The public education system, characterized by rigid guidelines and intense focus on examinations, has had a long history of notoriety and conspicuous shortcomings.
So much so that Mark Twain publicly vowed: “I’ll never let my schooling interfere with my education.”
Even Albert Einstein was incredulous about the formal education system and observed that, “Education is what remains after one has forgotten everything he learned in school.” Einstein went on to say: “It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education.”
Children today go through an education system that largely imparts skill-sets based on what jobs were most in demand in the 1980s, not what is most applicable today or what might be applicable in 2030. But, jobs have shifted from manufacturing to the service sector and are now mostly linked to technology.
In the 1980s, industries ruled, personal computers were still fairly young and the Internet as we now know it was only the dream of sci-fi writers like William Gibson. We had no idea what the world had in store for us. Unsurprisingly, we still don’t know what the future holds for us.
Learning to adapt to an unpredictable, changing world
Modern society continues to create new ways of doing things and adopt new technologies for getting things done. Yet, despite our great strides in technology and advancements in science, we’re still not good at predicting the future, and probably won’t be for a long time. So, raising and educating our kids as if we have any idea what the future will hold, or as if the world is not changing, or as if the world has not changed one bit, is not a wise move.
Instilling a passion for learning, however, is one of the best gifts you can give kids. By teaching children to love learning, you teach them to be flexible, open-minded and adaptable. You help them become problemsolvers and prepare them appropriately for anything by not preparing them for anything specific. Kids become more adept to deal with the challenges of an unpredictable, ever-changing world.
Of course, teaching kids how to learn instead of what to learn is a wild frontier that not many trod, but which can help kids not only survive today, but also thrive in the future. Here are some practical suggestions you can use to teach your kids how to learn instead of what to learn.
1. Turn learning tasks into fun-to-do activities.
When you make activities fun and turn boring tasks into interesting ones, those activities become enjoyable and feel effortless. Children can easily pick them and enjoy doing them. For example, a child who discovers playing soccer is fun may practice her dribbling skills endlessly. Similarly, a child who is fascinated by superheroes may read comic books voraciously.
Be playful, use humor, let kids explore when learning. This playfulness will arouse curiosity and help the child discover learning can be fun. And when your child discovers learning can be fun, she’ll have intrinsic motivation to learn more even when no one’s watching.
2. Emphasize making an effort more than talents.
Stanford University’s Carol Dweck Ph.D., a pioneering researcher in the field of motivation and author of the immensely enlightening book Mindset, reveals that praising kids for effort, rather than their natural abilities makes them more willing to take on challenges. So praise your child for making an effort to learn and encourage him to employ effective study strategies. For example, when studying for a mathematics test, stress that actively doing math problems works better than passively glancing over notes. Focusing on effort and strategies places your child on a path toward competence.
3. Clarify instructions and guidelines.
If your child tends to jump into tasks without reading and understanding instructions or guidelines, go over the instructions together with her before she begins work. It’s discouraging for children to try hard at something and then hear, “You skipped an important part!” or “You did it all wrong!” Clarifying instructions beforehand can prevent wasted effort and bitter tears. Encourage your child to underline or circle key instructions and also to check off completed parts so that nothing gets missed. It will help her greatly.
4. Provide a proper rationale for learning.
When your child understands why he needs to do things, it becomes easier for him to do those things. If your child doesn’t understand why he needs to do something, you will often hear complaints, such as “Why do I have to learn this boring stuff that I’m never going to use?” Therefore, give your child a proper rational for learning that makes sense to him. For example, you could tell him he needs to learn stuff because it gives him a chance to practice skills he’ll use throughout his life, such as getting work done efficiently, getting information to stick in his head and working well with others.
5. Hone your child’s problem-solving skills.
Ask your child calmly, and in the most appropriate moments by your own judgment, “What do you think would help you get this done?” This question will jolt your child’s instinct and arouse her problem solving skills. You may have to be persistent to encourage her to move beyond complaints toward making a concrete plan. Once a child’s beyond complaints, you’ll both find the best solutions to the problem as lack of motivation for learning often comes from children themselves.
6. Highlight your child’s progress.
Kids generally want to please their parents so don’t be stingy with your approval. Appreciate effort and highlight progress. When a child sees his own progress, he feels capable and encouraged to keep learning. Break down big tasks into smaller, more manageable action-steps to help him see progress toward a goal. Remind your child how he initially struggled with a problem and then triumphed. This can be a big motivator that etches in the child’s psychic, proving invaluable in the future.
7. Introduce a role model for your child.
Sometimes all it takes for a child to imagine what she wants to become, or visualize how she wants her life to turn out is having a role model she can look up to. A beloved teacher, parent, relative or even sibling can inspire a child to study hard and enjoy learning. Supportive friends can also lighten the load of learning. Even just sitting next to someone she looks up to while studying can minimize avoidance and boost love for learning. Warmth, encouragement and support are vital to cultivate a habit of learning.