Twelve ways for encouraging children to learn

by Mary Ann on May 25, 2011

boy in mud photo

Children have a natural desire to learn

“But I must again repeat it, that the great secret of education lies in finding out the proper means of making young minds fall in love with useful researches…”

-George Turnbull, Observations upon Liberal Education, written in 1742

That is a very interesting premise. If we can discern the way to help children fall in love with learning they can receive a great education because they will want to.

baby with spoon picture

Babies learn with time and experimentation

I believe this love of learning comes naturally to children. I’m sure  you have observed how children learn. Just watch a baby try to learn to use their hands. They are not discouraged with how long it takes to gain mastery over the hand. They just keep working at it. No one tries to help a baby learn to use their hands. We just watch them and encourage them and let them work it out. The same goes for learning to hold a spoon, walking, putting on a shirt, etc. We provide the spoon and the shirt and support and encouragement but we basically let them work it out. We  provide them support for learning but we basically let them work it out.

Watch an eight year old try to build a fort. They are dogged when it comes to a project like this and if left to their own devices will figure it out and enjoy every bit of the process. The finished product may leave a bit to be desired in our adult minds but the child will be thrilled with his effort. ( Let children make mistakes and grow up)

Herein lies part of the problem of maintaining a love of learning. A parent might comment on the rickety condition of the floor or walls; how many nails they used, what of this or that could be better, the pile of accumulated debris. Then the  comment, “Here let me help you with this.”

Sometimes parents have a fear that their child might be left behind, in some way found wanting or not be able to compete in the adult

children wooden fort picture

Children are usually happy with their creations no matter how they look

world effectively. Sometimes if they march to a different drummer it makes us nervous. Our eagerness to help them can sometimes do more harm than good. If we are too energetic in our efforts we can even cause a “hate of learning”. We fall into this trap often when it comes to the “academic” subjects or things that cause us inconvenience.

So what are some ways that we can encourage learning in any subject, even academics, without squashing the child’s own natural desire to learn?

1. Provide a safe and loving atmosphere for learning. More support, less pressure.

2. Create magic and anticipation. Provide inspiring materials.

3. Expose children to inspiring music, great art, good books, etc.

4. Read as a family on a regular, consistent basis. This has great benefits .

5. Inspire curiosity and then leave them to the wonder of experimentation and self discovery.

6. Leave plenty of time for thinking, playing and being with family. Avoid too many lessons, clubs and classes.

7. Remember that play is the work of children.

8. Be patient with the learning process.

9. Learn to recognize and respond to Sparks.

10. Learn and live the Five Rules of Engagement.

11. Enjoy learning yourself.

12. Share what you are learning with our children.

When we safe guard this natural love of learning we set the child on the road to success when they are ready for deeper levels of learning. They will be ready to flourish in high school and college studies. They will do as George Turnbull suggests, they will seek out a great education.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Shiniga May 26, 2011 at 4:35 pm

Hi Mary Ann,Its very true that we have a tendency to help kids too much when they are working. Especially me, my hands are so restless to keep pulling stuff out. So this concept did strike me sometime, when my 2 and 5 year old cousins stayed with me for 4 years. With great effort I let them work undisturbed, and I did tell them that they did a great job. But after that I always had the tendency to tell them,”if you did it this way it would have been better”. I did that because I didn’t want them to be over confident. I just wanted them to know, though they did well,there were some small mistakes.Did I break their heart doing that? Please help me.


Mary Ann May 26, 2011 at 9:46 pm

It is a fine line isn’t it. When I was about eight my grandmother taught me how to embroider. She allowed no knots. NONE! She also insisted that the back look as good as the front. Consequently she made me pick out many stitches. She was always encouraging, supportive but there was a right way to do it in her mind and she was going to make sure I knew it. I appreciate that now, although then it was tough doing it over and over.

Teaching a skill like this is a bit different than when children are freely playing and creating. If a child is building a fort or making a picture why not just let them do it? It can’t really hurt anything. Does the outcome really matter. Not to the child. They loved thinking it out, gathering the supplies and creating. Adults care about outcome. There is always a way to do a thing better especially if you are a child. If it does matter, as in learning a skill, tell them. If it doesn’t really matter be still.

As for confidence, it is hard enough to acquire in our tough world. Lets help kids feel confident. It is not the same thing as prideful or arrogant.

No caregiver or parent is perfect. We all say and do things that aren’t the best. However, if we hug and kiss and give time to a child they will know they are loved and that is a very great thing. I know you and I am sure you did that well!


Shiniga May 27, 2011 at 9:15 pm

Thanks for the answer Mary Ann. Next time I meet them, I will make sure to make all these corrections, and feel them loved. I understand totally where I have to draw my line now.


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