Herald Journal Columns
Aug. 29, 2005, Herald Journal

Encouraging children to want to learn


We want our children to learn and know that being able to read, write, solve problems, and communicate well serves many benefits including getting a good job and enjoying life.

There are many things that we, as parents, can do to help motivate our children to learn, and foster a desire for learning. The National Education Association notes on the website, www.nea.org that it is a combination and employment of strategies as a totality that can help positively influence our children’s learning motivation.

The website offers these suggestions:

• Children must believe that they can learn in order to learn, and some of this attitude is influenced by teachers and peers and the feedback that they receive in school, but we, as parents and caregivers, are the most prominent and important adults in our child’s life. What we say or do regarding her ability to learn will a have a major impact on her self-concept. We must let our children know that they can learn effectively in a sincere and positive manner.

By acknowledging effort, as well as success, we tell the child that the intrinsic act of learning is valued. This builds an appreciation of learning for the sake of learning, the website noted.

• We should demonstrate and model our value for learning. Reading, going to the library, watching educational television programs, discussing social and political information and ideas, playing educational games, such as Monopoly and checkers with them, reading to our children, and engaging them in creative projects, ideas, and conversations all demonstrate and model a value for learning.

• Show a non-threatening interest in your child’s learning. We might ask our child what he is learning in school and let him know our desire to see papers and projects that he has created in a nonthreatening, noncritical manner.

The website notes that the dinner table is a great setting for discussion and exploration of things our child has learned and is learning at school, and cautions that these occasions are to share our enjoyment in our children’s learning and not to criticize their work or to convey a “you can do better” atmosphere. This type of reaction may lead our children to avoid school conversations and resent schoolwork.

• Get involved in your child’s school. By knowing the teachers, supporting the school itself, being aware of the curriculum, and attending conferences, we can be more in- tune, knowledgeable, and motivated to, in turn, help our children value learning and be motivated to learn.

Parental involvement in our children’s education can also mean checking homework each night, asking our children each day how school was, reading to our children, discussing our children’s progress with teachers, voting in school board elections, helping our children to set appropriate academic standards, limiting television watching on school nights, joining our school’s parent-teacher association, and becoming an advocate for better education in our communities and state.

The website also suggests that whatever your level of involvement is in your child’s education, whether it be many or a few activities, do it consistently and stick with it because we and what we do will make an important difference in our children’s lives.

More good news about Minnesota public schools

• Minnesota ranks sixth in the nation for having the largest proportion of public school eighth graders scoring at the highest two levels in reading in the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).

• Minnesota fourth graders score second highest in the nation in math in the NAEP.

• Minnesota eighth grade scores are first in the nation in math in the NAEP.

• Minnesota’s ACT college entrance examination scores are first out of the 25 states where the ACT is the primary college entrance exam taken and a majority of graduating seniors takes the exam.

This information is worthwhile, but I am always careful about judging a school and its impact on our children’s learning based on test scores because our children spend far more time in other environments than they do in school.

In fact, the website noted that during the course of a calendar year, only 14 percent of a student’s time is spent in school, and suggests that any effort to improve student learning and performance must recognize the importance of a student’s life outside of school and the need for that life to be a healthy, supportive learning environment.

Next week, I will discuss why parental involvement is so important in a child’s education.

Fun with simple things

My son and daughter had fun recently creating animals, objects, towers, and whatever their creative minds came up with using large and small marshmallows and colored toothpicks.

They also decorated some of their creations with markers (as we know, marshmallows harden the longer they are exposed to air).

Sparked from an idea from one of my son’s friends, who made him a necklace out of paper clips, my son and daughter made necklaces, bracelets, and anklets out of small and large colored paper clips, which are inexpensive to purchase, and can be used over and over again.

My children also love to play with colored pipe cleaners, straws, and empty paper towel and toilet paper rolls to create wonderful masterpieces.

Have a wonderful week!