Posted by: Sara Carbone on: April 10, 2012
Ever wish your kid actually cared about what she was studying? Not the grade, but the actual topic?
In the book Unconditional Parenting – Moving From Rewards and Punishments to Love and Reason education expert Alfie Kohn writes:
In place of excessive focus on school achievement, we should take a lively interest in what the child is learning. “So what’s your opinion about how dinosaurs became extinct?” is a question that supports intellectual growth. “How come only a B-minus on that paper?” is not. If a child has written an essay, it makes sense to focus not on whether it’s good enough but on its content (and on the process of crafting it). A parent might ask: “How did you come to choose what to write about? What did you learn from the research? Why did you save the important point for the end?”
A parent can, understandably, get pretty wrapped up in worrying about grades and handing in homework. Often what she’s actually learning gets overlooked. But helping her take an interest in what she’s cramming into her head can change how she relates to school, homework and learning in general.
We’re born wanting to learn information, hungry for it. As proof, observe a toddler ferociously making his way through a bunch of toys and books. Unfortunately, as the years go by this hunger tends to get buried under dry teaching methods, stress about grades, and fixation on college prospects. Help her feel that hunger again!
Ask questions about what she’s learning. Her opinion, her observations. Find out what she’s (even vaguely) curious about in her classes and talk about it. When you go to sign a test, talk about what she thinks about medieval ideas about women or why people fight over religion. During fractions, look at how she thinks she can use them in real life. And feel free to get silly. Discuss whether she’d befriend that snarky dude in “The Importance of Being Ernest” or if she’d want to live 65 million years ago just to see if dinosaurs really had feathers. Connect it, make it relevant, bring it to life. She might see the long hours she spends on the stuff with different eyes.
And share what you love. I do this with students. I’ll get goofily excited about some Shakespeare passage or gesticulate wildly over the beauty of Mendel’s pea pods. Or talk about why reading about how clouds form makes me look at rainy days differently. Sometimes they can’t help but catch a bit of that enthusiasm. They might give the textbook paragraph about the American Revolution a second glance. Maybe really get that it’s a story about real people who fought and died for something they believed in.
Kohn writes, “do everything possible to help her fall in love with what she’s doing, [pay] less attention to how successful she was (or is likely to be) and show more interest in the task…encourage more, judge less, and love always.”