Do you remember learning something at school and wondering how it would ever serve you in adult life?
For me it was algebra. I could understand the necessity of learning to add, subtract, multiply and divide, but I couldn’t imagine a life that would require me knowing algebra. And looking back, I haven’t used it. Not once.
The education system comes with its own set of rules and most of us are happy to leave the teaching to the professionals.
However, we all have specific things we want our kids to learn. The problem is, how do we make the lessons stick?
Kids are bombarded with information from the moment they enter this world.
Their natural curiosity makes the learning a fun adventure of discovery.
It’s easy to kill the fun as we force feed our children more information. The challenge is to keep the momentum of that fun adventure going.
KEEP LEARNING FUN – FIRST STEP
The first step to keep learning fun is to make children actually care about the lesson.
If like me and the algebra lessons, they can’t see what’s in it for them, they lose the motivation and interest to learn. They may go through the motions, but the lessons won’t stick because they can’t see the payoff outside of pleasing you.
How do you make them care? There are a few different ways to do this. The first is to relate what you are teaching back to them. Explain the consequences to children of doing, or not doing things. I’m not referring to a possible punishment or reward from you, but life outcomes.
For instance, if you are trying to teach the importance of being kind, saying that it’s the right thing to do or that it will make them a good person is a vague payoff. Explaining to them that being kind will not only gain them more friends but also make them feel good inside shows the personal reward.
FRUIT FOR THOUGHT
Many of us have fallen into the trap of answering ‘why?’ with “Because I said so”. It’s hard not to fall back on that after the first dozen whys from young children.
Sometimes though, it is possible to avoid those whys by providing a sufficient explanation before they even start. For example, one of the little Goddesses (then three) went to throw a banana peel in the rubbish bin. I stopped her and told her the peel should go in the compost container because it would break down and turn into plant food. Then she could use the food for the plants in her own little garden. She loved that idea – food for her own plants. A wonderful personal payoff. But the lesson didn’t stop there. I went on to explain that the less stuff we put in our bins, the less rubbish ends up in tips, which is good for the world. So, putting the banana peel in the compost is helping to save the world, which made her a superhero. She was thrilled with being a superhero.
Every so often, when I see her putting a banana peel in the compost, I ask if she remembers why it is good to do that. She replies that it makes plant food and superheroes. The lesson stuck.
SPARK THEIR INTEREST
Another way to make kids care is to pique their interest in something. Kids can be destructive and if you want them to stop, you need to make them care about the thing they would potentially destroy.
In my post, How to Let the Magic of Trees Help Kids Grow, I described an incident where children were ripping apart a tree. The attitude they were displaying was that it was ‘only’ a tree, so their actions were acceptable. If they understood, though, that trees can communicate through a secret ‘wood’ wide web or magically appear to change colours, or that some can even ‘walk’, their interest would be piqued. The plant is transformed from ‘only a tree’ to something with mysterious and magical qualities. Something worth respecting and taking care of.
With all the technological and electronic goodies we are surrounded by, it’s easy for children to take the natural world for granted. If you want them to truly care about the environment, let them know about the magic that goes on around the globe – boulders that mysteriously move and leave their trail in the sand, jellyfish that never die, and lizards that can fly. These are just a few examples of the wonders of the world. Wonders likely to create an interest in the planet. We tend to care about things we are interested in.
KEEP LEARNING FUN – SECOND STEP
The next step to keep learning fun is to provide a way for children to become practically involved in the lesson.
An English teacher has a wonderful exercise for her students to illustrate the harm that bullying causes.
Rosie Dutton uses two apples as props. She drops one on the floor to bruise it. Then she picks it up and starts calling it names, telling the children she doesn’t like that apple and neither should they. She gets each student to hold the apple and call it names. Then she passes around the other apple and has her students say nice things to it. When the exercise is finished, the class examines the apples and sees how they both look the same on the outside. The teacher then cuts both apples in half and the students see how the apple that was ‘bullied’ looks mushy and bruised inside as opposed to the other one, which looks fine. It demonstrates how victims of bullying are hurt inside.
This clever teaching has a huge impact on the students because they are involved in the learning. It is much more powerful than just telling kids that it is wrong to bully others.
THE CREATIVE APPROACH
Using creativity is a great way to get kids involved and keep learning fun.
The fact I had helped that little superhero Goddess establish her very own garden made the idea of plant food more exciting. The anticipation of nurturing her own plants is more fulfilling than just dumping scraps in the compost.
Another Goddess saw a show which prompted her to tell me “turtles don’t have eggs”. I explained how turtles come to the shore to lay their eggs and we decided to create a craft project to demonstrate this.
We can use creativity to teach important life lessons too, such as How to Create Your Own Happy Ending.
Whatever the lesson, you already have an interest in it. If you want your children to remember it, you need to capture their interest and imagination.
Have a gleeful week, Tamuria.