Thursday, June 16, 2011

Guest Post - On Teaching Children How to Learn

On Teaching Children How to Learn

Guest Post by Jeremy Fordham

There is perhaps no single greater challenge in parenting than teaching your child how to learn, and this is a process that requires nurturing an appreciation for the acquisition of knowledge. It requires pushing a child to enjoy challenging his or herself, to see “boring” subjects from interesting angles, to convince themselves to take an active role in their own education. Professionals have lots of opinions on why children lose interest in education as they grow older, but in the United states almost a quarter of college graduates are going on to pursue advanced degrees in a gamut of PhD programs, indicating that parents are definitely doing something right these days when it comes to instilling a life-long interest in learning. But just what exactly does it take? How can we increase the number of kids maintaining long-term interest in school? Or, at the very least, how can we maintain a long-term interest in learning no matter what a child’s ultimate decisions end up being? The trick is to start setting strong work ethics early on in life.


Preschool doesn’t have to be a $30,000-a-year affair with entrance examinations and headaches in order for your child to get the most out of the experience. A very interesting study recently published in Science does a great job of quantitatively demonstrating the benefits of preschool. As highlighted and dissected by MotherJones, students who attended preschool, according to the study, had stronger high school graduate rates, higher college attendance statistics and had higher overall incomes compared to their non-preschool-attending peers. And while correlation is certainly not causation, myriad professionals have exhaustively addressed the importance of preschool in early childhood development.

There are innumerable reasons why preschool is so important when it comes to teaching children how to learn. According to Berkeley professor David Kirp, preschool comes at a time when children are in a crucial developmental stage
. By placing a child in an environment where they can interact socially, hear words, build relationships with peers and exercise their sponge-like brains, kids hone life-long skills that make it easier to learn and succeed further on down the road. Preparation for the emotional and psychological aspects of education is one of the most important foundations necessary for developing strong study skills and learning habits.
At such an early stage of life, “instilling a strong interest in learning” seems like an elusive and impossible concept. But think about how easy it really is. Imagine if a preschooler is encouraged to figure out basic puzzles, or pushed to interact with the sounds that resonate from a piano when they touch the keys. In the most basic and most fundamental way possible, inspiring this sort of exploration at a young stage exposes children to the process of learning. Yes, it is difficult; yes, it requires motivation. But this is what makes it fun. It is entertaining to use your hands and figure out how a system works, and the more that a young child is exposed to that eureka! feeling, the more likely they are to pursue more of those moments as they grow older.

Furthermore, preschool helps bridge the gap in learning created by unavoidable socioeconomic stratification. According to Mr. Kirp, by age four children from a family dependent on welfare will have heard 30 million fewer words than those who come from middle class homes. This inherently dooms disadvantaged children to fall behind if parents do not act early on. Preschool is one of the greatest ways of ensuring that children are exposed to other minds like their own; of ensuring that they develop the critical keystone of their educational apparatus upon which they build as they grow older and are exposed to more external stimuli. Preschool is widely available and is a great way to start a child off on the right foot.

Parental Involvement

While preschool is a great way to develop the precursors of strong study skills, it should by no means be seen as a substitute for parental involvement in the educational process. The importance of familial connection and the organic benefits provided by parent-child interaction are unparalleled. There are a lot of interesting opinions on what makes a great parent, but the truth is that there is no unanimous answer to this question. Every child is born in unique circumstances that, very often, require variations in how parents need to approach learning. And no, stressing that a child performs at superior standards in school is not what is meant by an “approach to learning.”

Children need to be engaged by their parents in ways that promote critical self-reflection, as well as a reflection of the external world. Reading to a child, discussing current events, formulating opinions with them, inspiring structured (but simple) arguments, going on walks and asking questions about natural things--this is the type of organic interaction that encourages an a life-long interest in general education. Always remember that nobody is perfect--part of learning how to study well and retain information efficiently is learning how to do it incorrectly. Failure is an integral part of the learning process. All of the world’s greatest scientists didn’t formulate their theories overnight, and similarly, your child won’t become a great learner by asking just one question. Allowing children to develop their own unique interests, allowing them to pursue hobbies, ask questions and explore answers (within boundaries, of course), is one of the surest ways to help them figure out the right way to take in information--the right way for them. A strong natural inquiry translates into strong study habits, especially if a child has spent a lot of his or her time practicing in real, applicable ways that appease their own unique curiosity.

Additional Strategies

There are lots of different, existing strategies that a parent can take to help develop good study habits in children, especially when they’re older. Jennifer Viemont, a college success consultant of Deliberate Living, stresses the importance of concepts like time management and seeking outside help, which are somewhat complex ideas that are often best learned through trial and error.
Especially in today’s technology-laden world, time management seems to the bane of many teenagers’ existences. Lots of parents see their children complain that there just aren’t enough hours in the day!, only to see their teenager collapse in front of the TV or jump onto Facebook when they get home from school. In actuality, establishing a homework routine with an eight-year-old is much easier than with a teenager for obvious reasons rooted in psychological malleability. Teaching a child how to keep a calendar, budget time devoted to specific tasks, when to hang in there and when to call it quits are all essential in ensuring both educational success and general achievement as a working citizen. But these habits need to be ingrained early on if they are to effectively take hood. One of the largest blocks of successful studying and learning is emotional stress, and teaching children how to avoid this pitfall will boost their likelihood for success exponentially.

At the end of the day, developing study skills and lifelong learning habits is a complex process that involves delicate coordination of many ideas at many stages in a child’s life. A stepwise, knowledgeable approach to this ideology, however, has inevitable positive influence that, when combined with a little love, is sure to make your child an inquisitive person who not only enjoy new discovery, but who actively seeks it out.

Jeremy Fordham is a writer who assesses and promotes virtual PhD programs. He is an engineer who hopes to inspire dialogue in unique niches by addressing topics at the intersection of many disciplines.


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