What is the goal of education?
Ultimately, isn’t it to turn children into productive and happy adults? “Productive” not necessarily meaning one who, as a slave to the system, crams as much as possible into a day simply to contribute to the GDP, but instead one who is contributing to the overall good of a community rather than expecting someone else to provide.
Life stays interesting when we’re learning. Yet too many are trapped in the idea that learning takes place at a desk while listening to a person with a degree of some sort who is paid to teach. Given that mindset, learning stops when we leave a school building and interact with the people outside it. Worse yet, it stops when we finish school.
Nothing could be farther from the truth.
It is outside that school building, in among the people “in the trenches” that a person is free to learn what s/he wants, when s/he wants and from experience rather than books. Such learning can happen anywhere, at any time and at any age–far beyond the years required for a diploma or a degree. It is a thrilling, engaging form of learning that has no limits.
Helping your children to become lifelong learners is one of the greatest gifts you can give them. Schools will not teach it to them. Some excellent teachers will try to instill it, but if you want to be sure your children are fully engaged for their entire lives, then make it a priority to help them down that path.
How? From experience, I can offer these tips:
- Don’t be in a hurry to answer all their questions. Even if you know the answer, why not look it up? Or try an easy experiment that demonstrates the answer. Help them develop research and experimentation skills from an early age.
- Help them think and reason. Use questions such as what do you think? or what would happen if? Why? How? Encourage an inquisitive nature.
- Help them learn without a desk. Garden with them. Take them to the park. When you take them grocery shopping, give them jobs to do. By the time my sons were about 10, I could give them half my grocery list and send them to the other end of the store to work toward the middle. They compared prices and used coupons. Not sure I could do that now–stores are too big and the world is too dangerous to have little ones that far away. That doesn’t mean you can’t work toward each other from opposite ends of an aisle.
- Show them that not all good teachers are certified. Do you have someone in your family who is a natural “expert”? Maybe a carpenter, or a mechanic, or a beekeeper. Does someone raise cattle? Work as a bat removal specialist? (We have a friend who is!). Let them learn a foreign language from a native. Or learn about another culture by immersion.
- Spend time with them in libraries, museums, at the zoo, the farmers’ market, at plays, concerts, movies (including documentaries!). Yes, schools will take them to some of these places on field trips, but again–it’s a structured activity with time restrictions. Take them when there is time for them to explore the things that really interest them.
- Talk with them. Encourage honest and open communication. They will carry it outside the family circle and know how to interact with others who are not necessarily their agemates. Their world expands and their understand of it deepens.
- Read to them. Too many parents stop reading aloud when the children begin learning to read. This is such a mistake! It will not make them lazy; it will not hinder their progress as independent readers. It helps them develop vocabulary that is currently beyond their level. It introduces them to subjects they might not think they have an interest in. It develops listening skills. When they are fluent readers, why not have a family read-aloud night and take turns reading to one another? It is a cheap, calm and lovely way to spend a family night.
- Set the example. Stay curious. Ask questions. Look for opportunities to explore. Don’t let new words slide past simply guessing at the meaning by context clues. Look them up; it’s so easy with the electronic dictionaries! If something makes you curious, take the time to research it. Try new recipes. Learn new hobbies. Develop new interests. Your children watch you. Show them how to spend a lifetime learning.