Does your child have a commitment to learning?  Some students are motivated to achieve and some are just naturally curious, while others become apathetic and do just enough to get by. Which one describes your child? Whichever child you have, you can influence a desire to learn.

The authors of What Kids Need to Succeed (Benson, Galbraith and Espeland, 1998) identified five ‘assets’ that contribute to a commitment to learning.  They are achievement motivation, school engagement, homework, bonding to school, and reading for pleasure.  Today’s discussion focuses on achievement motivation and how parents can nurture this asset. (The bullet point concepts are the authors’, the commentary is mine.) 

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Achievement motivation – Kids are motivated to do well in school.

* Show your children that you value learning.  Let them know early on that you expect them to take school seriously, and that their learning is a priority.  (Keep this in mind when it comes time for sports, extracurriculars and a job.  FOMO – Fear Of Missing Out – and loading up the transcript for college can leave students overscheduled and exhausted.)

When you, their parent, periodically and intentionally learn something new, whether in a class or on your own, you are modeling lifelong learning.

* Help develop your child’s internal motivation.  One reason kids are apathetic about school is because they don’t consider the subject matter relevant to their life today or 20 years from now. Whenever possible, connect school learning to their interests (technology, a future goal, sports, animals, etc.).  When they express an interest in a career, ask a curious question. “What skills and knowledge will you need to do that job, and to get into a college or trade school for that job?” Help them uncover their personal reason for a commitment to learning.

As a side note, teachers and parents were devastated when districts began eliminating the remaining Home Ec/Skills for Living courses.  Most kids really, really enjoyed this class.  They cooked, sewed, and designed their own restaurant.  They learned about weights and measures, chemical reactions, and teamwork. Students tapped into their (sometimes previously unrecognized) creativity.  It was the one class that connected to almost every other subject: math, science, world language, social studies, and even literature.  There was something in it for everyone.  No one ever walked out of that room feeling apathetic about learning.

* Learn along with your child (and let your child be your teacher, too!). As much learning is going on outside the classroom as in it.  You are your child’s first and forever teacher. There’s so much to be learned and absorbed. Nurture a sense of curiosity in them about their world.

At home it can be weeding and planting.  (I know of 14-year olds who love to mess around in the dirt and watch things grow.)  Spend time together in the kitchen, cooking and experimenting. Work together on repairing things, doing jigsaw puzzles, mapping out a trip (with a real map). The more senses and movement you use, the better.  And then ask your child to teach you something, whether it’s about sports, machines, fashion, art or apps.  This is learning at its best.

Full out engagement is critical to learning.  Get everyone off their devices, off their behind, and out of the house. Take a day trip to a museum, nature center or historic site. 

Plan a different kind of vacation.  A week at Disney or on a beach is wonderful… and so is exploring the world.  A client told me that their recent vacation on the west coast was the best one ever. Her teens helped plan the week with a variety of recreational and learning activities that had nothing to do with sitting on a beach. 

Today kids learn from programs like ‘How it’s Made’ and ‘Dirtiest Jobs’.  But there’s nothing like visiting those places and seeing for yourself. The vacations I loved the most as a child were the 3-4 day road trips.   We took tours at the Armstrong Tile and Hershey factories.  The Welland Canal just over the Canadian border was pretty cool (including when a young sailor flirted from a distance with 15-year old me).  Niagara Falls is awe-inspiring, to say the least, and I loved the narrated boat ride. You have to be in the underground Howe Caverns to really appreciate those rock formations, and we did.

School is the place where material is taught with a specific curriculum and method.  That’s all important; however, learning takes place everywhere.  

Not all children thrive in the classroom.  It’s especially important for these students to develop curiosity and have alternative, meaningful ways to learn.  Parents can have a significant impact here. When children are stimulated this way, they will engage more in the classroom and have a greater commitment to learning.