From the moment they take their first breath, children have a desire to learn. It’s innate; an instinct over which they have no control. This is how they learn language, how to engage with the people around them and what their place is in society. They absorb, observe, imitate and master in a continuous cycle. This ability to learn is as much a gifting as it is a survival mechanism. It’s a resource that should be nurtured and guarded.
Children approach learning with enthusiasm. They see it as an adventure of discovery; to them new knowledge and skills open doors to wonderful new worlds and experiences. When I was a classroom teacher it broke my heart to see the apathy in some students and resentment in others towards education. They wanted the least amount of work possible and hated assignments that demanded anything more from them than the minimum. What happened over their dozen years of life to change their delight in learning to disdain?
I have pondered this question ever since, and even more intently as I begin educating my own children. I have come to the following three conclusions in how to cultivate the posture of the student’s mind towards learning:
- Make learning a way of life: Once a week I take our schooling to the park. It’s important for the children to see that learning isn’t limited to what happens at the dining room table; it happens continuously. We are always looking for new things to do and try and discuss and I emphasize that we are learning new things. What is learned in our school hour is referred to over and over again throughout the day and week to link school and life. And what we experience throughout the day is mentioned in school to illustrate the need for new tools.
- The teacher needs to love learning: My attitude is contagious. And as their learning guide I set the tone for our school experience. If I don’t like something, neither will they. If I love something, most likely they will too. But this doesn’t only apply to our school hour; it translates to my personal interests. I read on my own and talk about what I’m reading. I chat with other people and share what I have learned from them. I listen to sermons and podcasts around the kids. I attempt new recipes and practice new skills and tell the kids that I love learning new things. I want them to be excited that there is always more to learn.
- Beware of fast food learning tools: Just as microwave dinners, bags of chips, and drive-thru burgers taste so delicious and are easy ways to soothe hunger pains, so it is with many common learning tools today. Educational shows, electronic learning devices, and battery-operated toys mesmerize and entertain young minds while sprinkling in ABCs and 1-2-3. Parents breathe a sigh of relief for a moment’s reprieve while feeling satisfied that their kids are learning something. These things can be a fun treat in small doses but if they are the primary educators they will condition a child’s mind to being entertained rather than being challenged and stretched. Learning that lasts comes through tapping into the imagination, hands-on experience and stimulation of all of the senses, not just one or two.
As a teacher I have been given all the tools I need for a successful educational journey: my 5 students. They want to learn. My responsibility is not so much to teach them new things but to cultivate, guide and guard their ability to learn them. I want to fan the flame of their imaginations and ignite the spark of possibility within them: that they can be and do and love and experience all that God wants them to.