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. His airplane 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. She stays curious and is always asking “what if…?” She’s not deterred by failure and instead sees them as inevitable steps in a long process of learning.
And most important, she feels a genuine satisfaction from learning. It’s not an obligation or a status symbol—learning is almost like a hobby or a passion she can’t imagine not doing.
So, how can parents raise kids to love to learn?
1. 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. Growing up, 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 her failures, but on what she can learn from the experience.
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2. Praise your child’s efforts, not talents
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So much of what we say to our kids affect how they view themselves and their potential. And it all starts with two mindsets: fixed and growth.
How do you tell the difference? You follow a fixed mindset if you’ve ever thought, “I’m not a math person,” or given up on something the first time you failed or lost. A fixed mindset is praising your child for being so smart, hoping that doing so will encourage her to keep up the good work.
But a fixed mindset can limit a person’s potential. The more we think we’re stuck with a particular make-up (“I’m just not good at numbers”), the less likely we are to make necessary changes.
We’re less likely to pursue interests outside what we think of ourselves. A child who thinks she’s “the athletic one” will cling to that title and not consider other interests or possibilities.
And we’re also less likely to try because we fear anything that will challenge the labels we’ve worked so hard to maintain. A child praised for being smart will prefer easy tests—even if she doesn’t learn anything new—than find satisfaction in challenging ones.
So, if a fixed mindset isn’t the way to go, then what is? A growth mindset.
Rather than praising kids for set labels, we encourage effort and trying new strategies. We relish in the messy process, the mistakes and the failures, over the finished product. And above all, we emphasize that they’re not locked into anything—that effort and practice can make a huge difference.
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 herself, try the harder puzzle, or tackle a new hobby. Don’t focus so much on getting things right or finishing quickly. Instead, praise her for taking initiative, even for topics that are new for her.
4. Focus on the process, not the (perfect) end
Let’s say your child is working on a jigsaw puzzle. Do you only praise her when she finishes, or when she gets it right? Doing so focuses on perfection and results and could lead her to believe that this is what you value most.
To raise kids who love to learn, focus on the process. Sure, she’ll feel good for completing the puzzle, and you should celebrate the times she gets it right. But you can also highlight the many tries she took to finish it, the new strategies she found, and how she 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 reads a book about superheroes. Another one might be out in the backyard 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, she needs to know you love her no matter what. Supporting her interests without judgment is a perfect place to start.
When it comes to kids and learning, we can focus so much on the wrong things that we squash their natural desire to learn.
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:
“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:
- How to Make Learning Stick
- 6 Techniques to Teach Your Child to Love Math
- How to Keep Your Child Learning in the Summer
- Top Educational Activities for 3 Year Olds
- Children’s Books about Perseverance
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