This article by Director of Education Cathy Saunders was also posted on Kidoinfo.
Now that kids are back in school, I’ve been contemplating the challenge of keeping learning a joyful experience rather than a task that must be endured. At the Children’s Museum, we know that the best kind of learning happens when the learner wants to acquire new knowledge or skills, and when the experience is joyful and satisfying. Yet the truth of the matter is that many of us (children and adults) have had un-joyful, un-playful and un-satisfying learning experiences in our lives.
Even though I was kid who thrived in a school setting, like most people I have frustrations associated with school. I remember the uncertain feeling I had when I was segregated as a slow reader in 2nd grade and the terror I had of presenting in front of the classroom in 3rd grade. And I have some negative associations with learning outside of the classroom, too. After a trip to the Museum of Science, there was always a dreaded moment in the car ride home when my dad would ask, “What did you learn?” A great cloud would suddenly descend upon my afternoon of watching chicks hatch in the giant incubator because I wasn’t able to articulate my new understanding of how hard a baby bird had to work to get out of its shell.
When we watch our young ones go off to school it can be hard not to project some of our negative associations, and we can get tangled up in our children’s academic pressures. The result is that we can lose sight of what a fun endeavor learning is, and that can be contagious to our kids. Children look to us to model behaviors about everything, including attitudes about learning. They need us be their advocates and cheerleaders as life-long learners. It’s understandable that they get frustrated; we need to listen to their fears and be patient. We need to show them that we believe in them and their abilities as creative thinkers and problem solvers.
Children need to see us as excited learners, too. Quick, grab a pen and make a list of 10 things you’ve learned recently. My list includes learning the basic rules of a football game (my nephew plays Division III football), that hydrangeas change color based on the soil type, three new yoga poses, and how to create a personalized map on Google. What does your list include? Go ahead and share your curiosity and celebrate your new skills and growing knowledge with pride. It’s great for children to see that we learn, and that we enjoy it.
We want children to know that learning is about being fully engaged and curious about something. It’s about mastering something new. It can happen slowly or quickly. It can happen in groups or alone. It can be joyful and self directed. It is a skill in and of itself that, once developed, can make school a lot more fun and interesting.