Teachers who love teaching, teach children to love learning.
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At an early age, children learn for the pure joy of it. As children progress through school, however, their joy tends to dwindle. Pressures to make perfect grades hinder their ability to learn for mastery, so they memorize what they need to in order to make the grade, and often forget the material soon after. Children should not be so stressed out about getting the right answer that it takes the joy out of learning. As people who care about children, we want them to continue to learn for the joy of it.
Getting children to be intrinsically motivated to love learning seems like a big challenge. However, this task is not as overwhelming as it sounds. Thankfully, the earlier you inspire children to love learning, the longer that love stays with them. Children naturally love learning, whether they know they are learning or not. Say we have a child in a kindergarten classroom, he walks up to a group of children at a sand tray before school begins and begins to play. It looks to adults like the children are just playing, but the child’s curiosity and access to the sand tray are keeping him motivated to learn. These children at the sand tray are learning social skills, physics, awareness of their body, the properties of different materials, and many other things.

To help foster their love of learning, you can:

  • Ask Questions. Observe their play and how they are doing with a particular task. Ask open ended questions that promote deeper thinking. “What would happen if…” “How do you think this works?” “What else can you do with this?
  • Answer their questions. Children ask a lot of questions.
    This means they are curious and want to learn more about something. Answer their questions, no matter how many they ask. If you don’t know the answer, that’s okay. We don’t have to pretend to know everything in front of children. If we seek out an answer, we are showing them that learning is an important, lifelong process.
  • Take a step back.  Learning comes with experience. Of course we need to encourage children to do their best and help them when they need it, but letting them fail is an essential component to learning. If the child is building a sand castle and we know it is going to fall, instead of coming to the rescue or telling them how to build it so it doesn’t fall, let them figure it out after it falls. You can say, “How could you build that differently so it doesn’t fall?”

Here are a few more strategies to foster a child’s love of learning:

  • Be a role model. Show children that you love learning, too! This will show children that no matter how old you are, you are always learning and investigating new things. If you are walking outside and see a bird’s nest with eggs in it, stop and talk about it. Talk about how cool it is and what you would want to know more about birds. “I wonder how long it will take them to hatch.” “I wonder what kind of bird eggs these are?”

  • Meet children where they are. Children learn at different paces and they all learn differently in their own unique way. Being sensitive to the child and their abilities will help them feel competent in what they are able to do while you work with them on their areas of improvement. Howard Garner’s theory of multiple intelligences would be a great resource to find out how a certain child learns best. 

  • Engage their spark. When you notice that a child has a passion for something, encourage them to learn or practice more.   This shows them that you care about what they care about learning. This, in turn, will motivate them to do their best and continue to learn about their spark.   (For example, this website has activity ideas to help foster “sparks”.  Click here for free doctor printables.)

  • Focus on the process, not the product. Especially with children seven years old and younger, they care more about how to get to the finished product rather than the product itself. Even as children get older, focus on the process and doing your best throughout the process. Children will take more time to understand the material or the lesson when you focus on the process because it takes the pressure off of trying to get a perfect finished product.

  • Avoid rewards. When we tell a child that we will give them a reward for doing something, like finishing their homework, they are being externally motivated and this motivation is fleeting. Soon, they will either want more or decide the reward is not worth the effort.  

This website has free printable ideas for arts and crafts, games and learning activities to help foster a child’s spark!  Click here for “doctor” pages so children can pretend to be doctors. This is great material to give kids for dramatic play. The kids could expand on their play because they have additional material to explore what it is like to be a doctor.

This website has science activities for all ages that will get kids thinking and asking questions and wanting to learn more. This is a GREAT site.

Did you know even problem solving can be fun?

Materials: Aluminum Foil, bucket of water, something small that weighs the same (e.g. beads)

Give the child a sheet of aluminum foil (about the size of a cookie sheet). Tell them to form the aluminum foil into a boat that will sit in the bucket of water. Use the small items to fill the boat once it is done and in the water. See how many you can get in the boat before it sinks. This activity allows them to problem solve and see their effort of making a boat that holds a lot of items. The boat may not hold a lot at first but once they start to observe what works and what doesn’t and keep trying to make a better boat it should hold more each time.

Materials: Large paper, markers

Before starting an activity make three columns labeled “What I Know/ What I Want to Learn/ What I Learned” Fill out the “What I Know” and “What I Want to Learn” columns before the activity, then when you are finished, fill out the “What I Learned” column. This technique is often used in classrooms to be a visual representation for kids to see if they learned what they wanted to, or learned something they had not thought of before.

What worked for you?

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