As parents, we often worry that our children will be overwhelmed by the school system and expectations.
Every day, we tread with caution the fine line between motivating our children to succeed and pressurising them unduly. But underneath the education system, the report card, and the eventual qualifications that our children aspire to and achieve, perhaps what is more important is our children’s attitude towards learning itself.
Do our children love learning, for learning’s sake? Or do they ‘learn’ only when a carrot is dangled before their eyes?
Motivating our children to learn
When children are intrinsically, internally delighted to learn, then the question of exam readiness, the anxiety over actual grades and the pressures to perform become secondary. Children who want to learn will be motivated to find systems and structures that help them succeed, will own the process of growth and results, and will have an overall much better chance of eventually discovering their niche or passion, and succeeding at it.
To encourage your children to learn will take more than a single pep talk. It’s a process of coming alongside to notice their interests and spark their curiosity, and then giving them the handles to own their learning journey.
Here are tips to raise a child who loves learning before they get to the classroom.
Read to your children
Read to them from young. Don’t restrict books to fiction either – young children are surprisingly open to non-fiction literature as long as the topics interest them. Books on dinosaurs, monkeys and plant life are just as needed as fairytales and nursery rhymes.
Having regular reading times with your children will encourage them to love the language and foster creativity and imagination – both of which are the bedrock of learning and awareness.
Make learning fun
As far as possible, don’t turn learning into a structured, time-limited activity with expected outcomes. Rather, capitalize on your children’s preferred play themes to inject learning into every day life. For instance, if your children love tinkering around their play kitchen, take the opportunity to talk about the different kinds of food, to teach them that heat is needed for cooking, and even to run a mini café at home with a menu and prices and fake money to play with.
Build on their natural interests
From toddlerhood all the way to adolescence, your children’s interests will change as they mature and are exposed to different information and situations. Be sensitive to these things and pick up on the changes. Support and encourage their interests, as long as they are not harmful to them, and seek ways to enhance learning in that particular area, for example bringing them to the museum, borrowing certain books from the library or working on related projects together.
See also: Child-friendly libraries in Singapore
Let them solve their own problems
Heard of the proverb “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”? The same truth can be applied to our parenting.
Avoid jumping in prematurely to solve your children’s problems for them. Instead, intentionally take a step back and let them work the solutions out for themselves. From letting them figure out a math question to finding the right piece of a jigsaw puzzle, always give your child the space to get frustrated and try to fix the problem on his own before coming in to help.
This will not only build the all-important trait of resilience in your children, but it also allows them to own the learning process, and to gain confidence in their ability to trust their own competencies in problem-solving.
Ask, don’t tell
Children are naturally inquisitive about the world around them. Too often, however, it is us parents, the school and the media that squash their curiosity by ascribing set-in-stone answers to questions or telling them that something is “too difficult for you to understand”.
No question should go unanswered, but that doesn’t mean the answer always has to come from you. Instead of telling your children the answers to their questions or brushing their queries aside, turn things around and pose thought-provoking questions to them, to help them think about what the answer to their original questions might be. And if you don’t know the answer yourself, look it up together with your children. That can be a pretty fun learning activity for everyone!
Related read: Developing your child’s questioning skills
Encourage progress, not results
Singaporean parents, we typically zoom in on the bottom line at the end but forget to appreciate the process it took to get there. Be intentional about noticing every progress that your children make in an area of learning, and celebrate these small milestones. Give encouragement more often than your criticise, and watch your children’s self-confidence and motivation grow.
For instance, if your preschooler picks up a book to read, don’t chastise him for not knowing half the words – let him know you noticed that he can already read half the words on his own!
When learning is conditional on a reward, it undermines the joy of learning for learning’s sake. Take away the reward, and the motivation to learn is gone. To be sure, the offering of rewards for results is very common in Singaporean families, but that doesn’t mean it’s the best way to motivate children to learn.
There are no short cuts to motivating your children to learn, just as there are no shortcuts to achieving any real success in life.
What are some ways do you motivate your child to learn? Share them with us in the comments below!
By Dorothea Chow