While many people think of formal education as the basis of learning, non-formal education can be just as important. We begin to absorb information from the world around us as soon as we’re born. We continue to learn, gather information and build skills as we pass through each stage of life.
Transforming your child’s natural explorations into
self-directed learning can stimulate your child’s passion for knowledge and
So, what can we do to encourage our kids to be self-directed learners?
#1: Give children space.
Parents have a tendency to micromanage their kids’ time and fight to get the most out of every minute. Quizzing kids with flashcards and peppering them with questions might feel productive, but it can also keep kids from really digging into the whys rather than the whats. Give your child plenty of time to look through books, balance blocks, sort shapes, draw and do whatever else strikes her fancy. Most importantly, don’t interrupt: Interrupting sends a message that your child’s choices and interests aren’t important.
#2: Ditch the bubble wrap.
Bumps and bruises can be painful, but we can’t protect our kids from all potential hazards. In fact, wrapping them in virtual bubble wrap can hinder their growth and learning. Give your kids plenty of room to explore and encourage lots of active play so that they can learn more about themselves and the world in which they live. Offer guidance but avoid general warnings such as “be careful.” By giving them the space to be a children and be active, you’re letting them know that it’s okay to take risks and push their limits.
#3. Be judicious with the compliments.
Praising your child feels good, but you want your child to develop internal motivation. If your child is focusing on pleasing you, she’s not going to be seeking her own creative solutions and exploring the world around her. Instead of offering generic praise, such as “good job”. Be specific, such as praising her determination or commitment. Instead of critiquing her work, ask open-ended questions to better understand her viewpoints and interests. As an added bonus, you’ll learn more about your child’s personality and preferences!
#4. Talk to your kids.
Sometimes, a simple conversation will yield better results than anything else. Ask your child questions, and really listen to his answers. Offer guidance when asked, but don’t steamroll his interests or take over the driver’s seat. When your child asks you questions, be honest and open with him. If you don’t know the answer, work with your child to find it. This helps your child become not just more confident in supporting his views but also encourages him to take ownership of his problems, both of which are critical for self-directed learners.
Children are a lot more capable than adults realize. Take a step back and give your child the space she needs to focus on her own interests. She might not be sorting the blocks the way you think she should, but that doesn’t mean she’s not gaining valuable information about size, shape, color and other features. Support her as she launches into exciting new frontiers and grows at her own pace.
The most successful self-directed learners understand that their interests have value, their instincts are solid and their exploration matters. You might still need to guide your child’s learning from time to time or ensure your child has a structured environment in which to learn. However, as your child gains confidence and knowledge, he’ll be better able to develop independent and individualized self-learning practices that can continue to serve him throughout high school, college and beyond.
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