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How to Inspire Lifelong Learning

Courtesy of Susan Stiffelman

In a perfect world, our kids would awaken eagerly in the morning to dash off to school with a spring in their step and a song in their heart. They would arrive home at the end of the day, full of news to share about what the new type of math problem they had learned, or the song they had mastered in music class.

We all want schools for our children that awaken a love for learning that will launch them toward a life full of passion and an enthusiasm that ensures they will continue growing and stretching into the best version of themselves. But (you knew that was coming, right?) our wish and reality, aren't always in alignment. I could rattle off the list of reasons—overworked and underpaid staff, administrative constraints--but we know them all too well. As much as we wish our schools would be the havens of exploration and excitement that would inspire our children day in and day out, transforming them is a work in progress, one that those involved in Parenting's Mom Congress have committed to transforming over the long haul.

But meanwhile? What can we do today to foster in our children the love of learning that will serve them throughout their lives? The answer? A lot. Regardless of the limitations our children's schools face that may impair their ability to consistently deliver the kind of education we dream about, there are many things we can—and must—do to help our children become lifelong learners. Here are a few:

  • Turn off devices for 30 minutes or an hour every night, and read, build, draw, make music, play. It's easy to demand that our kids turn off their video games and do “something else.” But it's an altogether different thing to engage with them as we establish time to nourish our own interests. This is easier said than done; there are always emails to answer and Facebook pages to update. But real learning starts offline. Create the time, and more importantly, the ritual, that announces to your children that learning is fun and worth doing.

  • Take a class. I realize that it's hard to add one more thing to a busy day, but when children see their parents doing their own homework or research, it speaks volumes. If you veg out in front of the screen night after night, why would your children take your lectures seriously when you try to convince them to put their heart and soul into their social studies report. My elderly mother still takes classes at her local university; right now she's taking Middle Eastern studies. Her ceaseless passion for learning has unquestionably fueled my own, and for that I am forever grateful.

  • Take a class together. Kids long to have time with us; we are the prize, especially when they're younger. Sign up for cooking classes, or ceramics, or rock climbing. Take something that you're both interested in, or step outside the box and explore a subject that neither of you know anything about. You'll be creating memories that your youngster will have forever, while activating an interest in acquiring new skills and knowledge that will serve her throughout her life.

The work of Mom Congress is desperately needed; we must help schools become places that provide our children with the resources and support they need to grow and learn. But we also need to take note of what we can do today to fan the flames of our child's love of learning. Thankfully, we have what it takes. We just have to take action. 

Susan Stiffelman is a licensed Marriage, Family and Child Counselor, an Educational Therapist, Parent Educator and Professional Speaker. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Developmental Psychology from Johnston College/ University of Redlands, a California K-9 Teaching Credential, a Masters of Arts degree from Antioch University in Clinical Psychology, and a California Marriage and Family Therapist license since 1991. Stiffelman will appear as a guest speaker at Parenting's 2012 Mom congress. Her new book, Parenting Without Power Struggles: Raising Joyful, Resilient Kids While Staying Cool, Calm, and Connected, is available in bookstores as of March 13.