Sadly, studies have shown that toward the end of elementary school, kids start losing their enjoyment of learning. As parents, that really concerns us. Especially because we all know a child’s natural state is to be excited about exploring the world around them.
So of course we want to know, what’s going on there?
And more so, how can we help keep kids excited about learning?
The good news: research also shows that parents can have a huge impact in keeping kids enthusiastic to continue learning and growing. So we’ve got lots of tips for you to help!
We’re beyond thrilled to share our findings on behalf of our partner Homer, the awesome learn to read app for kids that we have recommended for years on Cool Mom Tech, because it’s such an effective way to help kids 2 to 8 learn to read by tapping into their own interests to motivate them.
(In other words, if kids love trucks, let them read about trucks. If kids love ballet, let them read about ballet. Makes sense, right?)
And hey, Homer’s impact has been backed by a ton of research too.
With that in mind, we’ve put together some of the top research-backed ways to get kids excited about learning — and keep them that way. We think you’ll be excited too.
1. Read with kids from the minute they’re born
Well, maybe not the very minutes, seeing as how you’ll have other things on your mind just then. But a brand new study from an NYU pediatrics department researcher has shown that reading to your kids soon after they’re born has boosted their reading and vocabulary skills four years later, before elementary school starts.
Reading in infancy also boosts a kid’s brain power and introduces them to colors, shapes, people, and places. And when reading is a part of their regular routine, they’ll quickly realize that it’s fun — and that there’s always a new adventure when you read a new book.
And what could be more exciting than that?
2. Have more than books to read around the house
Research from the Educational Testing Service determined that the kids most proficient in reading are those with an endless supply of reading material at home. And not just books, either. Newspapers, magazines, comic books, catalogs, dictionaries, encyclopedias, cereal boxes (really!) — they all count.
This mirrors 2014 research that looked at 42 nations around the world, and found a “strong, clear, statistically significant” correlation between reading material at home and test scores.
So keep reading materials plentiful and within easy reach for kids, whether in bookcases, on the living room table, stacked on the kitchen counter, or in the backseat of the car.
3. Let your kids’ interests guide reading choices
Kids aren’t shy about sharing what they like — if they’re into dinosaurs, robots, princesses or garbage trucks, you’ll know it loud and clear. It’s also your encouragement of kids’ unique interests that can help keep their spark for learning alive, something that’s been backed by tons of research.
In other words, if they like comics, if they like robots, if they like princesses…it’s all good. No need to be all, “but Shakespearean sonnets!” with your early readers. They’ll get there eventually.
That’s one of the reasons we think the Homer app is so great: Their mission is to develop reading pathways for kids based exactly on the topics that most interest them. And it works! In fact, just 15 minutes a day was even shown to increase early reading scores by 74% in a recent study conducted by the former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education. Whoa.
Also keep in mind that your kids’ interests will change — they won’t always be drawn to spaceships or itsy-bitsy spiders (sniff) — so go with it. Then you can learn about their new interests together.
4. Show kids you like learning too
Know what interests young kids? The things that interest you.
It’s one of the reasons your kids want to look over your shoulder at your recipes with you, and why they may even know who’s dating Taylor Swift or what new movie Jason Momoa is filming (no judgments). So psychologists and family experts say it’s good to share all the topics you enjoy — science, pop culture, current events, music, literature, sports, comedy, cooking, you name it.
To keep kids engaged, talk about a fact — something age appropriate, of course — that you discovered in an article that you find intriguing. Explain what you learned and why you thought it was interesting.
Even if your kids don’t fully understand what you’re talking about, they will understand that you’re excited about something you learned. And that learning isn’t something that stops when you become a grown-up.
5. Let kids read what interests them.
Tons of research, like this study from Scholastic, indicates that kids’ favorite books are overwhelmingly ones they’ve picked out themselves It makes perfect sense that autonomy helps kids gain confidence, independence and competence, which are essential ingredients in excited learners
6. Ask open-ended questions…but not too many
According to the U.S. Department of Education, asking your kids questions that require an answer other than yes, no, or [grunt sound] can rev up excitement levels. So instead of “did you have a good day?” try asking, “what was one thing you really liked learning about today in preschool?” Or, “tell me something really funny that you saw today.”
That said, your kid will make it clear when it’s time to quit the questions. You don’t want them to worry that they have to pass a Parental Pop Quiz at the end of every school day.
7. Set realisitic goals for kids
Research in the Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics has shown that even well-meaning “parental control” can backfire. In other words, parents who don’t pile on the pressure have the children who are most motivated to learn. Let kids work at their own pace, and stop when they’re tired and they’ll have better associations with reading for a lifetime.
8. Encourage learning through listening
Experts always encourage reading aloud to your kids, including older kids who you may think have outgrown it. Hearing a book read out loud helps kids with comprehension and vocabulary, and hey, it’s also a great opportunity to spend some quality time together and demonstrate that reading is an enjoyable activity.
Listening to others read stories can be helpful too. Research shows that audiobooks can be especially valuable for struggling readers. This kind of assisted reading — as with “read to me” style narration of digital books like in Homer — boosts reading fluency and comprehension. It also reinforces the idea that books are magical, no matter what the form — what else would you call something that transforms a long car trip into a short one?
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