The following post is by contributor Amanda Morgan of Not Just Cute.
I have vivid childhood memories of trekking down to the pond near our home and catching as many tadpoles in my bucket as my scrawny arms could carry. I was fascinated by the process of metamorphosis and would check on them every day in the shed where I kept them, marveling over each limb as it appeared.
Once the tadpoles had fully transformed into tiny toads, my sibling and I would line them up in our driveway and race them down the lane as they made their way out in to the wild world of pastures, fields, and ditch banks that surrounded our rural home.
I was passionate about toads.
And my mother hated them. But I never knew.
This was the woman I had seen pick up a snake by the tail and toss it out of her way. She wasn’t afraid of anything. At least that’s what I thought. It wasn’t until I was a teenager that I realized toads made her feel skittish. Repulsed. Almost phobic.
As a child who was perpetually on the hunt for another amphibian, I never once remember her telling me that they were disgusting. Or that nice girls don’t play with toads. Or that I needed to find something “cuter” to spend my time on.
We have a powerful influence as parents. Our words and our attitudes are often reflected back to us by our children. This can be a great thing. It’s often how we communicate what our family values and what our expectations are.
But our comments and actions can transmit negative attitudes as well, sometimes unintentionally. And the significance may be greater than we realize.
In her book, Mind in the Making, Ellen Galinsky outlines seven essential skills every child needs. One of those is self-directed, engaged learning. One key aspect to building this skill is to encourage children’s genuine passions and interests and to guide and support them as they pursue them. These passions are powerful motivators and efficient vehicles for so many positive learning outcomes.
The alternative, it seems, may be educational apathy.
We may not like math, or bugs, or messy art, or toads, but for our children they may be the sparks that kindle a fire of curiosity and a love of learning.
Photo by USFWS Pacific Southwest Region
My mom didn’t exactly throw on her galoshes and traipse down to the pond with me, but she never let her own attitude about toads get in the way of my curiosity. Even if the interests of our children seem diametrically opposed to our own dispositions, there are ways we can still encourage them to be passionate learners.
Listen to them describe their discoveries. Ask questions and encourage them to take their exploration one step further. If your fears make it hard for you to even hear about your child’s adventures (as genuine phobias may), excitedly encourage them to share their discoveries with another significant adult in their lives. (“I bet Grandma can’t wait to hear all about the snakes you saw! Let’s call her!”)
Help them find books, websites, and videos that will fuel their search for more information. Prepare them with simple tools like notebooks, collection boxes, magnifiers, or art supplies. Small things can make a big difference not just in helping children extend their learning, but also in communicating your support.
Maybe your child could use a place to display his rock collection. Maybe she needs a corner at the kitchen table for her writing center. Giving your children space for their passionate exploration not only creates an open invitation for learning, but it can also give YOU the space you need.
I was never discouraged from collecting tadpoles, but they didn’t exactly have a spot at the kitchen table. A shady corner of our shed was just right, not only for me and my tadpoles, but for my mom as well.
If you’re not a fan of messy art, set up an outdoor art table for easier clean up. If you your child’s spider collection makes your skin crawl, set up a terrarium in a corner of your yard.
Luckily for my mom, I didn’t carry buckets of tadpoles around forever. My passions shifted from toads to dancing, and on to cooking, the Civil Rights Movement, running, Spanish, and on and on. Your children may not always be obsessed with the objects of your repulsion, but their love of learning will last a lifetime.
What are your kids passionate about, and how do you encourage their discoveries?