Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Raising a Lifelong Learner

Lifelong learning is an educational catch phrase that can be found in many schools’ mission statements, but creating a true lifelong learner starts long before a child sets foot in the school yard. It begins with the first lullabies, the first books, and even that crazy mobile that you hang in their crib. Lifelong learning is all about curiosity.

What can you do as a parent to instill this lifelong learning in your child? You can begin by thinking about how you responds to those 1,000 questions of “Why?”, “Who?”,” When?” and then adding a few questions of your own. Lifelong learning is not an attempt to know all there is to know, but a journey to learn and then learn some more. There is no destination, but instead an appreciation for the path that you take. Children are born with a natural curiosity and so igniting this flame into a fire that will fuel them for their entire life is not difficult. One of the easiest ways to inflame the ember is to model the action. Visit museums. Look at shells on the beach. Try a new skill. Travel to a new place. Taste new foods. If you exude a passion for learning, your children will naturally pick it up. They may or may not enjoy the same passion as you, but they will learn that it is not only acceptable but necessary to continue to learn at every age. Think, in your own life, how a friend’s passion ignited your interest. Did a friend’s knitted scarf encourage you to pick up your needles or his talk of the wonderful golf courses cause you to grab a club?

Part of being a lifelong learner is in fact not settling, not being comfortable, not just floating down the river, but fighting against the tide. It is always trying new things, exploring new places, meeting new people. It is delving into the daily norm and being willing to cause a little chaos: taking apart the clock that daily wakes you up; deciding to find out where pepper comes from that you put on your food; willingly and purposefully saying “hello” to the person next to you in the grocery store. This means, as a parent, allowing your child the freedom to do such things. Perhaps you don’t want him to destroy your new bedroom clock, but wouldn’t it be cool to give him an old one to take apart. Maybe you could travel to a farmers’ market in your area and make arrangements to go to a farm. If you are not comfortable with him saying “hi” to strangers, you could invite interesting new guests to dinner.

Another part of lifelong learning is having time to explore your pursuits. In today’s overly scheduled world sometimes it is hard to allow freedom to explore ourselves and our passions. This is a must if you wish to feed the fire in your child and denying him or her this time is probably the quickest way to douse the embers that are already there. Let children play. If he is playing for hours with Legos, let him play. He is learning about geometry, engineering, creative thinking and problem solving. If he is finger-painting until the dyes bleed into his fingers, let him paint. He is learning about relationships, colors, and imagery. If everything relates to dinosaurs or trains or spaceships, it’s ok. Let it be. Let him delve and devour all he can.

Lifelong learning has to come from within, not from without. You do not learn because you are required, but because you are interested. You decide what to learn and how much you want to know about the subject. Even if you are forced for outside reasons to learn something that you do not find quite as interesting, when this fire has been fully lit, you do not mind. Such an exploration may lead to some new and interesting fact or study.

Lifelong learning may be a new catch phrase, but truthfully it has been the way of some of the greatest minds in existence. Look at Einstein, Jefferson, and Edison. Maybe the pursuits of your little one will uncover the mind of a Da Vinci or Mozart. Wouldn’t it have been a shame if these men were too busy and too focused to unlock their passions and delve into their interests?

Some Simple Ways to Develop a Life Long Learner Locally
-Hike local trails with some classification books. Bring a journal to sit down and draw examples of what you see.
-Pick up a brush a local art museum.
-Take a cooking class
-Attend a performance by the Symphony or catch a show
-Plan to attend some of the wonderful events at a local festival.

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