How to Nurture Your Child’s Natural Love for Learning
Congratulations! You’ve just taken a critically important first step toward nurturing your child’s natural love for learning by starting to read this article.
The first rule for nurturing your child’s natural love for learning is to make it a priority – and not just a verbal priority, but one that’s rooted in action. And that’s critically important for two reasons, the first and most obvious of which is that it demonstrates your commitment to make things happen.
The second reason that making it a priority is critically important to success in nurturing your child’s natural love for learning has to do with a couple of inter-related ideas: We read somewhere lo long ago that employees learn what’s important to their employers not by listening to what their employers say, but by “watching their employers’ feet” — that if ownership verbalizes the importance of quality control but devotes little time or effort to it, it’s not all that important. And the other inter-related idea is “monkey see, monkey do.”
Kids learn from and emulate their parents, and almost nothing could be more powerful in nurturing your child’s natural love for learning than to demonstrate it to them in your own actions and feelings as often as you possibly can.
“Oh, no! Do you mean that I really have to learn and love doing it in front of my kids when I’m so busy doing other things?”
Yep, but only if you want to succeed.
You’ll note that unlike so many other pundits on this topic, we chose the word “nurture,” instead of “instill,” and we did that as a bow to reality: One doesn’t have to instill what’s already there, and children are – from the instant that they’re born – sponges for knowledge and experience with undifferentiated and plastic cerebral cortices that demand exploration and facilitate learning; that’s why we’ve survived as a species. That’s why listening to parents’ voices, moving heads, hands, arms, leg, and fingers, and watching, listening to, touching, and – eventually – trying to eat mobiles that are hung over their cribs are phenomena as natural as a chrysalis opening to reveal a butterfly: It’s what we do.
So, how do kids learn? They learn through their senses of sight, hearing, touch, smell, taste, balance and kinesthesis (movement) – both of which are informed by their vestibular systems – proprioception (knowledge of where their various body parts are in space), and by muscle tension/strain that’s informed by their Golgi tendon organs reporting to their Central Nervous Systems. And if you want to nurture their nature love of learning, stimulating them by providing them with environments that are rich with – or rich with the potential for – as wide a variety of every one of those sensory inputs (within the bounds of safety, of course) and then encouraging them to explore is exactly what’s called for.
“How does one encourage kids to explore?” is a little like asking how to encourage bear cubs to defecate among the conifers, but the best and most concise advice we can give you is, “Model the desired behavior (monkey see…) and show delight with the result” — always bearing in mind that different kids learn best in different ways.
Because language and cognition are inextricably intertwined, we want to qualify that “best and most concise advice” immediately by telling you how critically important it is to your child’s learning-related development that you talk to them as you interact with them, frequently repeating back to them what they’ve said, but elaborating on it in context-specific ways to model slightly more complex language that will provide them with the scaffolding they need to understand and, eventually, to use those more advanced language/thought structures.
Is it really that easy? Yes.
Is it really that important? Absolutely to the absolutely power: At the 2012 annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience, Martha Farah, Director of the Centre for Neuroscience and Society at the University of Pennsylvania, presented the results of her team’s 20-year longitudinal study of 64 children that they’d followed and studied closely from birth. The most important of their findings is that the single key factor in predicting the development of several parts of the cortex (the layer of grey matter on the outside of the brain) at age 19 was cognitive stimulation from parents fifteen years earlier – at age four. (No earlier measurements of the children’s cerebral cortices were made, so no scientific conclusions could be drawn about the effects of earlier cognitive stimulation on brain development.) None of the other factors studied, including parental nurturance at all ages and cognitive stimulation at age eight, had any effect.
And the area of the cortex that was the most strongly affected was the region behind the left ear — a region that’s highly involved in and critical to semantic memory, processing word meanings, and general knowledge about the world.
Compelling, isn’t it?
Score at the Top