What will your child’s future be?
Chances are this thought keeps you awake at night. As parents, much of our lives are devoted to our children and to guiding them towards a happy and successful future. It’s natural to worry about the future because we often feel like it’s something we don’t have much control over it.
But when it comes to your children, you actually have a lot more power than you think.
Though there will always be elements of uncertainty, there’s quite a lot that we as parents can influence and impact.
One of the best things we can give our children is a love of learning.
A love of learning goes beyond just a skill or a talent. With a genuine love of learning, your child will be equipped for success in an undeniable way. A love of learning translates into effort, the #1 ingredient that goes into perseverance, and ultimately, into success. Those who continuously seek to learn and grow seldom find themselves ‘stuck’ the way others often do, because their drive for knowledge compels them to look for answers and new opportunities. Lovers of learning are interested in finding solutions to problems and in gaining new knowledge or abilities. They also tend to spend time on personal development. Simply put, a love of learning is a love of growth and forward movement, something which is invaluable in any area of life.
This quality is also a great predictor of success; more so than grades, test scores, or other “academic” factors.
It’s clear, helping our children develop a passion for knowledge can give them a great tool for creating their future. But how exactly do we help them develop it? And for older children and teenagers, is it too late for them to fall in love with learning?
The Parent’s Role
The first question to ask yourself on this subject is this:
Do I love learning?
It’s not essential for you to be knowledge-hungry in order for your children to be, but there’s no doubt that parents who openly share their own love of learning may have an easier time passing that on to their kids.
Parents who embrace knowledge and invite their kids to embrace it with them may find that this is half the battle. Such an approach could be a simple way to raise children who have a more natural interest in learning.
It’s not just about reading with your kids---though that is a wonderful activity to share. Learning together might involve going to museums and talking about the art, or heading out on a bushwalk and observing the natural world. These are easy (and even fun) ways to make learning a part of everyday life.
But it extends further. All of life involves learning.
The messages we give our children are of greatest importance. You may not even realise the messages you’re sending, and these can affect both older and younger children.
When you get up to go to work on Monday, do you do so with joy? With a passion for your career? Of course, you can’t expect to be “on” all the time and it’s human to dread the workday now and again, but is this a repeated mood? Your kids could be absorbing the idea that work is associated with unpleasantness and drudgery.
What if, instead, your kids saw that you headed off to work invigorated? Maybe they would hear you talk about the challenges you face at work, and how you can’t wait to tackle them with new solutions and bright ideas. What if the notion of work/knowledge/passion began to seem enticing?
The result could be an impassioned and more productive future worker. Those who love learning tend to perform better in the workplace. They enjoy contributing to their company, they seek out new opportunities, they question the status quo, they make waves. These individuals often go on to become entrepreneurs or CEOs.
Being a lover of learning yourself is not the only way to impress upon your children a thirst for knowledge, but it could certainly be an effective starting point.
A Love of Learning from the Start
While younger children may be more adaptable and open to new ideas, children (and even adults) of any age can increase their personal desire to learn and grow.
Here are a few ideas for getting on the right track.
Build Good Habits
Habits aren’t something we’re born with; they’re practices we acquire along the way. Building positive habits toward learning can be an excellent way to increase one’s love of it. For kids, this generally means schoolwork habits. Even the most studious of children can struggle with homework. After all, when school lets out for the day, the temptation to run and play is very strong. Children who build strong habits at a young age make work a part of their routine, which ideally makes getting homework done much less of a ‘chore.’
But habits plan a deeper role. When children habitually complete their schoolwork, their building their own knowledge base. As they say, practice makes perfect, and creating habits does exactly that. As they continue on with their good habits, this becomes something even more important: competence. Practising their skills regularly results in well-honed skills. When children experience competence, they feel a sense of reward or inner pride. They become motivated to achieve that feeling again. This connects the act of learning with a pleasant outcome. And this applies to not just academic skills like maths and science, but also to the skills built by the habits themselves: commitment, diligence, and effort.
A passion for knowledge often starts in early childhood, though it can be nurtured much later on as well. One integral piece of learning is curiosity. Children who are curious about the world around them are already on their way to becoming lifelong learners. Most young children are powerfully curious. They are physically and mentally developing while also being continually introduced to new ideas. Parents can help encourage this curiosity to bloom.
Change things up a bit
While there’s a time and place for routine, it never hurts to be a bit spontaneous. Do something different in your household, even if it’s as simple as eating breakfast foods for dinner. This alters your kids’ perceptions of what is normal and expected, and forces them to examine things in a new way. This fresh, unexpected angle can awaken their inner curiosity.
Travel to new places
Travelling around the world can be an exciting and eye-opening experience for a child, introducing them to new cultures and ways of living. But travelling abroad isn’t always possible for every family. You can have similar experiences, however, right in your own backyard. Travel to a new city, go camping, try a restaurant with an unfamiliar cuisine: all these things will open up your kids’ senses, showing them how diverse and thrilling the world can be. Chances are, they’ll be curious to discover more.
Ask their opinion
Another way to build curiosity and a love of knowledge is to ask your kids their opinion from time to time. For some kids, being asked an opinion about a news story or an issue is downright surprising. They might not have a thoughtful answer for you the first time you try, but merely opening up the dialogue encourages your child to start thinking critically and form their own opinions. You may soon find your child asking you for your opinion on the same subjects!
Ask Questions, Seek Answers
Speaking of opinions, asking questions and seeking answers about the world is one of the fundamental ways kids can become lifelong learners. No matter their age, parents should make asking questions commonplace in the household. And you’ll need to answer them, too, to show that learning creates solutions. If you don’t know the answer to one of your kids’ queries, you can research the answer together. This will demonstrate to them that curiosity is a positive trait and that they are quite capable of discovering the answer, even on their own.
Have the Right Approach to Activities
It’s easy to get caught up in a quest for academic achievement and success. For some families, this might mean that a child begins a certain activity in early childhood and continues through their school years, becoming extremely proficient at it. This can be a wonderful thing---if the child has a passion for that activity. But forced piano lessons for 12 years, even if the child becomes highly skilled, may not serve to foster a love of learning. In fact, it might even prevent it somewhat.
By the same token, your kids shouldn’t have jam-packed schedules that leave them with no free time. Activity overwhelm is real. Experts note that downtime is just as vital for children, and will help them perform better at school and their activities.
You may also want to allow your children to sample lots of different activities. Instead of saying no to your daughter’s request to take horse riding lessons, why not say yes? If your son wishes to join the chess club, encourage him. Even if your kids don’t stick with these activities, dabbling in a range of things shows their interest and can help lead them to those activities they’ll be most passionate about.
Most of all, help your children to see that learning can be incredibly fun. Their schoolwork may not always excite them, but there are plenty of ways to make everyday learning fun. Just a few ideas include turning a lesson into a game or incorporating technology such as videos or websites. Plus, there is more to learning than school subjects. There are endless discoveries to make in the world around them, about people, places, and ideas. Together, you and your children can see how knowledge can cultivate so much joy.
Helping Older Kids and Teenagers Embrace a Love of Learning
It might seem a lot easier to build the love of learning in a younger child. But what about preteens and teenagers? Can they still become avid knowledge buffs?
The answer is definitely.
At first glance, your teen might look like a tough nut to crack. At this impressionable age, it’s not uncommon to find a moody, sullen young adult where your happy youngster used to be. But don’t let this impenetrable demeanour fool you. Teenaged children can seem outwardly disinterested, but a great many of them are exceedingly receptive to new ideas. Especially when it comes to seeking their passion and purpose in life. In fact, these years of self-discovery and change might be just right for turning out successful, impassioned adults.
Encourage Them to Discover their Passions
As children get older, they may be less interested in learning for learning’s sake. Instead, their love of learning will be more likely connected to themselves and to their own future. So the key to getting teenagers excited about learning is to focus it on their passions. We’ve all heard the term, “find your passion,” but what exactly does that mean? And how can we equip our children to do so?
Take the pressure off
Having a passion gives life more depth, more joy, and more dimension. Whether or not one’s passion becomes their career is largely irrelevant. And your teenager should be taught this. Encourage them to look around for their passion, but let them know that the pressure isn’t as great as they believe it to be. They don’t have a limited time to find their passion or their calling (in fact they have their whole lives to do so). They also don’t have to decide firmly upon a single passion.
Emphasise that the purpose of finding their passion is their personal happiness and wellbeing. Once your kids know that the pressure is off, they are apt to feel much more comfortable with trying new things and opening themselves up to new experiences.
Teenagers crave independence and having a taste of it can be vital to helping them grow in their love for learning. Give your child some space to pursue what interests them, and room to figure things out. Solving their own problems can be a terrific way for them to build confidence in their own abilities, and to discover that they are able to find answers and solutions. Another “win” for learning.
Unfortunately, learning and growth can bring with it discomfort and uncertainty. Let your kids know that this is totally normal and let them know, too, that it’s ok to push themselves outside their comfort zone. Encourage them to do so. Make sure they know it’s ok to fail. The experiences gained through acts of courage can be some of the most transformative. Your kids don’t want to miss out on that. Teach them that life is better when pursued boldly.
Emphasise internal motivation over external achievement
There’s a lot of pressure in school for kids to be the best. Academic achievement is important and it definitely has its place. But the most successful children (and adults) know that internal motivation and inner peace are far more valuable than external validation. It doesn’t have to be one or the other---you can still urge your child to perform well in school---but to live their best lives, it’s vital that kids learn to rely first and foremost on their own internal guide. Repeat such concepts to your children regularly, and practice them in your own life. This is one brilliant way that kids can learn to develop intrinsic motivation and how they can work on being true to themselves.
Talk about reality
Having dreams and goals is wonderful. Kids who grow up with a love of learning tend to have big dreams and chase after exciting goals. But at some point, it’s important to sit down and discuss what it all means. Especially as it relates to the future.
There’s an excellent approach that young people can take when thinking about their purpose in life. What they love to learn about and pursue is of great importance but so are other factors. The Stanford’s d.school identifies three interrelated factors essential to fostering purpose among students: 1) their skills and strengths; 2) what the world needs; and 3) what the student loves to do. This is a wonderfully practical way to talk about your child’s future. Combining their passions, talents, and the notion of a greater good takes things to the next level.
The reality is that we can’t all be rockstars. There is a need for all kinds of jobs and all kinds of people. Discovering this in childhood and in the teenage years can be far more powerful than merely telling kids to ‘dream big.’ It helps them see that there is a place and role for everyone in this world, even (and especially) them. This might be a big concept to swallow, but it’s surely one that will promote a desire to learn and grow.