Fuel Your Child's Desire to Learn

Teach her that mistakes are a part of life.

child making art

Thayer Allyson Gowdy

School is a key time for learning, but it can also be one of anxiety. Many kids worry about being embarrassed in front of their peers if they don't know the answer or do something the wrong way. Try to counter this hesitancy by acknowledging your own goofs: "Whoops. I drove right by Nicole's house. I guess we'll have to go around the block again." This sends the message that no one is perfect. When your child makes a mistake, you should also turn it into a positive. You might say, for instance, "You're really good at making those E's. Now just try to draw them facing the other way." Also, always answer your child's questions and never belittle them ("C'mon, you know the answer to that"), even if a query seems silly to you.

Help him develop a cool hobby.

As kids learn more about the world, they often discover a single subject that's especially intriguing to them. Artwork may absorb one child, while another might set his sights on outer space. "If a child has a special interest in something, learning becomes exciting," says Sally Reis, Ph.D., coauthor of Light Up Your Child's Mind.

Instead of pushing your child to pursue something because you like it, give him opportunities to find his own things to pursue. Visit the zoo or an art museum, go on hikes, show him interesting stamps or coins, or point out flowers, birds, rocks, or the night sky in your own backyard.

If he seems interested, encourage him to start a collection. At 2, Ethan Gaynor, of Nutley, New Jersey, started picking out plastic animals to play with from a local craft store. His mom, Luisa, would cap off each purchase with a trip to the library to find a matching book. "Eventually, we moved from animal books to dinosaurs," she says. By then he was hooked. Three years later he won first prize in the school science fair for a project on dinosaur diets. "Children who become collectors -- especially of scientific things like leaves, bugs, shells, and flowers -- almost always delve deeply into the subject," says Dr. Acredolo. "And that often leads to their becoming avid learners in general."

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