Teaching A Love Of Learning

kids read over board
With the start of the new school year at hand, now is the time to get your children motivated. Deborah Stipek, dean at Stanford School of Education and author of "Motivated Minds: Raising Children to Love Learning," visited The Early Show to offer parents some tips.

Stipek says the most important factors in fostering excitement about learning come from within. According to her book, the main factors that make children motivated to learn are: competence, autonomy and secure relationships with others.

"Motivated Minds" is a practical guide to helping parents understand why their children may be acting the way they are, and how to get them over the common hurdles of being bored with school and learning. Stipek offers snippets from conversations (both real and fake) to demonstrate that what parents say and how they say it can have huge effects on their offspring. She also offers suggestions on how to remedy particular scenarios to help elicit a better situation for the next time.

Stipek's notion is that by encouraging children to learn through play, they gain competence, and aren't afraid to challenge themselves, or to fail on occasion. Stipek says children who feel like they're constantly being directed as to what to do, when to do it and how to do it never really feel competent with themselves - whether the task is building a block tower, learning to read or figuring out a multiplication table.

If parents can refrain from looking over a child's shoulder, correcting him or nagging, the chid will be made to feel that he has control over his own life and homework, and will therefore be more willing to start it and finish it. When parents can't stop themselves from constantly pestering a child to start his homework, Stipek says, the child feels he is not studying for himself or for the joy of learning - but purely for his parents' benefit. This is one of the main reason schoolwork becomes such a chore for kids. Ultimately, children end up studying solely to get their parents off their backs.

Making sure your child is secure in his relationships will make the child speak up when he doesn't understand something, or needs help. Without this, the child pretends to "get" the lesson and berates himself inside for not knowing answers that he, mistakenly, believes every other kid knows. Make sure children know their parents love them unconditionally, not just when they study more or do well on tests.

Read an excerpt from "Motivated Minds:
Raising Children to Love Learning"


Have you ever said anything like this to your child?
"I know you're in the middle of building your block castle, but you'll just have to leave it for now and finish when we get back from the store."


"Will you please get off the Internet so someone else in this house can use the phone? I don't care if you haven't read everything there is on the Web about polar bears."

If comments like these sound familiar, it means you've seen your child intensely absorbed in work that demands brainpower. It means you've witnessed self-motivation up close and your child shows signs of loving learning.

Perhaps, however, your home sounds more like this one:

MOM: Jason, please get to your homework.
(A half-hour passes.)

DAD: Jason, have you started yet? It looks to me like all you're doing is staring into space.

(Fifteen minutes later. )

MOM (voice rising): Jason, stop fiddling around right now. It's almost bedtime and you've barely started your homework! If you want to go to the basketball game Saturday, you better start studying, and I mean now!

(Jason slams his bedroom door angrily and plays a Rage Against the Machine CD at maximum volume. Mom sinks to the couch, demoralized. Dad turns on Jeopardy.)

MOM (wailing): How long can this go on? I hate fighting every night.

DAD: Me too. I'm starting to dread coming home.

Every child is born with a desire to learn. Indeed, most children enter kindergarten excited about learning to read and write, and eager to know about the world around them.

Yet by the time they reach middle school (and often before), many of our children are like Jason. They look on learning as drudgery, not the exciting opportunity that propelled them when they were little. The idea that learning can be fun all but disappears, as illustrated by a boy who thanked me for my gift of "Tom Sawyer," then added, "I'll read it later. I already did my book report for this semester."

So if you've noticed a lack of motivation in your child, you're not alone: Research has shown that American children's love of learning declines steadily from third through ninth grade.

It doesn't have to be that way.

Over the past thirty years, psychologists have conducted hundreds of studies that show what makes children want to learn. Their research tells us how to raise a child who is interested in academic work and even finds pleasure and joy in learning. It shows us how to raise children who seek intellectual challenges, and who plow on confidently even when the going gets tough.

I am going to show you how to raise just such an enthusiastic, lifelong learner, but first we have to move beyond some ideas that research has shown are misguided.

For the past several decades, parents have been told that the best way to encourage kids to learn is to puff up their self-esteem by piling on rewards and praise. Grades and prizes have been considered the most effective tools for motivating children to study.

But psychologists have shown that raising eager learners is not simply a matter of making children "feel good." Indeed, the research I am going to share with you reveals how such a strategy can do damage.

From "Motivated Minds:
Raising Children to Love Learning" by Deborah Stipek, Ph.D., and Kathy Seal. Owl Books - Henry Holt and Company. Used by permission.