Help Your Child Develop a Love of Learning

Actually, this article could be called “How to Keep Your Child from Losing Their Natural Love of Learning.” Kids are naturally curious. And most often, it’s the way we educate them that makes them lose that curiosity.

child love of learning

There are many excellent schools and teachers. Whether you choose public school, a Montessori program, Waldorf, or private school, as long as you’re an involved parent, your child can get a wonderful education.

This article lends more toward homeschooling and unschooling families. But you’ll find tips for developing a love of learning you can put into practice at home regardless of where your child spends the day.

Your Child’s Natural Learning Style

John Holt, in his book How Children Learn, describes the natural learning style of young children. He explains how they are curious and want to make sense of things.

They want to find out how things work, gain competence and control over themselves and their environment. Kids are open, perceptive, and experimental.

“To find out how reality works, he works on it. He is bold, “Holt explains. He says the child is “not afraid of making mistakes. And he is patient. He can tolerate an extraordinary amount of uncertainty, confusion, ignorance, and suspense.”

Holt also reasons that traditional school is not a place that gives much time, or opportunity, or reward, for this kind of thinking and learning.

How to Nurture Your Child’s Love of Learning

Homeschooling or unschooling allows the space to create your own routine or rhythm to the learning day. It also allows you to move at your child’s pace.

If you start homeschooling early on, you can seamlessly encourage your child’s love of learning. If your child is transitioning out of school to home-based education, you may need to take a few months to detox or de-school.

This transition period can help your child break free from whatever wasn’t serving them in conventional school. It also gives you time to ease into homeschool curriculum or your unschooling plan.

Start With Trust

Nurturing a child’s love of learning begins with trust. As home educators, we trust our children to know when they are ready to learn and what they are interested in learning. We trust them to know how to go about learning.

Jan Hunt of the Natural Child Project says that parents commonly take this view of learning during the child’s first two years, when they are learning to stand, walk, talk, and to perform many other important and difficult things, with little help from anyone.

No one worries that a baby will be too lazy, uncooperative, or unmotivated to learn what they’ll need to know to understand and to participate in the world around them.

Children are naturally curious and have a built-in desire to learn first-hand about the world around them.

Encourage Them to Follow Their Instincts

Just as you’ve had to hone your parenting instincts, your child instinctively knows what methods are best for them. Caring and observant parents soon learn that it is safe and appropriate to trust this knowledge.

Perceptive parents are aware that there are many different ways to learn something, and they trust their children to know which ways are best for them.

Helen E. Buckley’s poem of the little boy who had his creativity drowned out by a well-meaning teacher is the perfect example of how teachers can unknowingly stifle a child. Here’s an excerpt:

“Now,” said the teacher, “We are going to make flowers.”
“Good!” thought the little boy. He liked to make flowers And he began to make beautiful ones with his pink and orange and blue crayons.
But the teacher said, “Wait! And I will show you how.”
And it was red, with a green stem.
“There,” said the teacher. “Now you may begin.”
And the little boy looked at the teacher’s flower. Then he looked at his own flower. He liked his flower better than the teacher’s.
But he did not say this. He just turned his paper over and make a flower like the teacher’s.
It was red, with a green stem.

It goes on with other projects until the boy waits on the teacher to show him exactly what to do each time. Eventually he goes to a new school. The new teacher invited the kids to draw a picture…

When she came to the little boy, she said, “Don’t you want to make a picture?”
“Yes,” said the little boy “What are we going to make?”
“I don’t know until you make it,” said the teacher.
“How shall I make it?” asked the little boy.
“Why, any way you like,” said the teacher.
“And any color?” asked the little boy.
“Any color,” said the teacher. “If everyone made the same picture, and used the same colors, how would I know who made what?”
“I don’t know,” said the little boy
And he began to make a red flower with a green stem.

Allow for Plenty of Quiet Time

As John Holt noted in Teach Your Own, “Children who are good at fantasizing are better both at learning about the world and at learning to cope with its surprises and disappointment. It isn’t hard to see why this should be so.

In fantasy we have a way of trying out situations, to get some feel of what they might be like, or how we might feel in them, without having to risk too much. It also gives us a way of coping with bad experiences, by letting us play and replay them in our mind until they have lost much of their power to hurt, or until we can make them come out in ways that leave us feeling less defeated and foolish.”

But fantasy requires time, and time is the most endangered commodity in our lives. Fully-scheduled school hours and extracurricular activities leave little time for children to dream, to think, to invent solutions to problems, to cope with stressful experiences, or simply to fulfill the universal need for solitude and privacy.

Encourage Not Having All the Answers

When Holt invited toddlers to play his cello, they would eagerly attempt to do so. Older school children and adults would invariably decline.

Homeschooling children, free from the intimidation of public embarrassment and failing marks, retain their openness to new exploration.

Children learn by asking questions, not by answering them.

Toddlers ask many questions, and so do school children – until about grade three. By that time, many of them have learned an unfortunate fact: that in school, it can be more important for self-protection to hide one’s ignorance about a subject than to learn more about it, regardless of one’s curiosity.

Don’t Offer External Rewards

My son spent the first half of his elementary education in public school. One of the many baffling external rewards was the Accelerated Reader program.

In December of his third grade year, he had started reading the fourth Harry Potter book. December is a short month, and it’s a big book. He knew he probably wouldn’t finish in time to take the test and get his points. The reward was a movie and donuts party in the library.

We talked about his options. One was to continue reading the long book because that’s what he wanted to do. The other option was to read a couple of short books, take the tests, get his points, and go to the party. Ultimately he decided on option two because all his buddies were excited about it.

My husband and I supported his decision, but we all agreed it was kind of dumb to interrupt the book he really wanted to read just for those points. We used it as a teachable moment that sometimes life has rules that don’t really make any sense, but lots of people go along with it and it’s at least good to be aware.

But truly, there is no need to motivate children through the use of extrinsic rewards, such as high grades or stars. These suggest to the child that the activity itself must be difficult or unpleasant. Otherwise, why are donuts and a movie offered when they have nothing to do with reading?

The wise parent says, “I think you’ll enjoy this book”, not “If you read this book, you’ll get a cookie.”

Meet Kids of All Ages

Our local homeschool co-op includes kids from ages 11 to 17. They started as a creative writing group. It has since grown into public speaking, poetry, music, and other performing arts.

John Taylor Gatto, New York State Teacher of the Year, contends, “It is absurd to be part of a system that compels you to sit in confinement with people of exactly the same age and social class. That system effectively cuts you off from the immense diversity of life and the synergy of variety.”

Offer First-Hand Experiences

Ironically, the most common objection about homeschooling is that children are “being deprived of the real world.” But by being part of the everyday running of the home, getting groceries or going on errands, working in the garden, and helping in the kitchen they are very much participating in the real world.

No parent would tell their toddler, “Let’s put that caterpillar down and get back to your book about caterpillars.” Homeschoolers often have more time to devote to their interests.

After a visit to the planetarium, my sons noticed how many stars or constellations were character names from the Harry Potter series. Sirius, Draco, Bellatrix, Andromeda, Orion, Regulus Arcturus, and Cygnus to name a few. The kids were fascinated that in the book series, Sirius Black’s animagus is a black dog. They ran to the iPad as soon as we got home and read up on Sirius Black’s family tradition of using star or constellation names.

Offer Support and Positive Reinforcement

Einstein wrote, “It is a grave mistake to think that the enjoyment of seeing and searching can be promoted by means of coercion.”

When a one-year-old falls down while learning to walk, we say, “Good try! You’ll catch on soon!” No caring parent would say, “Every baby your age should be walking. You’d better be walking by Friday!”

Most parents understand how difficult it is for their children to learn something when they are rushed, threatened, or given failing grades. John Holt warned that “we think badly, and even perceive badly, or not at all, when we are anxious or afraid… when we make children afraid, we stop learning dead in its tracks.”

While infants and toddlers teach us many principles of learning, schools have adopted quite different principles, due to the difficulties inherent in teaching a large number of same-age children in a compulsory setting. The structure of school (required attendance, school-selected topics and books, and constant checking of the child’s progress) assumes that children are not natural learners, but must be compelled to learn through the efforts of others.

Natural learners do not need such a structure. The success of self-directed learning strongly suggests that structured approaches inhibit both learning and personal development.

Following these principles of natural learning, your child will retain the curiosity, enthusiasm, and love of learning they’ve had all along.

More Homeschooling Resources

Find more inspiration and ideas for your home education through these articles and links:

The Advantages of Nature-Based Learning
Tips for Homeschooling and Working from Home
Free Educational, Mindfulness, and the Arts Resources for Kids
Worldschooling Benefits and Real Stories
Is Homeschooling Right for Your Family?
Homeschool Family Interview: The Doughty Family

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