The 6-year-old boy looked at the picture intently. And without so much as batting an eyelid, he turned to his mother and declared, “You can tell Twa Ku Kong not to worry. The snake is harmless.” “How do you know?” asked his mother. “Of course it’s safe,” came the reply, “It’s a paradise tree snake and is non-venomous.” And with that, all speculation was ended over the picture that our son’s granduncle had sent. He had found a snake on his car bonnet and was worried about the family’s safety.

Since he was young, our second son has always been interested in nature, and we have taken him and his older brother on many nature walks, often with an experienced nature guide. What we did not expect was how much he had soaked in from all his nature walk experiences, and he will now confidently describe the characteristics of the olive-backed sunbird or the black-naped oriole.

How did my younger child develop such a keen interest in nature and in learning? How did my elder son grow in his love for buildings and in architecture? While these interests seem to stem from a child’s innate desire, it is our job as parents to help identify, support and nurture their interests.

In this article, we share 5 ways to help our children develop a deep love for learning.

1. Focus on strengths, not weaknesses

By not focusing on our children’s weaknesses, and supporting their unique passion and strengths, our kids are more likely to excel in their chosen fields.

Every child is different. As parents, we are often trying to manage each kid according to his or her needs. However, in our education system, this can sometimes result in an overemphasis on a child’s weaknesses. We tend to look for ways to help our child do better in his or her weaker subjects, often hitting a brick wall in trying to do so.

But what happens when we choose to work on our children’s strengths? Usually, we would see a different result. For us, we first try to understand the child’s learning style. For instance, our elder son is an auditory learner and we allow him to listen to many audiobooks. Our younger son, on the other hand, is a kinesthetic learner, and he does best when left to tinker with things in his own time.

Secondly, let them explore their interests. Since we know that our elder son loves building, we have chosen children’s audiobooks related to design and architecture for him to listen to and be inspired. As for our younger son, we’ve given him a hammer and other tools and allowed him space in the balcony to work on any project of his choice.

By not focusing on our children’s weaknesses, and supporting their unique passion and strengths, our kids are more likely to excel in their chosen fields.

2. Focus on skills, not grades

There tends to be an over-emphasis on grades in Singapore. This can be seen in the race to get our kids into reputable schools and then pump them with tuition to achieve top grades.

However, the world we live in is changing. According to a World Economic Forum report, what is needed to succeed in a job in 2020 is no longer academic achievements, but rather life skills such as problem-solving, critical thinking and creativity.

We need to help our kids develop the necessary life skills that will equip them to be lifelong learners. We encourage our kids to solve their own day-to-day problems and think of creative solutions, instead of micro-managing them. It is helpful to start this practice from a young age so that they internalise these habits.

3. Focus on depth and breadth

We encourage our children to drink deep from the well of knowledge – to develop a sense of curiosity and to ask questions. Instead of studying simply to ace a test, we encourage them to spend just an extra minute to observe a particular bird in its habitat or to read one more book on building and architecture. It’s helping our kids to expand their current field of knowledge a little at a time. As the saying goes: “Many drops of water make a mighty ocean.”

4. Focus on what the child knows and does not know yet

Understand what your child knows, what you want him to know, and the learning gaps in between. For instance, my wife and I know that our elder son loves building and architectural structures, but he is far from being an amateur architect. So we register for design and architecture-related classes that will help him grow in his area of strength. We recently signed up for an urban heritage walk to expose him to the architectural styles of buildings in downtown Singapore. He also attended a design-and-build workshop and learnt about the use of shapes and how to incorporate these in building design.

At home, we adopt a “coffee table approach,” where we obtain interesting books from the library and leave them around the coffee table, enabling him to pick up books to read in his own time. In the process, we are building the necessary skills that will hopefully help him should he choose to pursue architecture in the future.

5. Focus on how to get there, not the mistakes made

While our children may get all the necessary knowledge and skills, and learn according to their strengths, they may not always succeed.

As parents, we must be there to help them get back on their feet. This refers not only to encouraging and affirming them, but also helping them build on their self-esteem and resilience, aspects of mental and emotional wellbeing that are often taken for granted.

For instance, we do an activity called “praise time”, where we take turns to praise each other for things that are done well. This is intended to help our kids deal with their areas of weaknesses, while at the same time recognising their personhood – that they are whole persons and not merely one-dimensional beings defined by their successes or failures.

We do an activity called “praise time”, where we take turns to praise each other for things that are done well.

Understanding Passion and Motivation

There are many passionate people in the world. However, not many are sufficiently motivated to pursue learning in a way that is meaningful for them. Why are some people able to pursue and achieve their dreams while others attempt this route but give up easily? I believe the answer is in perseverance.

In other words, if we want our children to become motivated lifelong learners, we need to help our kids to identify their passions and nurture them, and also help them develop the perseverance for the race that is life.

We have to become advocates for our children; always seeking the best for them and building up their inner resilience. In this way, our children will then be able to grow and develop to their fullest potential.

© 2019 Focus on the Family Singapore. All rights reserved.

This article was written by Mark Lim and originally published here.

Mark Lim is Consultant & Counsellor at The Social Factor, a consultancy company which conducts training on life skills such as parenting, counselling, mentoring and special needs. He and his wife Sue co-write a parenting blog Parenting on Purpose, where they chronicle the life lessons from parenting two young boys aged 9 and 7.


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