The assumption behind the idea of instilling a love of learning is that your kids are not born with a love of learning.
It’s a terrible assumption. And probably wrong. Humans are born curious—as a species, we’re constantly learning something new. Babies learn to read faces because we are visually curious. Not because their parents purposefully instilled in their kids an interest in faces. And we acquire language without going to school because we are curious and we are self-motivated to learn. Right off the bat.
Most of the time when parents talk about “instilling a love of learning” they are talking about learning the way the parents like, about the subjects the parents like.
I remember when someone told me she wanted to instill in her kids a love of math.
It’s random. She loves math, so she is going to instill a love of math but not a love of art. Why one and not the other? Who knows what the kids are naturally interested in? Maybe neither.
The biggest issue to me is that we are each born with a love of learning, but it’s learning in our own style, learning our own interests. Kinesthetic learners learn through doing. When you decide on instilling a love of learning, do you mean running, jumping, throwing and spinning? Do you mean action painting and loud snare drumming? (How do you know what you’re best at? Take this personality test.)
The question today should be, “How do we preserve a love of learning?” Because we’re all born with it. Neoteny is the name for the playful, chatty, curiosity that human children retain far after infancy. This is a distinguishing trait that has been essential to human evolution.
Yet school knocks it out of most kids with incessant rules, rows of desks, and proscribed learning. I read incredible stories every week about the demoralizing things that happen in school. Like this child who had to sit on the floor for weeks as punishment. Yet there is scant acknowledgement that simply going to school runs contrary to everything evolution has taught us about child development.
And parents also knock the love of learning right out of kids with staunch plans for a well-rounded curriculum. Kids have a natural love of learning but learning in their own way. Some will like books, some will like to watch or listen rather than read. Some will want to work with their hands. All ways are paths to expressing a love of learning. But if you tell your kid the RIGHT way to learn, and the RIGHT subjects to learn, they won’t necessarily be able to love that way or that subject.
Maybe that parental approach comes from believing that adults need to be able to learn a wide range of ways. But almost no one does when they reach the workforce. Most people either work at a computer or they work with their hands or they work with other people. Few people do all three. Some people work by talking things through with others, and some people learn by thinking alone.
And now, before I get up high on my horse, a confession: My son plays the violin because I wished I had played it when I was a kid. At this point, I think he has benefitted from playing an instrument. But I try to be really honest about when I am asking my kids to do something because I wish I were doing it. And then I ask myself: If it’s so great, why don’t I just do it myself, right now, and leave my kids alone?