Kids Gotta Wanna Learn

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Children love personally relevant challenges. Kids who are presented with a box of small pulleys, 100 feet of string or rope and a pair of scissors can amuse themselves for hours responding to the challenge to figure out how to transport secret messages, toys, or treats from one room to another. If asked what else they could do with pulleys and string, they’ll unleash a myriad of creative ideas and learn so much in the process.

Learning is about improving one’s knowledge about a topic of interest or tackling a delightfully challenging task. It’s about scratching the itch of an information gap, as described in a recent NY Times article. The authors of this article say, “Information gaps can motivate us to tear through a whodunit novel, sit glued to the TV during a quiz show or stare at a crossword puzzle for hours. Great teachers approach their classes the same way: They open with a mystery and turn their students into detectives, sending them off to gather clues.”

Engaging challenges and friendly dares create an itch. They provide impetus to extend thinking and effort, and those who extend the challenges and dares become an attentive audience with which to share the outcome(s). For a child that means being encouraged to try something new or to accomplish something a bit complex, the result of which will be delightful to share with admiring others.

For example, let’s take the invitation to make cookies. Cookie creation has all the ingredients of a fun-filled time during which learning about mathematical, scientific and culinarily concepts occurs, like commodities (think flour, sugar, soda, butter, eggs, vanilla, salt, milk), measurement, chemistry, timing, flavorings, decorating, sharing, and so on. And the end result is always deliciously satisfying for the brain and stomach.

So, how might these dynamics be applied to the simple act of reading and discussing a potentially delightful book?

Create mystery: “Ooo! What’s this book about? The title is, “…” and then check out the cover picture. “That could help us decide to read it or not?” “Hmmm. What could this book offer you?”

Invite exploration: “Let’s look through the pages to see if it is of interest in helping us answer and understand our very own questions about this topic.”

Discuss meaning: “What have we learned? How does that help us? What would we still like to learn about all this?”

Terrific teaching gets everyone excited, even when presenting kids with things that they didn’t want to know anything about. Successful lessons always include selling kids on expending the effort that it will take them to successfully engage and grow. So whether you’re a professional teacher or a home-schooling parent or caregiver, invest in generating children’s interests, in protecting time necessary to explore, and in having full and robust discussions where everyone’s voice is heard.   

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