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How Do You Get Your Child to Love Learning?

Well, it’s a trick question. Your child automatically does love learning. The question really is, “How do we get him to love to learn what we want him to learn?” It should be the job school to get kids to love school work, but what if they are not doing their job?

When a child is not motivated by school work, getting that to change is tricky business—it’s not hard; it’s just tricky. Here is one success story with a few moments of parental brilliance that might inspire others to be creative about how to get our children to love doing school work on their own (based on a year’s worth of email reporting on Daniel’s progress through fifth grade.)

Email from Daniel’s Father on September 28

Daniel makes no bones about not liking school and only being interested in video games (specifically “Zelda” games–Daniel is in love with Zelda). The fifth grade summer homework of reading a book and answering a number of questions generated from him an apathetic “I dunno.”  He was totally stuck, and it seemed like nothing short of an epiphany would spark him into action.  Thank God they do occur every so often.

It dawned on me to use Daniel’s interest in Zelda to advantage.  I said, “Hey, Daniel, why don’t you write sentences comparing a Zelda game to the book?”

He did it!

Then I told him to remove all references to Zelda and change all the comparisons to statements about the book.  It worked and Daniel had soon produced a reasonably good analysis/opinion piece of work.

Email on November 16

I’m about halfway through “Genius” and already it’s been instrumental in getting Daniel to read voluntarily.  Last night I kept reading despite his efforts to engage me.  Soon, I watched through my peripheral vision as he picked up a copy of The Hobbit and read.  Now get this:  I was on page 96, the part where you say “Parents can have lots of books in the house and let themselves be caught reading from time to time.”

January 27

Daniel has been very needy of me in doing his homework. Although there was a component of just wanting the attention, he clearly had some paralysis akin to writer’s block.  So while thinking to myself “he really needs to learn to do this himself” I didn’t want to just let him flounder, and would dutifully help him.  My suggestions included: list, organize, prioritize, elaborate, exemplify, add imagery, opine, conclude, etc.  These sessions would produce reasonably good work, but not without pushing, resistance and the associated high drama.

At some point very recently, there was a shift that I can’t exactly explain.  We were working on an assignment and Daniel said, “Daddy, I’m not going to do that.  You make it too hard, go away, I’ll do this myself!”

With a small, feigned expression of rejection, I went away really feeling elated that the mission was accomplished; that he had taken ownership rather than learning how his father would do the homework.

I had been worrying that I was enabling his neediness too long. In retrospect, I know I did something right, though I’m not exactly sure of the mechanism that played out.  I guess it was my mindset that he would eventually do it himself that influenced my actions and facilitated the desired result.

June 7 Email:

If I show too much interest, Daniel says firmly, “Daddy, it’s MY project”.  I love it when he does that.

Ta Da! Look, Dad, no hands.

So how does one get a child to own the learning we want them to own? Simple: Just keep your eye on that ball and keep swinging until you get a hit. Then keep swinging till you get another hit. Then keep swinging until you hit it out of the park.

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One Response to “How Do You Get Your Child to Love Learning?”

  1. Dawn September 9, 2011 at 5:20 am #

    It is amazing how taking a step back from a situation can really help you see the big picture. Sometimes, a parent with the best intentions can try too hard and the child picks up on the anxiety.

    Reading independently, in front of your child (or students), is a very powerful motivator. When you combine it with reading together often, it increases the chances of raising an avid reader significantly. Like beautiful music, the words take on a whole new meaning and beauty that can never be taught through skills and worksheets alone.

    Music is a lot like parenting, when you stop and think about it. It takes a lot of practice before the notes sound like real music. Sometimes, listening to the entire piece before we attempt to play it will help us see beyond the individual notes.

    Thanks, Rick!

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