As both a teacher and parent, I’ve found there are generally two types of students: those who like school and those who do not. Although all kids like learning, many do not realize they do. They would rather be doing almost anything else – riding a bike, going swimming, playing tag. These obstacles make creating learning opportunities a real challenge for parents and educators. You can force your child to do their work against their will. But would it not be so much easier if they just did it on their own?
This is where personal interests come into play. No matter what they enjoy doing, your child’s hobbies are sure to be full of new learning opportunities. Core school subjects (math, English, science) are core for a reason – they are essential to the human experience. They surround us constantly, so you can create learning opportunities anytime and at any place.
Here are a few suggestions for mingling your child’s interests with their learning.
Discover the Passion
Some parents may not be exactly sure what their children enjoy. Maybe your child is very young and has not quite had the chance to explore the world and discover their interests. Nevertheless, it is never too early to start scouting for the signs.
You might notice your 4-year old trying to take apart a water gun and figure out how it shoots. Maybe they enjoy singing and dancing, or they like to read in their spare time. You could practice numbers with them then. Does your pre-teen like to bake? That is a great way to help with fractions.
Anything like this that even slightly suggests a budding interest should be explored. One way to figure out what your child likes is to print off an interest list and have them circle things that they enjoy. Then, you can incorporate these activities into their study and homework time.
Make the Connections
When people, especially young people, are engaging in their favorite activities, they usually are not paying attention to the details. They just love what they are doing, and the only thing on their mind is good feelings. No matter what that activity may be, the opportunities for learning are present.
I grew up in the age when computers were a ‘new thing.’ I was lucky enough to have a computer at home and parents who would buy me floppy disk games (remember those?) I learned to type, learned Spanish, and even learned a ton of facts about life on the Oregon Trail. To me, I was just playing. I didn’t realize I would use all of this information years later when I became a teacher.
It is the same with today’s kids. Very few children are familiar with the concept of physics, and those who know about it have generally only heard of it in passing. When those same children are playing sports or driving RC cars, they are not thinking about science at work right before their eyes. They can see the forces at work when they kick a ball or move the car, but they may not yet understand what exactly is going on.
This is where the learning opportunity presents itself. Kids that remain passionate about these activities generally develop talent for them as well, which is due in large part to their understanding of the concepts behind them. Many young tinkerers enter design competitions in middle and high school or go on to be engineers in college. A lot of kids play sports, too, and those who really set themselves apart become multi-millionaire professionals.
Do not miss this chance to give your kid a leg up in the things they love.
Wrap it with Core Concepts
Pursuing learning passions should easily translate into improved academic performance. If opportunities for learning are seized and properly used, each individual grade stands to benefit somehow. The key is to take the individual interests of the child and steer it towards their school subjects, allowing them to develop both skills at the same time.
Some of these are self-evident. A child that loves to read will have no problem improving their language arts performance. Children who love athletics, however, have to look a little deeper to appreciate what is going on. A soccer kick involves each of Newton’s laws, but they will not know that until they have the opportunity to learn what they are and how they work.
A lot of kids these days spend time playing video games. This may be the single largest reason why kids spend twice as much time indoors as they do outdoors. Being literal information processors, computers are loaded with learning opportunities, and there is no reason not to make use of them.
Kids who love games and are often not fond of math. Even if they hate math, they can find a happy medium in the math games we offer. They combine the fun-filled environment of the internet with mathematical material to create a unique and fun opportunity for learning. As parents and educators, we have to use this to our advantage.
The primary reason that some kids do not like school is because it does not stimulate them in the way that other activities do. Often times, the environment is absent any excitement and relies on materials such as textbooks and dry-erase boards. Catering to the child’s individual interests, as well as making use of the most recent technological developments, will enable children to enjoy school. An interesting school environment is something many parents wish we had. If you remember how you felt back then, you will be able to understand how much your child will appreciate being able to learn in an engaging way.