I love it when I hear kids ask questions – “How many stars are in the sky?” Those thought-provoking questions show that they’re becoming more interested in the world around them. It’s important to keep that curiosity and thirst for knowledge alive! Here are a few tips for raising kids that want to be lifelong learners:
Encourage Curiosity at All Ages
Babies explore by crawling, putting things in their mouth and knocking things over. Young kids learn by asking questions and taking things apart. Older kids continue to hone their knowledge as they develop a passion (or sometimes an obsession) for a topic or theme. Nurture their curiosity no matter what age! Allow them to explore, ask questions, read and test out theories.
Kids receive so many step-by-step directions in life that it’s important to give them opportunities and questions that will challenge their mind. Try to let them decide which strategy they will use to solve everyday problems. Give them choices instead of directions. For example, allow your child to choose what they wear instead of laying out their clothes. And if they want to accompany you to the grocery store as a cowboy, great!
One of the earliest ways young children display their creativity is in how they approach art. Allow them to color the sky green or draw a short giraffe. This just shows that they are using their imagination and thinking outside of the box. Also, offering kids open-ended toys such as blocks, science kits, art supplies and items for pretend play will enhance their creative skills.
Kids need to know that we don’t have all the answers but that we can help them find ways to answer their questions. Do they want to know the location of a country? Pull out a map or atlas. Are they curious about a specific animal? Visit a zoo or find a DVD that highlights the animal and its habits. And connect them with people – teachers, librarians, family members. If you have a child who is interested in becoming a nurse or doctor, encourage them to ask questions at their next check-up.
Show Them That Learning Happens Every Day
Let your kids know that learning doesn’t just happen when they are at school. Show them how they learn every day. Point out that they are learning new skills as they grow up, such as tying their shoes or taking care of the family pet. And show them that adults continue to learn by highlighting some of the new things you’re discovering – cooking a new recipe, using a digital camera or mastering a new hobby.
Introduce Kids to New Places & New Experiences
It’s important to take children to new places and encourage them to try new experiences. It helps them to relate what they’ve already learned with the unknown. Take sports as an example: a child that only plays soccer will not understand that different sports have different rules. And if you only see animals during a visit to the zoo, you might not realize that many animals roam free in nature.
Feed Their Passions
Got a child who’s crazy about something – rocks, dinosaurs, seashells? Encourage them to collect and learn about it! Connect books with their passion, try to take them to a place where they can observe more about their interest and learn along with them. When my son was 4, he was obsessed with the giant squid! We found some great kids science books, watched a few wonderful nature programs about ocean animals and even found a replica of a life-size giant squid while we were on vacation.
Be Ready for Questions
Lots of them! Why is it important to encourage questions? It expands a child’s knowledge, keeps their mind active and shows them there’s always more than one way to look at something. Don’t be afraid to discuss questions that may not have a clear answer – “How deep is the ocean?” or “Why do some people have lots of food while others are starving?” These are the questions that help kids form opinions, create solutions to problems and understand more about what we do know and what we have yet to learn.
Help Kids Expand Their Vocabulary
Many times, children will learn something new without knowing the terminology or words. Be sure to share some new vocabulary as they are exploring new places and ideas! If it’s your first visit to a museum, introduce words like ‘sculpture’ and ‘artist’, and explain what they mean as you browse the exhibits. On a visit to the zoo, ask them what the animals are doing and share new words to describe their behavior. Encourage older kids to read the news and introduce them to different genres of books to further advance their vocabulary.