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Kindling Your Child’s Enthusiasm for School

Why do so many children dislike school and what can parents do about it.

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Source: Fotosearch Royalty Free Images

Why do so many children dislike school?

Unlike all prior generations, children, now in school, face an accelerating surge of challenges (and opportunities) brought on by technology and globalization of the information age. Consider that since birth, they have encountered the Internet, personal computers, smartphones, social media, and extensive access to contemporaneous complex worldwide information.

No other generation has had to cope with this ever-increasing fund of information. Improved technology and more information has led to increasingly larger textbooks and extensive curricula to be taught (and tested) in all grades down to kindergarten. The end result: expanding school and home work. Especially challenging, in addition to the required abundance of information to study, is the necessity for students to determine that which is pertinent and accurate.

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Source: Fotosearch Royalty Free Images

Complicating the picture is the further school resistance arising from the commonplace access to amazing but distracting Internet websites, games, and social media. Being wired engenders a powerful pull easily overcoming the academic demands. You can help them resist the pull of the immediate pleasures of social media and video games by increasing their positive connections with school.

Building Positive Connections

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We know from neuroscience research that the brain puts in greater effort when engaged by interest, curiosity, and expectation of positive experiences. In addition, memory storage is much more efficient when new learning relates to prior knowledge, personal interest, and positive emotional experiences. Associate your children's classroom studies to their interests and help them the find personal relevance to engage their interest in school topics. The key to this process is identifying and fortifying this connection in your children so what they will WANT to learn what they HAVE to learn.

An example would be: activate the memory of family camping trips for your child to link with the new learning about the settlers traveling across the country in covered wagons. When you help your children link the new learning about the settlers with that long-term stored memory of family camping trips, the school-based social studies lessons become more interesting and memorable. When your children want to remember facts about the social studies lesson for a test, recalling the camping trips will also improve their brain's retrieval of information they need to answer the test questions. This added bonus surfaces because the camping memories are positive and long-established, and allow the same permanence to cement facts they learn for that school unit.

Preheat Your Child's Curiosity and Strengthen Memory Networks

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Connect their brains to the topics the will be studying at school by revisiting photos or videos of family trips, objects they own made in countries they study; read favorite stories that relate to topics in science, history, and math. The curiosity prompted by your reminders of their past experiences and current interests builds brain bridges ready to link with the information they must learn for school.

Ask Questions: You'll further preheat the memory links to connect their interest to school work when you ask your children questions that help them personally relate these stories, past experiences, possessions, or their interests to the current or upcoming school topics. Stimulate curiosity in your children so they want to discover answers and solve problems. Their brains now attend, accelerated by personal interest in the answer to the question.

Activate school topic related curiosity in your children then work with them as they learn how to discover answers to their curiosity-motivated questions. You will not only enhance their brain’s memory interconnections, but also help them develop critical thinking skills. Enhance frontal lobe executive functions as they analyze information (from their memories, books, the internet, and from you) to answer their questions. Their brains focus because their own curiosity generated their question. As they learn to target attention on and evaluate which information is pertinent to answer their questions, they build their highest thinking skills such as analyzing, organizing, and prioritizing.

Thanks to your connecting school topics with their interests, by engaging their curiosity, their brains get a jump start on critical information processing skills that will promote success in academic, social and emotional challenges and opportunities throughout their lives. When children are motivated by curiosity and interest to ask and then find answers to questions, their brains build skills of prediction, deduction, expanded thinking, analysis, and the ability to distinguish fact from opinion, make judgments, and support their own opinions or ethical beliefs. These are enormous side benefits generated by promoting your child's curiosity about school topics and reducing school negativity.

Bridges from Home to School

You'll promote curiosity, interest, and personal connections by knowing what your child will be studying next. You can ask the teacher or use their textbook, if it is followed sequentially in class. When you know what material intended for the next class unit, you can find ways to bring it into active discussions at home, in the car, or while waiting on line at the grocery checkout.

You might want to have a handy note card with a supply of open-ended questions that are good bridges to link your children's interests to many topics. These can be cues relating things you experience together to school topics. If your child is interested in sports, a question on your list might be, "If you were the coach of how would you help your team win?" The first blank would be their favorite sport or name of a favorite team. The second blank would be the related school topic (gravity, averaging, multiplying, vocabulary words, inventions, or qualities evident in characters from their school literature books).

Discussions you promote to bridge your children to their schoolwork will serve as stronger memory cement if you are an active, attentive listener when they express their ideas or ask questions. This is not the time to split your focus or glance at your cell. To keep them motivated, your children need to know you are truly interested in their ideas and opinions.

Igniting or Reigniting School Enthusiasm

The data and knowledge gained from brain research, when applied to learning, can help you energize and enliven your children's minds. Using your awareness of your children's interests, past enjoyable experiences, and learning strengths to bridge their interest to school subjects will result in their improved attitudes, motivation, perseverance, and ultimately their increased confidence that their efforts will pay off.

Your interventions will help your children evade the disinterest and inertia in learning when confronted by the challenges of today's fact heavy curriculum. You will help them construct the brain circuits and become lifelong learners able to transfer and apply what they learn to real-world situations. Their increased, attentive interest in the information they HAVE to learn connects them to learning through personal interest. The results will more than offset your planning and preparations. Smiles will replace groans and eye-rolls when you use neuroscience to rekindle your child’s joy of learning.

More from Judy Willis M.D., M.Ed.
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