In today’s rapidly-changing world, learning doesn’t stop once school is out – for the day, for summer, or once the ink is dry on your degree. However, helping kids to embrace the fact that learning is a lifelong skill – and a pleasure – can be challenging. In celebration of Roeper’s 75 years of teaching gifted children to love learning, Stage III (equivalent to second and third grade) teacher Shannon Howell shared 10 tips for sparking a love for lifelong learning in children.
1. Support their passions – and yours.
Schools are not always set up to reflect what kids are truly passionate about. At home, however, parents can give their kids opportunities to learn about whatever excites them in the way they most prefer to learn it. And more importantly, parents should make time for their own pursuits as well, whether your child chooses to join you or not.
2. Understand the difference between knowing information and knowing how to learn.
“We are always trying to strike a balance between developing both of these areas of learning,” says Howell. She adds that there is something of a misconception that content learning and metacognition – thinking about learning – always go hand in hand, but knowing information is different than being able to know what to do when you need to find something out. It’s that second part that parents can emphasize outside of school by helping their child discover information online, through books, or other ways that reinforce independent thinking skills.
3. Know your child’s learning style.
We hear a lot about the different learning styles – visual, tactile, verbal, and so on – but that can be hard to understand in ourselves, much less our children. Howell says parents should think about where their kids are most engaged and attentive and talk with them to break down why. For example, if they love dance class, is it because they are able to move their bodies or because they are with likeminded peers? “Kids often know, and can be honest with you about it,” Howell says. Kids can gain a lot from their own insight – they know when they feel successful, and helping them see why that was and how it felt can help them understand how they learn best.
4. Get curious – together.
Curiosity – finding something that sparks your interest and finding out more about it – is the key to lifelong learning, Howell says. “There is so much that goes on in the world around us,” she says. “What do you do with that wondering?” Directing children how to find the resources they need – and for that matter, going on this learning journey with them – helps them fall in love with seeking knowledge.
5. Stick with it.
It’s not just curiosity that matters in lifelong learning, Howell says. It’s also the tenacity and stamina to keep looking for answers to your questions – and to come up with new ones. “In the past, adults were keepers of information, but now in the world we live in children are much better able to access avenues to find information themselves,” she says. Parents should be a partner in finding that book at the library or looking at a website – or even finding the parent in your community who is an expert in the subject your child is interested in and letting them ask the questions. The key is to keep them engaged even when they hit dead ends.
6. Connect school and home.
Howell suggests parents talk with their child’s teacher about things that they are doing in the classroom and then having conversations about it at home. While many kids will mumble “nothing” when asked a broad question about what happened in school that day, they will respond to a question about a specific topic. For example, when her students were talking about the treatment of Native Americans by white settlers, Howell let parents know and suggested they start a conversation at home. Parents can then help if their child has further questions or wants to talk through it, which helps reinforce the message that learning doesn’t stop once they climb into the car after school.
7. Help them understand that many types of skills can lead to success.
“Ultimately the skills we are hoping to develop in these students are changing all the time in the world we live in,” Howell says. “I think hopefully in time there will be a greater variety of skills that will be factored into academic success.” More to the point, different types of skills that lead to lifelong learning can make a child successful. For example, a child who is very social and has a gift with people can find themselves very successful on a research team or in the business world, while a student who likes to work alone and stay focused on one thing can be the person who solves a problem that has an impact on the world.
8. Don’t push too hard.
Often parents can be so eager to keep the learning going outside the classroom that they get into “lecture mode” and their child tunes out. Remember that by the time kids get home from school, they are tired and need some downtime to recharge. “For better or worse, teachers have children at the best hours of the day,” says Howell. “There is so much pressure to keep kids involved, and a parent’s role can just be inviting them to take a breath.”
9. Let them teach you.
At Roeper, one of the final projects Howell’s class does at the end of the year is a “passion project.” Each child chooses a topic they are really excited about and teaches their classmates about it. They’re encouraged to explore beyond what they already know by researching another aspect of it – the ethics of soccer players, for example, or the historical context behind a favorite book. The students enthusiastically embrace this opportunity. So rather than tuning out when your kid talks about Minecraft or Marvel, start asking some questions and encourage them to dig deeper and then tell you about what they learn.
10. Model lifelong learning yourself – even if you don’t think you know how.
“Demonstrate that as a family you value curiosity and pursing interests and passions, whether its reading the newspaper or watching 60 Minutes or knowing all the stats in a football game,” Howell says. Showing that you are curious enough about something and interested enough in that thing to gain mastery of it can have a huge influence on the adults your children will become.