How to encourage your kids to learn outside their areas of interest

For many parents, the morning whirlwind won’t be the toughest part of the school day. And, unfortunately, an effective response to the perennial homework question, “Why do I have to do it?” is not, “Because I told you to.

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  • As a parent, you can tell if your kids are looking forward to the school day by how many times you hear their alarms go off in the morning. The more times they hit snooze, the lessthey’re probably looking forward to the day ahead. (Similar to grown-ups and work, right?) But if it’s the subject matter at school they wish they could avoid, the morning whirlwind won’t be the toughest part of your day — it’ll be homework after school that makes you cringe. And, unfortunately, an effective response to the perennial homework question, “Why do I haveto do it?” is not, “Because I told you to.”

  • Based on current research, the constant carrot of money or gifts for good grades — referred to as extrinsic motivation — will lose its effectiveness over time. We need to figure out ways to intrinsically motivate our kids, which means helping them to create an inner drive to learn rather than having it coming from an external source or reward.

  • Class sizes are large and the Common Core dictated curriculum more rigorous now than it was back in the 1950s. Though kids spend the same amount of time in school, there's a laundry list of additional expectations heaped on schools that fall more squarely in the arena of raisingour kids than teaching them. It’s no wonder that teachers have a tough time sparking a passion for learning in every single student. That’s why it’s important for parents to help inspire a passion for learning in our kids — even in the subjects that are outside their normal areas of interest.

  • How to help

  • Contextualize homework

  • . If your child is complaining about a homework assignment, help frame the lesson with how they can use that new knowledge to do something better that they are passionate about.

  • If handwriting is an issue and she really likes art, talk about how she’s also learning finger control that will take her artwork to the next level. If he’s complaining about math, but he’s a sports fan, help him understand that those concepts he’s learning form the basis for sports stats that help everyone understand how good each player on the field is and getting better at them can help him pick a better Fantasy Football team.

  • If spelling is the problem, then show her how the spelling of words actually gives her clues to the definitions, so she can more fully understand reading assignments — even if she didn’t know the word before she started reading.

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  • After talking to them about why it’s important, brainstorm how they could tackle these types of assignments more effectively and praise the different kinds of strategies they attempt.

  • Make learning fun

  • . If your child is learning times tables and enjoys sports, try putting chalk answers to a times table on an outside wall and giving him a squirt gun to “hit” the right answer to a question you call out. If your child enjoys board games and is learning spelling words, try using Scrabble Scoop to compete to find the letters that go into each word as quickly as possible. If your child is musically inclined, have her put a musical tune to concepts on which she will be quizzed.

  • These types of strategies are not only more fun than flashcards, but because they’re enjoyable, your child will stay at it longer and be more engaged, which ultimately means more learning time.

  • Praise better attitudes

  • . Looking at a glass as half full instead of half empty can often help us continue to work at things we don’t like. Talk to your child about what she likes about school, how she feels after she’s learned something new, a new concept has finally clicked or how much better she feels after her homework is done than when it’s still an action item on her to-do list.

  • After all, our kids have many years of school in their lives and a lifetime of learning after they’ve received their diplomas. Practicing finding the good in something they don’t like is not just important during their years of school, it will be important if they are to have a happy and fulfilling life.

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Jen is the Founder of Kidzmet.com and the author of A Parent's Playbook for Learning and 101 Learning Activities to Stretch & Strengthen Your Child's Multiple Intelligences.

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