Have you ever witnessed the look in a child’s eyes when the light bulb comes on? Adrenaline rushes in the moment he or she understands something which once puzzled, frustrated, or mystified them, accompanied by a great boost to their confidence. These moments are so important because success always begets more success. However, a child will have few opportunities to feel that rush or become more confident if not properly challenged intellectually. Let’s look at how parents can instill a thirst for learning.
By challenged, I mean being introduced to new things which have to be studied to be understood. To a toddler it could be putting shapes in similarly shaped openings. As they mature, it could be building their own shapes, or houses, or cars with Legos and Lincoln Logs. Learning, like infinity, never ends. Experiencing it, like infinity, you may need a rocket ship. Parents can be rocket ships for their children for there will always be new discoveries to be found, studied, and conquered.
The stars of our galaxy are a wonderful way to stir the imagination. It could be explained that the North Star, the Big Dipper or other constellations helped early travelers find their way. Chemistry sets and microscopes are great tools to learn science, such as how to make slime or crystals, or how to see microscopic objects invisible to the naked eye. Each step of learning advances a child to a higher level of knowledge and a stronger desire to learn more. And don’t forget to take your kids to the local zoo or science center! Better yet, teach them about animals before you go. They will be fascinated.
I remember how astonished I was when I learned I could measure the exact height of a tree without climbing to the top and dropping a tape measure from the top branch to the ground. It was simple trigonometry. By finding a point away from the tree where the top of the tree was at a 45-degree angle from the ground, I knew the height of the tree was the same as the distance to the tree. I then wanted to learn more ways trigonometry worked to solve more mysteries.
I haven’t even mentioned to greatest tool to a child’s imagination, that being reading! Reading to toddlers, or even babies fascinates them. They see the writing and the pictures and know they are related. Even the comfort of being on your lap and having your attention relates reading to being safe and loved. What better way to introduce a child to learning. As they get older, children want to be able to translate a written string of letters to understandable thoughts and descriptions, just like mom and dad can do.
Late Starts in Learning Can Be a Terrible Burden
But what about the child who is never read to, not to mention never having a learning tool like a chemistry set with simple experiments any parent can teach. They are left unaided to stimulate their imaginations which become a distinct disadvantage compared to their peers, those who have had loving attention and mentoring. Even though some children are born with more active imaginations than others, every child will be helped by outside stimulation. And although their schools are a key place to stimulate the imaginations of kids, the real joy of learning is discovered in the years prior to formal learning. Not surprisingly, it is the parents who are the key parties in challenging their children during these early years.
Very important in raising more than one child is to understand their different paces in learning and varied interests. Some kids will be more challenging than others, but they must not be compared. You want to challenge the fast learner and the slow learner at different rates but with similar degrees of challenge, i.e. where they will succeed, but not too easily. When over challenged, kids will get frustrated and want to quit. If under challenged, kids will be bored and disinterested in moving forward.
If you are lucky, your child will find a passion. A child with a passion is like putting them in cruise control towards their love of further discovery. They will be driven by their interest and not by your prodding. With a passion comes a desire to learn more and more. A passionate child will more often live in the moment and not brood about the past or future.
The Dry Sponge Theory
Lastly, remember this when your child complains about not quite understanding a subject in school. Have him take the next higher level course and while he may struggle again, he will look back at the last level with more understanding. For instance, let’s say your child struggles with multiplication. If they graduate and then learn algebra, it follows that when she looks back to multiplication, multiplication won’t seem as difficult any longer.
I call this the ‘Dry Sponge Theory.’ (I discuss it in more detail in my book, The Power of Dadhood: Become the Father Your Child Needs.) A dry sponge absorbs quite a bit of moisture. However, when a sponge is totally wet, it won’t absorb anything more. A larger sponge will have room for more absorption. Taking algebra makes your learning sponge for multiplication bigger, allowing a capacity for more understanding. It follows that no one is an expert at the level they are studying. They become experts at a level two or three steps lower than where they are currently studying. For instance, sixth graders would be considered experts in fourth-grade subjects…and so forth.
Your kids may not be convinced of the ‘Dry Sponge Theory’, but hopefully you will be convinced to push them forward. The ‘Dry Sponge Theory’ works similarly for topics that may bore your child like Art Appreciation or History. They may not become historians, but their learning sponge will have increased in size and, therefore, in capacity. Other topics will fall more easily into place. I am convinced of this.
Parents are key teachers in the most important early learning years–when the sponge of a child’s brain is insatiably thirsty. Introduce interesting things to them. Challenge them. Make learning fun and look for a passion that may pull them forward. And finally, if they aren’t passionate about learning, keep pushing them. Knowledge and the thirst for learning are so important for their futures! ###
Article and photographs by Michael Byron Smith, author of The Power of Dadhood [website]
“Helping Fathers to be Dads” blog