Life with my 2- and 4-year-old boys is rarely quiet. So when the house suddenly grew very still one afternoon, my first thought was "Uh-oh." I dropped the shirt I was folding and made my way toward their bedroom, envisioning fresh crayon marks on the wall, pillow stuffing strewn about, or cookies mashed into the rug.
What I saw when I peeked in on them was a complete surprise: There they sat on the floor, two grass-stained, disheveled boys, their blond heads bent intently over . . . books. I tiptoed away and whispered a small "thank you" to the parenting gods. Maybe all those hours spent reading everything from The Poky Little Puppy to Pokemon books were actually paying off.
Most parents read to their young kids, which helps encourage imagination, language, and an early love of learning. But not all children remain curious and inquisitive into adolescence. Alarmingly, studies have found that from third grade on, a child's enjoyment of learning drops continuously -- a phenomenon some researchers blame on the increasing focus on grades and report cards as kids get older. Younger children, on the other hand, learn for the sheer joy of it.
You can do a lot now to help your child maintain this healthy attitude throughout school. Follow our simple strategies to teach the value of learning and nurture the kind of kid who will find algebra and biology an exciting challenge rather than a chore. Make learning child's play. To captivate a young mind, let your child do what comes naturally: play. "It allows kids to experiment with everything from attitudes and ideas to shapes and colors -- all in the name of fun," says Richard Ryan, Ph.D., a psychology professor at the University of Rochester, in New York.
All children start out with an instinct to explore and discover. Multipurpose toys like blocks, crayons, paints, dress-up clothes, stuffed animals, and action figures capitalize on that instinct. "The best learning toys are the ones that can be used in endless ways," says Lucy Calkins, Ph.D., a professor of curriculum and teaching at Columbia University's Teachers College, in New York City. Stash playthings in storage containers, and pull out only a few at a time. That way, your child won't tire of them as quickly or get overstimulated. "When you put out less, children tend to do more with their toys," explains Dr. Calkins, who cowrote Raising Lifelong Learners (Perseus Press, 1998).