Making learning enticing enough to become a lifelong part of children’s lives need not be a hard sell. After all, their future lives, from higher education to career selection, depend on it. Yet, associating structured, formal learning with school and viewing it as boring—something to be avoided at all costs—kids tend to resist spending their free time on learning activities. That’s why the key to combating this mindset is often in the everyday learning opportunities that arise.
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To encourage children to become lifelong learners, here are five suggestions:
Be a Reading Role Model
Since reading is fundamental to lifelong learning, modeling that behavior goes a long way toward developing the same behavior patterns in children. Studies show that when parents read often and provide a variety of reading materials in the home, reading becomes a habit that children acquire at an early age. To further enhance this effect, visiting libraries on a regular basis and allowing children to select their own reading materials makes reading an enjoyable experience that children begin to anticipate eagerly.
Moreover, sharing the experience by inviting children to read exciting portions aloud, having older children read favorite stories to younger children and playing board games or other games in which reading and spelling are integral to the game all enrich the reading experience, contributing to children’s lifelong learning.
Foster a Growth Mindset
When children believe their intelligence and intellectual capabilities are fixed and unchangeable, they tend to give up when faced with academic difficulties. That’s when the phrase, “I’m just not good at that” becomes their explanation for not excelling in any given area. Instead, foster a growth mindset that views intelligence and ability as elements to be continually developed. As a result, difficulties and even failures become opportunities to learn.
Confronted with a challenging math problem, for instance, or a project that turns out less than stellar or a failing test score, children with a growth mindset perceive learning from failure as a natural part of the process rather than an indication that they are somehow lacking. Lifelong learning becomes a natural outgrowth of a growth mindset.
Encourage Critical Thinking
Gone are the days when simply reciting memorized information is sufficient to earn a high grade and a gold star. A learner in the 21st century needs to be able to analyze, evaluate and synthesize that information, forming opinions based on facts, developing new ideas and creating new innovations. In short, critical thinking is an essential skill.
As a part of everyday learning, encourage children to discuss news items at the dinner table, analyze movies and television shows, evaluate and discuss books they are reading and create new uses for old items—using a fork to replace that lost wand in the bubble jar works wonderfully. Not only will children develop strong critical thinking skills, but learning becomes part of their everyday lives as well.
Children are naturally creative. Yet, somewhere along the line, their innate innovation is often squelched as the focus moves to “serious” academic pursuits. To rekindle that creativity or prevent the flame from going out at the outset, support children’s imaginative play, from making up stories to building structures out of blocks and Legos to their pursuit of the visual and performing arts, just to name a few. Although some children may never shine brilliantly in academics, they may soar above the crowd in innovation, leading them to become lifelong learners in an area they genuinely love.
While children who exhibit academic or athletic prowess earn their well-deserved trophies and certificates, others whose genuine progress never reaches those heights often go unnoticed. Applauding their progress in tangible ways, such as providing fun experiences or purchasing a long-desired item, effectively acknowledges their growth and achievement in a meaningful way. This doesn’t make their achievement commensurate with the honor-roll students, but does give them honor that is rewarding and quite likely to stimulate lifelong learning.