As we raise our children, we hope to send them off one day with all of the essential tools to be productive members of society. We help them gather all of the mechanisms they will need to be successful so when the time comes, they have a well-equipped box of provisions to use as they navigate the world on their own. One of the most important tools you can instill in your child is the ability to become a lifelong learner: to learn something new wherever they go and in whatever they do.
Each day brings new opportunities to keep those neurons connecting inside their brain, and it is our duty as parents to assist our children in cultivating this extremely necessary skill. Each day brings moments to have purposeful conversations with your child about whatever it is he is doing.
No matter what, you have a chance to interact with your child in meaningful ways and you should seize those instances because you’re building up a lifelong learner! Take advantage of some of those fortuitous pockets of time…even if there is just a wee bit of them in your day. Because consciously capturing these opportunities for your child to make learning a habit happens to be one of the best gifts you can give him.
How to Find the Time
Even if you don’t feel equipped to do this, even if you feel like you’re already strapped for time: it CAN be done.
As a parent try to fit learning experiences into your regular activities to promote a lifelong learner as your child grows into adulthood. It doesn’t have to take as much time or planning as you may think. These activities do not have to add stress to your already stressful day, rather look at these as occasions to bond with your child in ways you may not have thought of before. Moreover, taking these small steps will help your child become a lifelong learner and help him become a rock star in life.
For instance, let’s say you are going grocery shopping. Instead of simply cruising up and down the aisles, chucking items into your cart, have your child use his reading skills and also participate in a few math conversions while helping you pick out your groceries. Perhaps you are looking to purchase some type of canned goods. One brand is on sale and one is not. How do you figure out which one is the best investment of your money? Have your child help you by comparing prices; this is how they become a lifelong learner!
Ask him to help you read the labels (now you’re practicing reading skills) and check out how many ounces are in each can. Then have him compare the price per ounce (hello, math skills!). Show him that one brand is a better buy at that moment because you get more for your money (Amen to learning a life skill!). Or maybe you want to look at the ingredients list and teach him what to look for so that you are choosing the healthier option (check off that health class!)? A simple shopping trip can help build those lifelong learner skills.
Of course, you don’t have to do this for every–single–grocery you purchase. I mean, if you have the time then go for it, but we all know that it may take you hours to get out of the store! Instead, you can incorporate this technique into a few items and reap the benefits of the opportunity. Plus, it keeps your kid from wandering around or complaining that he’s bored. BONUS!
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Other daily activities that you can use to build up some lifelong learner experiences: How about when you’re cooking dinner? You can allow your child to help and have him learn to read a recipe and/or use his math skills to double the recipe. Maybe you have him figure out how much of a batch to make for the number of people you are feeding.
You could also take a walk, and as you’re strolling, talk about nature. Point out trees and flowers and insects and animals. Have him track how far you’ve walked. Explain to him how street signs work.
Or perhaps when you watch a movie together you can discuss the plot. Ask him what he thought about a certain character or whether or not he felt justice was found. Discuss various plot points and even come up with an alternative ending – this is a fun and engaging lifelong learner activity.
Adjust Your Strategy Based on Your Child’s Age
Obviously, your child’s age is going to dictate what he can do, but you can start helping him become a lifelong learner even if he is a bit older. The best way to do this is to ask him to explain things to YOU. When children explain the things they already know, they are using their brains in a different way than when simply listening. It also helps them with their confidence. You can ask your child to explain one thing he learned in school that he thought was pretty cool. Create a conversation about the topic he gives you and incorporate little gems of wisdom about how what he is learning fits into the real world.
OK, OK, I’ll be honest. Many teens are going to give you a grunt or a, “Nothing,” when you ask what they learned in school. If that’s the case, we’ve got you! Try asking your child one thing that, perhaps, he might be struggling with. Then, whether or not you know the information already, help him find the answers he is looking for. This builds his ability to be self-taught, which is a skill very much lacking in adolescents and teens. They want immediate feedback or immediate results. They must learn how to look for information themselves. Becoming a lifelong learner means more than simply going to the Internet to answer any question or concern that comes up.
Regardless, the point is to weave learning into daily activities by engaging your child’s brain as you go. Sometimes, you just may have to be stealthy about it. But once you get into the habit of intertwining learning into your interactions with your child, it will get so much easier for both of you. And once your child gets in the habit of using his brainpower, he will become a lifelong learner because learning becomes a habit for him, too.
Some other good news: This also makes learning not-so-boring. Much of what kids learn outside of school motivates them to learn more in school. The school-home connection you are creating for your child can inspire him and build his confidence in many aspects of his life.
Once you show your child how what we learn in school connects to our life outside of school, he will also start to understand why school is so important.
As a teacher, one of the biggest complaints I hear from my high-school students is that they will never use, in the real world, whatever it is I’m teaching. They don’t understand how their teachers are helping build their critical-thinking skills. They often don’t comprehend how teachers are getting those neurons connecting so that their brain is on par and their intelligence is growing. They don’t necessarily see the advantages of learning how to learn.
However, what we teachers love most is when parents reinforce the fact that becoming a lifelong learner is invaluable. What I’m saying is that YOU have the ability to transform your child’s life in ways that will help him more than you will ever know.
Capitalize on Holiday Breaks
Do you want to know another bonus of this method? Think about holiday breaks! When you instill into your child the habit of learning, you will see that you can make the time during holiday breaks MEANINGFUL without having to practically pull out your child’s teeth just to get him to move off the couch. You will not have to pry his hands off of the video game controller to get him to look at you. He will become motivated to explore his world, and maybe even…gasp…go outside!
I know—crazy talk!
And let’s not forget summer break. Let’s face it…summer break is HUGE because there is some learning loss during this time, especially when students are not actively using their brains and reviewing what they know. During any school break, try to incorporate a structure and atmosphere of learning.
For example, have your child create a routine of what he wants to and has to accomplish each day. Teach him to be accountable for his days and not waste them away. Work in learning through engaging your child in your holiday activities. Explain your traditions. Ask him what he knows already. Talk about different cultures or research other traditions together to see how others celebrate said holiday.
Becoming a lifelong learner does not have to consist of merely sitting and reading books every day. There are a plethora of ways we learn!
Have him create a bucket list of things he wants to do. Discuss it together and plan some activities based on your time and financial situation. Perhaps you can visit a museum or aquarium online. Many places now offer free tours which can be done virtually! If you can physically get to a museum or aquarium, or some other place of interest to you and your child, come up with some questions and jot them down. Make it a treasure hunt to find the answers and celebrate with a treat afterward.
Get him reading signs and asking questions. Take a map from the front entrance and give him the job of reading it and choosing where to go first. Ask him how long he anticipates staying at each spot and add up how much time it will take to get around to seeing everything he wants to see. Maybe you can even check out the website before you go and plot out your strategy together. Show him the things he can find on a website.
Better yet, have him teach you what he knows about technology and websites and have him show you how to navigate them. Because, let’s face it, sometimes our kiddos know more about navigating the Internet than we do. Our duty is to teach our kids HOW to use the Internet effectively (yet another tip for building a lifelong learner!).
Additional Ideas to Incorporate
Here is a (not all-encompassing but just to give you a start) list of ideas you can use to build your lifelong learner. Oh, and tie in technology wherever you can. And always remember that you are also incorporating life skills into these lessons!
- Go to the library and teach him how to get a library card and sign out a book. Explain how he has a finite time to borrow the book because a library is there for all to share and from which all benefit.
- Take him to the library during story hour (appropriate for small children).
- Have a reading competition where you and your child see how many books you can read (make some rules before you start) over a period of time. Or have him incorporate his friends into the challenge and take them for a treat once they’ve accomplished their goal.
- Volunteer your time to read books to the elderly, to children, to the blind, etc.
- Perhaps he wants to go somewhere and it’s expensive or an extravagance for you and your family (or even if not…), ask him to research the place beforehand so that he knows where he is going and what he wants to do when he gets there. Put him in charge of the itinerary and then review it together before you go.
- Have him help calculate the mileage to get to and from wherever you are going. Then have him figure out how much gas your car will need to make the trip. Additionally, have him add up the cost of the gas and explain how that cost must fit into your budget.
- Ask him to help you come up with a budget for the trip and show him how to include the cost of everything, even stopping at the gift shop.
- Practice telling time and managing time by creating a schedule for your activity.
- On the car ride have him count how many different license plates he sees and discuss why they look different from each other.
- Look at a map and calculate the best route to get to your destination in the least amount of time.
- If you are taking a plane, have him calculate what he can bring in his luggage so that it meets the weight limit.
History/Social Studies Ideas:
- Visit museums around your area or take a day trip. Have your child map out what he wants to learn about at the museum.
- Take a virtual field trip to an historical site. Teach your child how to navigate via the virtual world, or have him teach you!
- Learn about a different country each week. Have your child learn five facts about the country and then make a special food from that country. This can be a fun dinner-time treat. (Have some mac-n-cheese ready in case he doesn’t like the new cuisine!).
- Watch a documentary together and talk about what you learned.
- Take a nature walk and bring a native plant guide. Identify different flora and fauna in your area. Or, take a day trip to a park to do so. Have your child record what he finds. He can also take his own pictures.
- Conduct some DIY science experiments. Have your child research what he wants to do, pick up the ingredients, and complete the activity together. Watch his reaction as he sees his work unfold.
- Have your child start a mini garden, or an herb garden, in and/or around your home. Have him start with seeds and learn how to take care of the plants. Cook with the herbs or veggies when they’ve grown.
- Find a science camp near you and sign up your child.
Social-Emotional Learning Ideas:
- Print out a calendar of kindness ideas and try to complete a few a week.
- Fill up a random act of kindness jar and once it’s full, celebrate together and discuss how it makes your child feel to have done so many wonderful, selfless things.
- Come up with some ideas about how to help others in your neighborhood.
- Tie social-emotional learning into all of the prior ideas mentioned by asking questions such as, “How do you think that animal feels?” or “What do you think we can do to help preserve the history of this place?” or “What do you think the characters are feeling in this movie?”
- When interacting with others, remind your child how to act respectfully and how to be fair. Take the opportunities presented to work in a discussion about the emotions at hand.
By completing some of these activities regularly, you are helping to build a lifelong learner. Your child will thrive from your enthusiasm, too, so be sure to show him how exciting it can be to learn new things. As a weekly or monthly activity, you can have your child make a collage of things he learned with you. He can also jot down a list of other things he wants to learn. And don’t forget the best part in all of this–YOU GET TO SPEND TIME WITH YOUR CHILD. The bond you will form is priceless.
Remember, you do not have to spend a lot of money. As a matter of fact, you can have your child do some chores to earn a trip to the zoo or to a movie. Show him how hard work pays off. Also, so many things are free. There are websites that will give you some ideas on how to use what you already have to complete some of these activities. Or use board games that you already have. Perhaps you can make your own.
By participating in some of these activities with your child, boredom is curbed (at least for a little bit). And sometimes it’s just that 30 minutes you spend with your child doing an activity that will satisfy him enough to play or work independently for a while. Bored kids can drive us crazy, right! Use these activities to ward off boredom.
As a special bonus, when you make all of this a routine in your home, it means that when you engage your child throughout holiday breaks in order to keep his brain working, he won’t even feel like it’s “extra work to do” and maybe, just maybe, he will complain less and show more motivation. This is another bonus in becoming a lifelong learner, for sure!
The End Result is Priceless
I know, I know…many times we’re crushed for time as we try to beat the clock to get home to cook dinner and get the kids to soccer. I get it. I’m a mom, too. We’re constantly rushing around as we make sure our child is fed, his homework is done, the house is clean, and he is at his activity on time! And if you have more than one child, the time is split into even smaller periods of time. However, these learning opportunities do not have to take up a load of your time and you can pick and choose which opportunities to use. Instilling in your child the skill of becoming a lifelong learner will build a bond between both of you AND build your child’s self-esteem and self-motivation that, in and of itself, is priceless.
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