Raising Kids Who Love to Learn

Ask the Right Questions

Your child probably fires dozens of questions at you every day. But turning things around and posing some to him can fuel his excitement for learning. For instance, asking, "Why do you think the birds always come back to that same spot in the backyard?" can spark a conversation that introduces a variety of interesting concepts.

But beware of turning your child's life into a pop quiz. "Some parents make the mistake of asking kids to display their knowledge," Dr. Calkins says. "They'll ask, 'What color is this?' even though it's obvious that their child knows it's green. If you want your child to stay excited about learning, it's much better to engage him in an active inquiry than to ask him to spit out routine knowledge."

And when you ask about his day, be specific ("Did the guinea pig in your classroom have babies yet?") rather than too general ("How was school?"). "Everyday talking is essential to learning," Dr. Calkins says. "Kids need to be able to take the hubbub of their lives and spin it into narratives if they're going to become capable readers and writers."

If you don't know the answer, look it up. If your child is curious about something, take the time to explain it to her. But if you don't have a clue either, it's perfectly all right to say, "I don't know. Let's find out." Turn to a dictionary, an encyclopedia, or the Internet, and do some detective work together. "You're showing her not only how to find more information but also how thrilling it can be to learn new things," Dr. Stipek says.

Avoid Rewards
Numerous studies suggest that offering kids a prize for doing something, whether it's reading a book or completing homework, can actually undermine their pleasure in the activity. Why? The focus shifts from the learning process to the reward, says Alfie Kohn, author of Punished by Rewards (Houghton Mifflin, 1999). Without the sticker, the ice cream, or another treat, the child no longer wants to do the activity, even if it was something she used to truly enjoy. "Kids learn best when they're able to act on their natural curiosity about the world," Kohn says. "Rewards and prizes tend to undermine that."

Focus on the Process, Not the Outcome
"Many parents are too achievement-oriented and focused on the future," Dr. Wlodkowski says. It's an easy trap to fall into: You worry about how your toddler will do in preschool, and when she's a preschooler, you wonder if she's cut out for kindergarten. Though it's natural to want to prepare your child for what's ahead, you may unwittingly push her to learn too much too quickly, or place too much emphasis on her accomplishments. "If your goal is to foster a love of learning, it's far better to take an interest in what your child is doing rather than how well she's doing it," Kohn says. "Your continued interest in her activities is the best motivator of all."

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Copyright © 2004. Reprinted with permission from the May 2002 issue of Parents magazine.

All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.

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