Want to raise kids with a genuine passion for curiosity? Discover effective ways to raise children who love to learn — and not because they have to.
My son was in the kitchen trying to turn an empty box of strawberries into an airplane.
He had attached a propeller from another toy to the front and strapped a rubber band he’d hoped would sling it forward. It even came equipped with landing wheels.
The airplane never moved, much less flew, but this is the kind of learning I want to encourage in my kids. Not doing homework begrudgingly or even perfect grades, but the willingness to try and learn, all on their own.
Raising kids who love to learn
We can all appreciate kids who do well in school and know a ton of facts, but nothing beats a child who sees learning as fun. These are kids who stay curious and are always asking “what if…?” They’re not deterred by failure and instead see them as inevitable steps in a long process of learning.
And most important, kids who love to learn feel a genuine satisfaction from learning. It’s not an obligation or a status symbol—learning is almost like a hobby or a passion they can’t imagine not doing.
So, how can parents encourage kids to love to learn?
1. Praise your child’s efforts, not talents
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We tend to value our children’s “natural” talents and abilities, so much that kids believe they’ve either got it or they don’t.
And if you grow up thinking you’re artistic but not math-inclined, you’re less likely to try anything that has to do with numbers. Why bother, a child might ask, especially if I’m not gifted in math?
Instead of telling your child he’s artistic (or any other label), praise her for the hard work and effort she puts into her drawings. Talk about how much she has improved since she first started, and open the possibilities of how much more she can accomplish if she persists.
Encourage a growth mindset that reassures your child she can excel so long as she continues to learn and try.
Check out the children’s book, I Can’t Do That, YET by Esther P. Cordova, all about growth mindset:
2. Talk about failures as learning experiences
I’ll be honest: I’m only now coming to terms with seeing failure as a stepping stone to success, an inevitable part of a journey. Because for years, I associated failing and losing as a sign to stop and quit. I assumed I simply didn’t have it in me, and I couldn’t bear the thought of not succeeding.
I don’t want that for my kids. That’s why I re-frame failure as normal, something that may not be pleasant but that will happen nonetheless. Failure also isn’t the end of the world—in fact, many failures can lead to good results.
And failure teaches resilience. Kids who love to learn don’t let failures stop them from continuing along their path. They see their actions as experiments that, like all experiments, include a variety of results they can then test and compare.
Instead of protecting your child from failure, talk about it as a learning opportunity. Don’t focus so much on your child’s failures, but rather what he can learn from the experience.
3. Encourage risk-taking and challenges
Kids who love to learn don’t stop when things get hard. They don’t stay in their comfort zones, afraid of rocking the boat or shedding the “smart kids” label. Instead, they’re willing to take a risk or try something challenging.
Encourage your child to challenge himself, try the harder puzzle, or tackle a new hobby. Don’t focus so much on getting things right or finishing quickly. Instead, praise your child for taking initiative, even for topics that are new for him.
4. Focus on the process, not the (perfect) end
Let’s say your child is working on a jigsaw puzzle. Do you only praise him when he finishes, or when he gets it right? Doing so focuses on perfection and results and could lead him to believe that this is what you value most.
To raise kids who love to learn, focus on the process. Sure, your child will feel good for completing the puzzle, and you should celebrate. But you can also highlight the many tries he took to finish it, the new strategies he found, and how he persisted even when it got hard.
5. Highlight the satisfaction of learning
Eavesdrop on many kids these days and you’ll hear a lot of complaining about learning. And no wonder—they see learning as a means to an end, something they have to do or else they get in trouble. Many see the finished product or the final grade as the real goal, not learning itself.
But kids who love to learn find satisfaction in learning. They feel a sense of joy in discovering new things, and a genuine desire to keep going. So much so that they even see challenges as rewarding—they’d rather try and tackle a hard problem than breeze through an easy one.
This isn’t about sugar-coating how hard it can be to learn and master something. Kids understand how difficult learning can be, but they still find a thrill in accomplishing something hard.
6. Provide plenty of downtime
The time after school in my home is what I all “tinkering time.” This is when we rarely, if ever, have an agenda. You’ll find me cooking dinner while the kids are, well… tinkering with whatever they want to do.
One might draw, while another plays with his superhero figures. Another one might be out in the patio taking care of our vegetable plants. Sometimes they play chase together, or practice writing on the dry erase board.
I keep their schedules free so that they have the opportunity to dive into their interests. This is the long stretch of time when they can play, learn and even get into a “zone” of pure concentration. Kids need ample time to discover their interests and learn about them.
7. Embrace your child’s interests
Kids make it easy for us to encourage them to learn. Here’s the simple trick: Embrace their hobbies and interests.
Don’t force your child to love sports when she’d rather draw all day. You’ll both get more out of encouraging her interests than your own, no matter how different they may be. She already has a self-driven motivation to learn—nurture that desire with your support.
And besides, your child needs to know you love her no matter what. Supporting her interests without judgment is a perfect place to start.
We tell kids they’re smart, hoping that’ll encourage them to do well. We hide from failure and risk, sheltering them from the possibility of failing. And we focus on the end results, forgetting that true learning comes from the journey that got them there.
After all, author Maya Thiagarajan says it best in her book, Beyond the Tiger Mom: East-West Parenting for the Global Age: (affiliate link)
“The ultimate goal of education should be to inspire a child with a genuine love of learning. If you can help your child understand the joy and satisfaction that a cerebral life can provide, then he will seek knowledge of his own accord. As parents and educators, our goal is not to convince our children that they are smart; it is to show them that learning is exciting and satisfying. Light the proverbial fire, and the child will do the rest.”
Yes, the child will indeed do the rest—like making an airplane out of an empty strawberry box.
Get more tips:
- Beyond the Tiger Mom: East-West Parenting for the Global Age
- Top Ways to Help Kids Remember What They Learn
- 6 Techniques to Teach Your Child to Love Math
- How to Keep Your Child Learning in the Summer
Tell me in the comments: How do you encourage your kids’ love to learn?