Growing Joyful Learners
January 12, 2016
All young children have an innate thirst for learning. They are like little plants, leaning towards the sunlight that is knowledge. They want to know their ABCs, and they ask question after question about how the world works. Even if they are a bit nervous about it, most kids are excited to start kindergarten. They want to learn to read. They love it when an adult reads to them. They want to know about spiders and dinosaurs and what causes thunder. The curiosity that you see on the face of a brand-new kindergartener is a beautiful thing to behold.
Sadly, however, this pure joy of learning often fades as kids get older. It's rubbed away by onerous reading logs, assigned reading not to that child's tastes, and rote worksheets. It gets worn down further by test preparation and the pressure of thinking about college applications. It gets lost amid the distractions of extracurricular activities and online games, and parental pressure to get good grades. It gets overshadowed by peer pressure not to be geeky, or other social challenges.
This, I think, is a tragedy. Losing the joy of learning hurts individual kids who fail to reach their unique potential. And it hurts global achievement, as we turn out students who lack creative problem-solving ability and other skills. I think that we as individuals, and as a society, can and must do better.
Please know that I believe that individual teachers are doing their very best to maintain the joy of learning for kids. I am a huge fan of teachers. But teachers are under pressure to teach a certain curriculum, to prepare for a certain number of tests, to track and document things. There are parents who expect a certain amount of homework, and who care more that their children are on the Ivy League track than that they are joyful learners. There are systematic issues like poverty that impede some students' ability to focus on school at all. Most public schools have large class sizes, and kids of vastly different skill levels in each. All of these things make it hard for teachers to sniff out the particular learning methods that will help each child to remain passionate about learning.
So here is what I want to know. How can parents maintain their children's joy of learning in the face of these obstacles? How can teachers keep the spark alive in their students? Is there research about what works and what doesn't that can be applied more broadly? Are there tips that parents and teachers have for other parents and teachers, hard-learned lessons from fighting these battles? Surely the answer is yes. Surely we can use this interconnected world of blogs and Twitter and Facebook to share with each other.
I'm not a teacher. I'm a parent of one child who is only a few months into kindergarten. I am so far from being an expert on education that it is ridiculous. But I'm a person who reads a lot, and a person who cares passionately about this issue. I am pretty good at synthesizing information. I've dedicated years to thinking about how parents and teachers can help to grow bookworms. Now I am ready to expand that focus and work on growing bookworms, mathematicians, scientists, artists, and all sort of other joyful learners.
I'm going to be reading all that I can, and sharing my findings here. I'm also going to be sharing my own experiences with my daughter. And if any of you have experiences to share (publicly or privately), I would love to hear about them. The joy of learning shouldn't be fading as our kids get older. Kids should be curious, creative, demanding, and aware of their unique skills. If we can keep them as joyful, passionate learners, think of what they will be able to accomplish, and how fulfilled they will be. Think of how much brighter the future will be for us all.
Thanks for listening! I look forward to talking more with you all about this. To that end, I started a new Twitter feed to share #JoyOfLearning articles @JoyfulLearners, and will also continue to share on my @JensBookPage and GrowingBookworms Facebook page, too.
(c) 2016 by Jennifer Robinson. All rights reserved.