There is a difference between learning and education, and unfortunately sometimes the effort to educate kills the desire to learn. Especially if a child struggles to fit into the environment of institutionalized education, the effort to force them to learn in a way that doesn't come naturally to them can be devastating.
Spend a day in an American public high school and you'll be exposed to teenagers who count the days to the time when they graduate and can stop learning. This isn't the natural human condition. Human beings are born curious and eager learners. So, how do we foster and nurture the love of learning that every child is born with during the process of educating them?
- Make sure your teenager has time to spend learning things that matter to them. Be prepared, though. What they want to learn may not be algebra and European history. Any activity your child pursues with passion is a learning event. Whether that's setting up a darkroom in the basement, reading comic books or spending hour perfecting their snowboarding technique, its your job to facilitate their passion. That comic book reader may become a graphic novelist, after all.
- Be aware of what's happening at school. If your child is struggling with grades or has suddenly become a reluctant student, find out why. You are their best, and sometimes only, advocate. If they're having a problem, help them figure out how to solve it. If the problem is severe, such as bullying or a learning disorder, drastic measures may be required. Your willingness to advocate for your child is the foundation that will support their love of learning through a hard time.
- Research alternative learning opportunities. If you have a kid who's a math whiz, but hates the atmosphere in his trig class, find out if your district allows dual credit college classes. Enrollment in a community poetry workshop might make tenth grade English palatable. A stack of library books about a subject that interests them may be the spark that keeps your kid wanting to learn, even when the educational system isn't a good fit for them.
- Maybe the single most powerful tool you have for fostering a love of learning in your child is to let them see you continuing to learn new things. Learning isn't something that stops at high school (or college) graduation. Build time into your schedule for learning about things you're passionate about. Take an art class or learn to salsa, take up cycling or sign up for a college class in a subject that you've always wanted to know more about. Your kid will notice and it will make a difference.