How do we spark joy in learning and raise lifelong learners? We’ve got the tips and tricks here.
As parents, we always want the best for our children. So we want them to grow up to be happy, successful and fulfilled individuals that thrive in an age of constant change and innovation. One of the best things that we can do to help our children achieve these goals is to instil in them a love for learning.
So, how do we do that? How do we tell our children that learning goes beyond the four walls of their classroom and that there’s so much more to discover?
Last week, the Singapore Parenting Festival hosted a very insightful and engaging webinar entitled, Cultivate the Joy in Learning, featuring two child experts in childhood education.
Featuring Angela Yang, Director, Professional & Education Development at PAP Community Foundation and Fynn Sor, Early Learning Expert who is also the Author and Founder of @happytotshelf, the discussion tackled ways on how to nurture a child’s curiosity and inspire a passion for knowledge. Want to know the important points in this webinar? Read on to learn more.
How to Instil a Love for Learning
The first thing that parents should know is that children are natural learners. They came out of the world ready to learn and explore. But somewhere along the way, their curiosity goes down and they start to lose interest. Why?
We need to understand that children will naturally not want to learn if learning becomes a chore for them. If everything becomes so mundane and monotonous and it’s all about the grades, that’s when their love for learning wanes.
We don’t want that. What we want is for our children to have the willingness and desire to learn beyond the needs of school and work. We want them to see the learning process as one that enriches their life and brings profound joy and satisfaction to them. More importantly, we want them to be self-directed learners.
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So when we talk about the Joy of Learning, what exactly is the joy of learning? Why is it so important? And how can parents help spark joy and sustain joy in that children’s learning journey?
When we think of learning, we almost automatically think about school and grades. But the best way for young children to learn is actually through PLAY. According to Angela Yang, the Director of Professional and Education Development of the PAP Community Foundation:
“Play allows our children to emulate what they see in practice the skills. Play also allows our children to explore, to experiment and wonder about things that work. And as they do that, they actually make sense of things around them and learn.”
We also want our children to be intrinsically motivated to learn, to engage in an activity and to genuinely like doing that.
“Because when they are motivated by their own interest and enjoyment of the process, parents will not need to use rewards, threats and punishment to push our children to learn,” said Angela.
Moreover, when children are having fun, they will take ownership of their own learning. They will be ready to take on new challenges and excel in what they are doing, which leads to the development of a growth mindset.
It’s not all about grades.
As much as parents are concerned about the academics of our children, we need to remember that success is not determined solely by our children’s academic performance or their test scores.
The test scores will only indicate the level of mastery our children have for a particular subject. And that’s for yesterday’s knowledge. But what about the future?
This is where executive function skills come in.
Executive functions are a set of cognitive skills that enables us to focus, plan ahead, to self-regulate our emotions and adapt to new situations. And as research shows, executive functioning skills are better predictors of success than grades and test scores.
“Children with strong executive functions are able to manage their time, organise their thoughts, manage their own behaviour, and build positive relationships with others.
They are more likely to engage in self-directed learning, and are better equipped to handle challenges and curveballs that life throws at them,” shared Angela.
Acknowledge that learning is a lifelong pursuit.
We need to remember that learning takes place in different contexts and spaces. It could be in school, it could be in the community, in a mass house or at home.
Simply put, learning doesn’t just take place in school. And as parents, we need to set up opportunities for our children to continue to have fun learning in informal settings.
“Parents play a very pivotal role in their children’s education journey. Research shows that when parents are involved in their children’s education, children are more ready to transition to formal schooling, and have better self-esteem,” shared Angela.
Work with your child’s teacher.
Schools nowadays are very cognizant of the positive benefits of strong parental involvement. Some of them even plan several activities to involve parents in their children’s learning. So maximise this opportunity.
Join these programs and learn how you can better support your child’s learning through meaningful activities that allow you to bond and have fun with your child.
You can also find out more about how your child is learning by communicating with their teachers.
“Some questions you may want to ask your child’s teachers can be: ‘What are my child’s strengths? What can I do to support my child’s learning at home?’” shared Angela.
How to Create a Positive Home Learning Environment
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Another way for us to cultivate the joy of learning in our children and make sure that it goes beyond the four walls of their classroom is to create a positive learning environment at home.
In her years of working in different countries as a teacher and observing in different classroom settings, Fynn Sor, an early learning expert, author, founder of Happy Tot Shelf on Instagram and mum of three noticed a common theme in classrooms where children looked eager to learn.
“They will automatically know what to do. They will pick up something to play, they will explore the materials on the table. Everything happens automatically. They just want to learn immediately. And so I was very curious to know, what is the magic?”
After digging deeper and engaging in conversations with teachers, she found out that there was no magic. But it was the intentional design of the environment by the teachers that made the difference.
“So the teachers, they put a lot of thought into the design of the environment. They think about how the classroom is set up, they think about what posters what colours they use, what materials were toys in each classroom,” shared Fynn.
If the teachers can do it at school, we can also do it at home where our child also spends most of their time.
How can we design and create an engaging conducive home learning environment to nurture a love of learning and our children? Fynn shared five things that we can do to achieve that.
Create a conducive learning space
What comes into your mind when you hear that phrase? Is it a room filled with books? A study table? A place where you can put art supplies or toys for play-based learning?
The correct answer is it depends on your child.
“A learning space at home is a dedicated space where children can engage in active learning and how this space looks like will differ based on your children’s age,” said Fynn.
So for older children, it can be a conducive study room; well-lit, has access to their computer for research and a comfortable chair. For younger children, it can be a playing corner with quality toys, access to art materials and a lot of space to move around.
One thing that you should note when you are creating a learning space for your child is that the materials are easily accessible to children.
For younger kids, make sure that these are situated at eye level, so they can actually see the materials and they can reach out for the materials that they need. This can also build independence while they learn.
Fynn also suggested incorporating a reading nook and a discovery corner to display activities and objects of interest.
“You want to create an environment and encourage our children to learn to explore freely,” she shared.
We all dream to have a dedicated learning space for our children. But what if there’s not enough space at home?
Like most Singaporeans, Fynn experienced living in flats and houses with limited spaces. And what she wants other parents to remember is that it’s not about how big or small the space is, but what you do with it.
“It’s how you use the space and the materials in the space that matters more,” she said. “So work with the space that you have.”
“If you really don’t have space, we can always make use of a box or luggage, for example. You can leave your materials inside there and your child will know that every time they open the luggage, there’s different learning materials inside,” shared Angela.
Schedule a regular home learning time
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You can do this by blocking off a small amount of time each day for learning at home. You can schedule this form of learning time, every day, every alternate day, or every weekend. It’s really up to you and what works for your family.
How long? It depends on your children’s age. Because you cannot expect young learners to sit down for an extended amount of time.
What do we do during this home learning time? Fynn suggests that you dedicate time to do homework or school work and also do some hands-on learning activities and explore topics that your child is interested in.
“What we want to achieve here is to really make learning parts of their daily life and to develop this habit of learning in our children,” she said.
Have you noticed how this important point is mentioned more than once throughout the article? It’s because we cannot stress it enough.
And this is especially important for younger children. Because multiple studies show that they learn a lot by doing by playing and using their different senses and concrete experiences. They will stick in the brain better and longer for children.
“It’s not just about teaching them the concept, but all this connection and all these good memories about learning will help them feel better about learning, they develop this positive attitude towards learning, they think that learning is so fun,” said Fynn.
One way to do it is to play up to your child’s interests and be as creative as possible. Does your child love dinosaurs? Star Wars? Frozen? There are so many fun, sensorial activities that you can incorporate them into.
This is probably our favourite tip of all. And we’re sure you will love it too. Because basically, you don’t have to do anything. And we’re asking you to let your child do nothing.
“Downtime is really important, especially for older children who spend a large amount of time in school. They go through a structured lesson after lesson. So this downtime is important for them to unwind to relax.
And also, this is also the time where they can go explore their interests,” shared Fynn.
Boredom can boost creativity and encourages self-learning. So if your child looks bored, don’t rush in to entertain them. Let them be bored. You will be amazed by how much your children’s love of learning can grow when they have the time to explore and discover.
Develop a safe, trusting, connected relationship with your child.
This looks at that at the social environment at home – your child’s social interactions and their relationship with the family members.
“What we want is a home environment where kids feel safe and connected. And this is important because feeling safe is one of the most basic needs of human beings.
Children learn better when they feel safe, and they feel that the environment is as supportive,” said Fynn.
At the same time, when children feel safe, they are more willing to jump into new experiences. They have the confidence to explore the world freely. And they are also willing to make mistakes, or they’re not afraid to make mistakes.
Remember, a stressed-out brain is not a learning brain.
So your goal should be to create a safe space for children to make mistakes. Not scolding them when they make a mistake, not yelling at them or shaming them, and you want to focus on good behaviour and effort.
Simply put, you want them to know that you are there to support them in their learning journey.
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What to Do with a Learner With a Short Attention Span?
One of the questions that was raised during the webinar was how to combat a child’s short attention span.
For Fynn, the first thing to do is to manage our expectations when it comes to our children’s attention span. Because the younger the children, the shorter the attention span.
Another important piece of advice she gave on how to lengthen the attention span is this – do not interrupt your child when they are focusing.
Put yourself in the role of a spectator instead of a commentator. You do not have to narrate every little detail your child does.
“Just watch. And then when they are ready to engage you, they will look up and they will look to you. ‘Oh, Mommy, look at this that I built’. That’s when you know.
This is a natural breaking of focus. That’s when you can step in, and then you can engage with them. And then when they’re back in the flow, then we just keep quiet,” the child expert advised.
How to Engage Your Learner If You Don’t Have the Time
A lot of parents are struggling with this question, as we are all so constrained by the busyness of day-to-day life.
However, Angela suggests a way to work around it by incorporating learning into daily activities that we do with our children, such as teaching mathematical concepts when cooking, or body safety skills when you’re giving your child a bath.
The early education expert said that daily routines are “great opportunities for parents to interact and facilitate some discussion when it comes to you know, the things that they see day to day.
“And I think that’s also learning for the children as well,” she added.
The Importance of Reading
The experts agreed that if you’re really pressed for time and can only do one thing to support your child’s learning, it’s this – read with them.
“The benefits of reading cannot be underestimated. Even if it is just 15 minutes a day. Read with your child, talk about the illustrations together and encourage your child to read with you increase the number of books made available to your child,” said Angela.
In fact, she shared a study from Singapore Kindergarten Impact Project that found that the frequency of reading together, the number of books available to the child, and the child’s interest in reading had the most significant influence on their language and literacy skills.
Children also learn reading skills better from reading with their parents than from being taught how to read by their parents.
“Other than building a strong literacy foundation in your children, they also open up the whole new world to your children beyond their own experiences,” shared Fynn.
“So I want to encourage you if you just have one time to do one thing with your children, just read to your child,” she added.
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Every Child Is Unique
The key here, parents, is to take the time to get to know your child. Find out what their learning style is, or what interests them.
“Every child is unique. They are strong, competent, and capable. They enter the world ready to learn and they have different interests and personalities and develop at different paces in their own way and rate,” said Angela.
So mummies and daddies, take your time to get to know your child. Understand their likes and dislikes and learn along with them.
Remember to praise them when they try something new. It encourages them a lot. Play with them, read to them, and discover the joy of learning together.”