I looked at my little girl, only a few weeks old, sleeping soundly in my lap. Never had the thought occurred to me of fighting my child to learn. I loved to learn. I loved to learn about anything and everything. I’d dive into a topic and search for information until I exhausted my resources and became obsessed with something else. Then, the cycle began again. But, what made the difference? I pondered this question for weeks, months and even years as my family grew, both in size and age. Finally, after great reflection, an answer came to me.
My mother. The answer was a soft ping in the back of my mind.
My mother had been the ultimate example for me. She loved to read, learn and try new things. I remember her deciding to learn how to plant a garden and start canning. Pears were her first canning experience. Some were hard as rocks and others were mushy. For months at dinner, we ate ‘rock pears’ or ‘mushy pears.’ We also did applesauce. Ugh! I was a teenager by then. The kitchen was an apple gooey mess. We never did applesauce again. She taught herself to knit. When my parents opened a business, she learned accounting. Now, with 27 grandchildren, she continues to learn. Periodically, she sends out an e-mail or message to her family, sharing something she learned or a quote she read. She even sends out challenges to learn something.
I needed to build on my mother’s example. What are some things I learned from my mother?
- When you have a question, find the answer. As our children ask questions, do we answer with ‘I dunno’ or swiftly disregard them? Instead, show them how to find the answers to their questions. Give them good resources. Show them the right places to get answers. As an example, you wouldn’t ask the recycling center for a physical. The same applies on the Internet. Find worthy and reliable sources.
- Show them how to find answer to your questions. Speak verbally about whatever you are thinking. Do you wonder why the sky is blue? Say it and then look it up. When our dog was having puppies, I wondered if our dachshund puppies would be chocolate like their father or red like their mother. My daughter and I sat on the couch one evening with my tablet in hand. We searched out the answer to our question. I learned a lot about puppies -and I think we filled an entire Pinterest board with the cutest puppy pictures!
- Encourage questions and experimentation. When I wondered what something would taste like without salt, my mother allowed me to try it. We baked a recipe without salt. What did it hurt? Nothing. What did I learn? The savor salt brings to food.
- Laugh at failures and learn from them. When the rock pears hit our table, it was always fun. We never knew if the pears would be mushy pears or rock pears until we opened the Mason jar. My mother took it in stride (although I am sure there were times when her feelings were hurt as her family took the jesting to an extreme). We discussed what made them that way. Why were some hard and some soft? What did she learn? How to can the perfect pears!
- Give your child the ability to learn on their own. In my home, that is through frequent trips to the library and looking online.
- Make frequent trips to the library! (Yes … I know we live in the digital age, but there is something so beautiful about walking into the library and watching small hands feel, examine and manipulate a book.) Show your children how to look up information. Introduce them to the library. Let them have their personal library card. Also, make trips to the bookstore!
This list is hardly comprehensive. There are so many wonderful ideas. Ask your friends how they have created a love of learning with their children. Ask your children’s teachers. Investigate the topic. Share!
Try something. If it doesn’t work, move onto something else. But, never give up. Most of all, I encourage you to keep a smile on your face. Learning can be fun. It doesn’t have to be a stressful piece of family life. Hang in there and pat yourself on the back for all of the good you do!
By Tracy Harrington-Atkinson
Tracy Harrington-Atkinson, mother of six, lives in the Midwest with her husband. She is a teacher, having taught elementary school to higher education, holding degrees in elementary education, a master’s in higher education and continued on to a PhD in curriculum design. She has published several titles, including Calais: The Annals of the Hidden, Rachel’s 8 and Securing Your Tent. She is currently working on a non-fiction text exploring the attributes of self-directed learners: The Five Characteristics of Self-directed Learners.