5 Ways Parents Inspire Passionate Learning

A few weeks ago, my son had to complete the 3rd grade Habitat Project. He was assigned the desert and did a great job working within a small group to present the life cycle and plant growth in the desert. He was interested in the desert plants and I suggested creating a terrarium. We took advantage of a quiet spring break morning to make it happen.

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The experience inspired my top five ways parents inspire their passionate learners:

  1. Build on their interests or current projects – Ask questions and find out what’s going on in school, on the video game, or in that book they can’t put down. My oldest son asked to play the violin after  learning about Mozart in preschool. I still remember him telling me, “His music is really powerful stuff!” Seven years later, he is still playing and so are my other children.
  2. Find an expert – The world if filled with people passionate people who are willing to share their interests. We found that the local EAA club gives mini classes on aviation on Saturday mornings. After studying gliders at school, the boys loved taking a ride in a small aircraft. Even better, I found two volunteers to visit my classroom!
  3. Indulge their curiosity – My 4th grade daughter wanted to know about Shakespeare when her teacher made a joke about his poetry in class. I could not believe she sat through Romeo and Juliet on Netfix, but decided it was interest enough to plan a trip to Spring Green, WI to see a show at the
  4. Learn together – When my school developed a 1:1 iPad program, my own kids were the best teachers available to show me the potential. As I write now, there is a motion picture being produced in the backyard with my iPad and the neighbor kids. It’s amazing to see what they can do and even more exciting to find out what new things they are going to teach me.
  5. Have fun – My 3rd grader has struggled to become a fluent reader. Some of the best tools we found are things like shaving cream and marshmallows. That kinesthetic activity helps build and strengthen what he is learning.  Yes, it’s a little messy, but it’s worth it to see him focus and enjoy things like spelling words and multiplication facts.

I really like the following infographic from The Michigan Department Of Education because it shows how important parents are to the educational process. If you want to read more check out, “What Research Says About Parent Involvement in Children’s Education In Relation To Academic Achievement.”

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Reading Logs Kept and Shared – Inspiration

This s20120702-080559.jpgummer I began keeping a reading log. Inspired by a pretty notebook, I began writing all the thoughts that come up as I read. It’s not formal. There are doodles and notes, quotes and questions. In addition to books, when checking out a blog or in a discussion that seems relevant to my reading life I’ve found myself pulling out my notebook to record that too.

So today when I happened upon Jessica Johnson’s Sharing my Reading Life blog I just had to smile. In her blog she shares a batch of ideas on how her reading log has inspired her students and teachers to read.

Isn’t it cool when you happen upon the next stepping-stone in a journey? It’s like stopping at the gas station and receiving directions to your next destination before you even get a chance to ask.

Similar to Johnson, when I talk about books other readers and soon-to-be readers share what they are reading or what they want to read. I do talk a lot about books. My fellow teachers pass books around, I’m in a book club with my girlfriends, and I love seeking out books that my husband and I will both enjoy reading. I also know that the more I get my students reading the better they do in all their classes.

Johnson has taken my inspiration to the next level. In addition to a notebook of reading inspired thoughts – I think it’s a great ideas to keep a record of what I am reading, when, and what kind of book it is. Like Johnson I believe this will help me see and understand my own reading habits and be better able to share and model them with my kids and my students.

In fact, the kids and their cousins just spent a weekend together. Between swimming and firefly catching, there was lots of reading. My sister and I are both teachers, but we didn’t have to do anything to inspire them except load them up with books and time. The questions and ideas they shared sounded just like the book group discussion I enjoy with my friends. Now I wonder what would happen if I handed them each a journal for writing and doodling and remembering…?

I think I’ll do that right after I finish Forged by Laurie Halse Anderson as I promised it to a student who saw me reading and writing about it at the pool last week. Happy reading!

If you want to visit Jessica Johnson you’ll find her @PrincipalJ on Twitter and at Reflections from an Elementary School Principal on blogger.

Every Child Can

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When my oldest was 4, he came home from preschool asking to play the violin. My husband and I smiled and suggested it was something we would do when he was older. He insisted we did not have to wait. The violin can be played by kids he explained. His teachers taught him about Mozart’s, “powerful music.” After weeks of asking, I gave in and started making phone calls.

Fast forward seven years. I have three violinist and a piano player all using the Suzuki method. If you are unfamilar, it’s a method of teaching that uses the triangle; child, teacher, parent to ensure success. As a suzuki parent I carry out the lesson plans set up by the instructor each week.

The entire Suzuki philosophy—and the reason children can start early—holds that all talents are taught, modeled, and practiced from birth. The 7 year old who has “musical talent” really has only had 7 years of music education. Every child begins learning at birth and never stops.

Dr. Suzuki’s idea was that any child could learn to play the violin well given enouh quality time and instruction. My suggestion is that when kids have the right supports in place, they can learn a lot more than the violin.

So what’s happening when students don’t learn?

How often do I size up a student who does not have the right supports in place and fail to recognize the cause?

This debate plays out in my mind frequently. When I work with my son on his reading, when I hear my girlfirend say, “oh my daughter can’t sing- it’s not her talent,” and when hear teachers talk about bright students who fail classes I try to remember Suzuki.

Consider this… If kids are only able to master what they have a natural knack for, than what does it matter what I do as a teacher?

Dr. Suzuki’s philosophy responds that even if the student has to work at something, even if he or she needs 1:1 support, even if it takes a lot of effort from everyone around… Every child can.

If they can, isn’t worth the effort to make sure they do?