“Let’s Look It Up,” Ensign, Feb. 1985, 66
At the breakfast table one morning Dad solemnly warned the children, “Beware of the summer solstice today.” Their many questions availed only a sly smile and “You’ll see. But don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
When Mom also refused to reveal the secret, the kids had only one recourse: “Let’s look it up!” And off they ran to the encyclopedia and science books.
Within a short time, they had unraveled the mystery of the summer solstice and were plying Mom with related questions. By day’s end, the family had constructed a homemade sundial, visited the nearby planetarium, and done some stargazing through a borrowed telescope.
Too often children lose the joy of discovery as they grow older. They forget that learning can be fun, probably because they have come to equate “learning” with homework and a series of “must do” assignments. Learning thus becomes something to be endured, to be passed over as quickly and with as little effort as possible.
But parents can do much to help their children retain their innate love of learning. The key lies in fostering the idea that learning is fascinating, that learning is an all-the-time, lifelong pursuit. Once children realize their parents are interested, helpful mentors, their horizons broaden and they are on the road to becoming independent learners.
Mealtimes are an excellent time to discuss new ideas. And try going on family field trips. I’m constantly amazed at how few of my students have ever been to see the sights right in their own city. When you’ve exhausted all local resources, you can roam farther afield or take specialized vacations.
For long trips, make an itinerary that older children can follow. Prepare maps showing the route you will travel. Include geographical landmarks, towns, or points of interest every few miles so children can have many items to watch for as the miles roll by.
Learning experiences don’t have to be expensive, either. When you’re camping, for example, look at those eggs in the trout you just caught. Or try to discover what animal made those big tracks.
Use stories to broaden children’s interests. Instead of relying solely on fiction and fairy tales, use a variety of materials on all subjects. Our children were nearly grown before they realized that National Geographic was not necessarily in the business of writing bedtime stories. By then they knew about Kenya, the Himalayas, Mardi Gras, diamond mining in South Africa, bears, cats, peoples of many lands, and scores of other subjects.
Don’t be afraid to tackle big family learning projects. One time our family built a five-by-eight-foot plywood topographic jigsaw-puzzle map of the United States. In addition to woodworking skills, our children learned much about the physical geography of their country, the names and locations of the states, and much, much more.
Probably the single most important thing you can do to help your children enjoy learning is to be constantly learning yourself. By your own example you can show that learning is worth both the time and the effort that it takes. Let them see you reading and wondering and investigating. Parents who adopt this attitude can expect rich rewards of increased knowledge for themselves and for their children. Donna S. Moyer, Salt Lake City, Utah