This is a big year for my family as we have all four children in school. Eleanor, (age 5) in particular started Kindergarten. She was so dang excited! Several times a day for a couple of weeks she would ask, “Does school start tomorrow?”
Not too long before this, my wife and I worried a bit about how Eleanor would handle this transition; in the past, she’s been slow to warm up to new things. After several days of asking about school starting, it was clear that it was going to be harder on Mom than on Eleanor.
The night before school started, Eleanor (and her sisters) laid out their school clothes and filled their backpacks with notebooks, pencils, and other school supplies. It almost seemed like Christmas Eve!
But why all the excitement? What is there to look forward to?
Certainly being with friends and wearing new clothes played into it. But deeper than that, I could tell that Eleanor was excited to learn. Learn more about reading, writing, drawing, basic math and much more!
But how many older children share the same passion for learning? What about us parents? You don’t need a research study to tell you that there is a connection between age and excitement. The older a child is, the less excited they probably are about school. Herein lies a key difference.
Learning and school are not the same thing in the mind of many students. I know it sounds counterintuitive, but it’s unfortunately the reality of kids and schools today. Professor of education and author, Sir Ken Robinson, Ph.D., believes that we are all born hungry to learn and creative, but it is educated and tested out of us. He elaborates below:
So, at the beginning of this school year, how do we keep the love of learning alive in our children and in ourselves (sometimes in spite of the school system)? There are plenty of options, but I’ll get you started with 3 principles to focus on.
1. Focus on Learning, Not Grades!
Alfie Kohn will introduce this principle below:
As Dr. Kohn discusses, getting caught up in performance can distract from actual learning. When you talk to your children about their subjects and classes, ask them about what they are learning and how it applies to life. Ask them about their efforts in the class. If your son brags about his A in math and how easy it was (like my son did), say something like: “I’m so glad you enjoy math! What did you like learning about the most?” Professor Carol Dweck, author of Mindset, counsels that parents should respond: “I’m sorry it was too easy and didn’t push you. Maybe we should try a higher level math where you can learn more.”
2. Get into Their Head.
One of my children kept telling us that there was no homework assigned in one of their classes and so we didn’t push it. When the report card finally came we saw a “C” in the class. (Here is where you are probably thinking I am going to be grade-focused….wrongo!)
So we sat down and asked some of the following questions: “Was this class really hard for you? Did you give your best effort? What did you learn?” Although we didn’t ask all these questions at once, we did learn that there had been a lot of homework not completed. Even more importantly we learned about how this child struggled with the subject and felt incompetent.
We kept the focus on learning and worked with them the next semester to incorporate better studying practices.
Sometimes we assume we know how our children learn and process different topics. While there is some truth to this, if we are not aware of what our children are learning at school, the homework they are assigned, how they feel about it and why, and the teaching style of their teachers . . . we won’t really know.
3. Have a Healthy Appetite Yourself.
Let’s say you prepare a meal for your family that you find quite disgusting, but you know it is healthy so you prepare it anyway. Now try to convince your children how good the food is while they see you choking it down. Kind of a hard sell.
The same goes for learning. If your kids never see you reading, developing a new skill, or just plain excited about new facts and ideas, then this tells us what they will learn about learning. In fact, one educational expert says that the most successful students have parents who model “a lifelong interest in learning.” So rekindle your love for learning by taking a community class, watch TED talks or documentaries, watch Do-It-Yourself (DIY) YouTube videos, take up gardening, or anything that gets you excited again!
Real learning will fuel your children’s development, and it will make you a better parent. It can increase life satisfaction and make for a better society. Stay curious. Stay hungry.
Welcome back to school!