s picture books or novels, make the time to snuggle up each day and get into a good book. I remember snuggling up to my mom, listening to her read the final chapters of The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis and mourning the end of my time in Narnia. She read to me, she let me read to her, and as I got older we discussed books we were reading (we still do). Now I love reading to my boys. If I’m busy and they want attention, they know a sure-fire way to get Mom to take a break is to bring me a book to read with them. I can’t resist.

2. Go to the library regularly

Beyond reading at home, going to the library is a great way to expose kids to new interests and ideas as they explore the many offerings of the library. We go to the library weekly, and we check out all sorts of books. I especially like to take my boys to the non-fiction books (something that is often overlooked) and let them pick out books about whales, dinosaurs, firefighters…whatever piques their interest that week.

3. Make knowledge accessible

Hang maps, leave books out to be explored, have a dictionary, etc. We have a giant map of the world on the wall of our home library. I decorate with books. I tape up the letters of the alphabet we’re practicing as part of our home preschool. My goal is to have knowledge secretly attack my children everywhere they look.

4. Learn together

My four-year-old son is in the “WHY” stage. As much as it drives me nuts when he asks why we are driving to the store, and then why we need milk, and then why milk is good for us, and why, why, WHY all the time, I love that he wants so badly to understand the world around him. I really try to answer his questions, and if I don’t know, we look it up together. It’s important for kids to see what their parents do when they have a question, too.

5. Ask questions

Beyond just answering all those “why” questions, sometimes it’s good to turn them around. Ask your child why he thinks that ice melts when you leave it outside. Avoid making your questioning quiz-like too often (“What color is this?” or “How many dogs are there?”). Focus instead on what educators call “inquiry-based learning”. Pick a topic that interests your child, and ask him what questions he has about it. Make hypotheses, and explore together.

6. Experiment

As part of your exploration of the world, conduct experiments. They don’t have to win first place in the science fair—just get your kids curious about the world. Consider questions like, “Will ice melt faster on the grass or on the sidewalk?” or “Why is my shadow longer in the evening than in the afternoon?” Follow the scientific method and observe the world around you. You’ll be amazed at how much even preschoolers can comprehend.

7. Take field trips

The brain learns new information by attaching it to prior knowledge. So, when your kids see a real live elephant at the zoo, it helps them understand elephants they’ll read about in a book. Go to the library, zoo, plays, museums, hiking, factory tours, dad’s work, botanical gardens, farms, etc. Anything that can expand their real-world experience helps book learning make more sense.

8. Play games

Especially with young kids, help them see that learning is fun! Get them moving, singing, and role-playing about everything. The more parts of your brain that you involve in the learning process, the more likely your brain is to remember the information. We make our own board gamesget creative with sidewalk chalkact out the books we read, and more. You can work learning into activities you’re already doing, too. Count how many blocks you can stack on top of each other, sing the ABC’s while you wash your hands, or identify the colors of the objects around you while playing “I Spy”. Just play together.

9. Let your kids see you excited about learning

Talk about the things you are learning on your own (and make sure you are taking time to learn). Whether it’s researching photography online, reading a novel, calling someone with a question about taxes, or just looking up a recipe for dinner, it’s important for kids to know that learning exists outside of school.

10. Step back and observe

In all of your efforts to help them love learning, don’t micromanage. The more often you can let them take the lead and make choices about what and how to pursue learning, the better. By giving your children control over their learning, you teach them that what they think and feel matters, and that their brain is a powerful tool. Provide lots of varied opportunities, and then let them choose their own books, hobbies, and so on. They may develop interests quite different from your own, but as long as they are appropriate, support your children. You may just learn something new and interesting, too!

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