How to Nurture a Love for Learning
“Teach a child how he should live, and he will remember it all his life.”—PROVERBS 22:6, TODAY’S ENGLISH VERSION.
HAVE you ever tried to get children to sleep when something interesting was happening? Though tired, tearful, and even irritable, they will struggle to stay awake and involved. Their “need to make sense of the world and to be skillful in it is as deep and strong as their need for food or rest or sleep. At times it may be even stronger,” writes author John Holt.
The challenge is for children to maintain a desire to learn throughout life, including, of course, the school years. While there is no sure formula for success, there are a number of proved strategies that parents, teachers, and children can apply. More important than any strategy, however, is love.
Let Love Bring Out the Best
Children crave parental love. It gives them a sense of security, making them more willing to communicate, ask questions, and explore. Love moves parents to talk regularly with their children and to take an interest in their education. Research indicates that “parents appear to be the primary influence on a child’s motivation to learn,” points out the book Eager to Learn—Helping Children Become Motivated and Love Learning. The effects of that influence are amplified when parents work along with teachers. “No force is as powerful in rejuvenating a child’s motivation to learn as a parent and teacher working in collaboration,” the book states.
Parents also influence their children’s ability to learn. In a long-term study of 43 families, reported in the book Inside the Brain, researchers “found that children who were talked to the most [during their first three years of life] had strikingly higher IQs than children whose parents didn’t talk to them very much.” The book adds that “parents who talk to their children the most tend to praise the children’s accomplishments, respond to their questions, provide guidance rather than commands, and use many different words in a variety of combinations.” If you are a parent, do you communicate regularly and meaningfully with your children?
Love Is Kind and Understanding
Children vary in their abilities and aptitudes. Naturally, parents would not want to allow these differences to influence the love they show. In today’s world, however, people are often assessed according to their abilities, which can cause some children “to view competitive achievement as a test of their personal value,” according to the book Thinking and Learning Skills. Besides leaving these children “too easily threatened by failure,” this belief can also lead to their feeling undue anxiety and stress. The magazine India Today notes that anxiety resulting from academic pressure and a lack of family support is considered to be a key factor in the threefold increase in India’s teen suicide rates over the past 25 years.
Emotional harm may also result if children are labeled as “dumb” or “stupid.” Such cruel remarks discourage learning rather than promote it. A parent’s love, however, should always be kind, supporting a child’s natural desire to learn—and at his or her own pace, without fear of humiliation. (1 Corinthians 13:4) If a child has a learning problem, loving parents try to help, never making the child feel silly or worthless. True, that may call for patience and tact, but it is well worth the effort. How does one cultivate such love? Having a spiritual outlook is an important first step.
A Spiritual Outlook Gives Balance
Bible-based spirituality is especially valuable for a number of reasons. For one thing, it helps us put secular learning in proper perspective, seeing it as important but not as all-important. Math, for example, may have many practical uses, but it cannot make one a moral, principled person.
The Bible also encourages us to be balanced in the amount of time we devote to secular studies, saying: “To the making of many books there is no end, and much devotion to them is wearisome to the flesh.” (Ecclesiastes 12:12) True, children need to get a good basic education, but this should not consume all their time. They also need room for other wholesome activities, especially those of a spiritual nature, which educate the inner person.
Another facet of Bible-based spirituality is modesty. (Micah 6:8) Modest people accept their limitations, and they do not fall victim to the intense ambition and cutthroat competition that are evident in many educational institutions. These unwholesome traits “make for a depressive combination,” says India Today. Young or old, we fare much better when we heed the inspired advice of the Bible: “Let us not become egotistical, stirring up competition with one another, envying one another.” “But let each one prove what his own work is, and then he will have cause for exultation in regard to himself alone, and not in comparison with the other person.”—Galatians 5:26; 6:4.
How can parents apply this in their children’s education? One way is by encouraging each child to set personal goals and to make comparisons with himself. For instance, if your son recently had a math or spelling test, have him compare his results with those of an earlier test. Then offer appropriate commendation or encouragement. In this way, you help him to set attainable goals, to monitor his progress, and to address any weaknesses, while not comparing him with others.
Nowadays, however, some capable young people would rather not do well at school for fear of being ridiculed. “It is just not ‘cool’ to be a good student,” is a view that some youths adopt. Can a spiritual outlook help here? Yes, indeed! Consider Colossians 3:23, which says: “Whatever you are doing, put your whole heart into it, as if you were doing it for the Lord and not for men.” (The New English Bible) Can you think of a higher motive for working hard than pleasing God? Such a noble outlook gives one the strength to resist unwholesome peer pressure.
Teach Children to Love Reading
Reading and writing are fundamental to a good education—secular and spiritual. Parents can foster a love for the written word by reading to children from infancy. Daphne, who works as a proofreader, is glad that her parents read to her regularly as a child. “They nurtured within me a love for the written word,” she explains. “As a result, I could read before I went to school. My parents also taught me to do research so that I could find answers to my own questions. This training has been invaluable, right down to today.”
On the other hand, Holt, quoted earlier, cautions that reading to children “isn’t some kind of magic pill.” He adds: “If the reading isn’t fun for both parent and child, it will do more harm than good. . . . Even children who like being read aloud to . . . don’t like it when the parents don’t like it.” Hence, Holt suggests that parents select books that they also enjoy, keeping in mind that children may want to hear the books read many times! Two books that millions of parents worldwide enjoy reading to their little ones are Learn From the Great Teacher and My Book of Bible Stories, both published by Jehovah’s Witnesses. Specifically prepared for children, these publications are richly illustrated, stimulate thinking, and teach godly principles.
Timothy, a first-century Christian, was blessed with a mother and a grandmother who took active interest in his education, especially his spiritual education. (2 Timothy 1:5; 3:15) Timothy grew up to be exceptionally responsible and reliable—qualities that secular learning alone cannot engender. (Philippians 2:19, 20; 1 Timothy 4:12-15) Today congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses around the world have many fine young “Timothys”—male and female—in their midst, thanks to loving, spiritually-minded parents.
Teach With Enthusiasm!
For the teacher who wants to instill a love for learning in others, “one word sums it all up—enthusiasm,” says the book Eager to Learn. “By their very presence, enthusiastic teachers tell students that they care about what they are teaching, and this value radiates through them with vitality.”
In reality, though, not every parent or teacher bubbles with enthusiasm. Wise students, therefore, try to be self-motivated, to view learning as their own responsibility. After all, says the aforementioned book, “no one is going to sit next to our children the rest of their lives and help them to study, to do quality work, to think, and to make the extra effort that develops excellent skills.”
Once again, this puts the focus not so much on the school as on the home and on the values children learn there. Parents, are you enthusiastic about learning? Does your home provide a wholesome learning environment, one that emphasizes spiritual values? (Ephesians 6:4) Remember, both your example and your teaching will influence your children long after they leave school and home.—See the box “Families That Make a Success of Learning,” on page 7.
Recognize That People Learn in Different Ways
No two minds are exactly alike; each has its own way of learning. What works well for one person may not work as well for another. Hence, Dr. Mel Levine, in his book A Mind at a Time, states: “To treat all children the same way is to treat them unequally. Different kids have different learning needs; they have a right to have their needs met.”
For example, some people grasp and remember ideas better when they see pictures or diagrams. Others prefer the written word or the spoken word—better still, maybe a combination of these. “The best way to remember something is to change it, to transform the information in some manner,” says Levine. “If it’s visual, make it verbal, if it’s verbal create a diagram or picture of it.” This approach makes study not only more rewarding but also more enjoyable.
Of course, you may have to experiment to see what method works best for you. Hans, a full-time Christian minister, conducted a Bible study with George, an elderly man with only a basic education. George had difficulty grasping points and remembering them. So Hans tried illustrating key points with simple sketches on a pad. “That was a turning point for George,” said Hans. “In fact, he began to grasp and retain ideas so well that he surprised himself! Once I discovered how his mind functioned, I found that he was much sharper than I had initially given him credit for. Soon, his self-confidence grew, and he began to look forward to our lessons as never before.”
You Are Never Too Old to Learn
“What the brain can do depends on whether or not it is used,” says Inside the Brain. “It is the ultimate use-it-or-lose-it machine, and it is eager to learn new skills.” The book also states: “Just as exercise keeps people vigorous into their seventies and eighties, researchers are demonstrating that mental workouts can do the same for the aging brain. Aging has long been thought to be an irreversible downhill slide into mental befuddlement. But the new research shows that [this] was little more than a self-fulfilling prophecy, usually the result of brain disuse. Furthermore, people do not lose massive numbers of brain cells each day as they grow older, as was once thought.” A severe slide in mental function is usually a sign of disease, including cardiovascular disease.
Granted, some decline in mental performance may occur in later years but not necessarily in critical ways. The active brain, researchers say, resists deterioration—and all the more so if the person also has a good routine of physical exercise. “The more one is involved in learning activities, the more one’s ability to learn expands. Continuing learners are better learners,” says the book Elderlearning—New Frontier in an Aging Society.
This fact was demonstrated in Australia in a 20-year study of individuals aged 60 to 98. The decline in intelligence scores for many participants was only about 1 percent per year. However, “some individuals, including nonagenarians, did not decline at all,” says the report. “These tended to be people who had participated in the disciplined learning experiments involving study of a foreign language and/or a musical instrument.”
George, mentioned earlier, was in his 70’s when he began to study God’s Word. Likewise, Virginia, now in her 80’s, and her late husband, Robert, also began to study the Bible when advanced in years. Says Virginia: “Though legally blind, Robert gave short Bible-based talks at the Kingdom Hall from outlines that he had memorized. As for me, I had never enjoyed reading, but now I love to read. In fact, early this morning I read an entire issue of Awake!”
George, Robert, and Virginia are just three examples of the many older ones who defy the stereotypes and make good use of their minds. Research shows that 70 or 80 years of learning is to the brain what a thimbleful of water is to a large drum of water—it hardly even makes a mark. Why does the brain have such vast reserves?
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The Internet and TV—Helpful or Harmful?
“Use of the Internet is a mixed blessing,” says the book A Mind at a Time. Learning how to find information can be very useful, but some students, the book explains, just “download information without really understanding or integrating it. Thus, the process runs the risk of becoming a new mode of passive learning or perhaps even a way of acquiring plagiarizing skills.”
Spending excessive time watching TV, researchers say, may retard problem-solving and listening skills, blunt the imagination, and do nothing to build character. “Television sets should come, as cigarettes do, emblazoned with a warning about their hazards to a person’s well-being,” observes the book Eager to Learn.
What children need most, suggests another reference, is “exposure to language (reading and conversation), love, and lots of warm hugs.”
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Families That Make a Success of Learning
The following habits and characteristics can help your family to make a success of learning:
▪ Frequent communication of high but reasonable expectations to children, given in love
▪ A view of hard work as a key to success
▪ An active life-style, not a sedentary one
▪ Many hours of home-centered learning each week for the children and activities that include school homework, reading for leisure, hobbies, family projects, and household training and duties
▪ A view of the family as a mutual-support system and problem-solving unit
▪ Clearly understood household rules, consistently enforced
▪ Frequent contact with teachers
▪ An emphasis on spiritual growth
Parents, do you teach your children to enjoy reading?
Based on the book Eager to Learn—Helping Children Become Motivated and Love Learning.
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Ways to Enhance Learning and Make It More Enjoyable
Be Interested Be absorbed in something, and you more readily learn it. The book Motivated Minds—Raising Children to Love Learning makes the following observation: “Researchers have shown decisively that when children study because they enjoy it, their learning is deeper, richer, and longer lasting. They are also more persistent, more creative, and more eager to do challenging work.”
Relate Learning to Life Author and educator Richard L. Weaver II writes: “When there is a direct connection between classroom learning and your practical experience, there is an electrical spark that turns on the light bulb of understanding.”
Try to Comprehend When people try to understand something, they stimulate both their thinking ability and their memory. Rote learning has its place, but it is no substitute for comprehension. “With all that you acquire, acquire understanding. Highly esteem it, and it will exalt you,” says Proverbs 4:7, 8.
Concentrate “Concentration is at the very heart of learning,” explains the book Teaching Your Child Concentration. “[It] is so important that it has been called a fundamental prerequisite of intelligence and has even been equated with intelligence itself.” Concentration can be taught. A key is to start with brief periods of study and then lengthen them incrementally.
Paraphrase “The most competent students are the ones who are the most proficient paraphrasers,” says Dr. Mel Levine in his book A Mind at a Time. Paraphrasing reduces information into smaller, manageable chunks, which are easier to remember. Good notetakers exploit this principle by not taking notes verbatim.
Associate In The Brain Book, Peter Russell likens memories to hooks suspended on previous memories. In short, recall is enhanced when you clearly associate new things with what you already know. The more associations you make, the better the recall.
Visualize Vivid images last. Therefore, visualize material where possible. Mnemonic experts use this technique, often creating exaggerated or humorous mental pictures as a memory aid.
Review Within 24 hours we can forget up to 80 percent of what we studied. By doing a brief review after a study session, then again a day, a week, a month, and even six months later, we vastly improve our recall, even raising it to near 100 percent.
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Parents and teachers should work together to help children learn
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Age need not prevent learning