What is your son or daughter most interested in? Is it whales, Civil War history, science fiction, cooking, computers, horses, or astronomy? Discovering and tapping into kids' special interests is a key to helping them become lifelong learners.
When they have their own "expert territory" or topic, hobby, or interest they know more about than anyone else in the family or classroom, their desire to learn accelerates. In addition, having an area of expertise can build self-worth and help a child overcome obstacles. It's a painless, effective way to help a child love to learn because you're plugging into something he wants to know.
You can begin to discover this center of learning excitement by asking questions, listening well, and noticing what your child gets excited about doing and takes pride in. You may need to be aware it might be something you have little or no interest in, so don't try to push him into the mold of what the rest of the family pursues or excels at.
Here are some good questions to discover your child's favorite interest:
What do you like to do most?
What do you think you're really good at?
What do you enjoy doing most — at home or at school — that you'd do even if you didn't have to and it wasn't scheduled?
What would you like to know more about?
The answers are clues to interests you can highlight and develop. What you're looking for is what subject makes your children's eyes light up. Once you find it, here are some things you could do to develop it and connect with learning:
Provide resources like a subscription to a magazine on the subject of interest, books, or computer programs where they can learn more about it.
Take outings and day trips to hands-on science or living-history museums and other places that tap into kids' interests. Take them to live performances if they're interested in music; sit up close at the symphony and let them gaze into the orchestra pit to watch the conductor and musicians.
Find a class or summer camp in your community that is taught by someone who really knows this subject and can help them learn more. Examples include local art centers with Saturday classes and zoo internships for kids who are interested in animals. You can investigate courses on a variety of subjects that are offered to children and teens through 4-H clubs, YMCAs, universities, and community colleges.
Jenny, a fourth-grade girl I met when serving as an artist-in-residence, was fascinated with Arthurian legends, and after learning what she could in a unit and doing a project in social studies at her school, she still wanted to learn more. Jenny and her mom went to the library for more books, which spurred on her interest. Eventually her dad found a university professor who was willing to work with Jenny. Through e-mail and CD-ROMs the expert sent, he shared information he knew about Arthurian legends with Jenny, and eventually she majored in history in college.
While we need to be very selective about the mentors we allow in our children's lives, qualified, trustworthy people of integrity who share their expertise and skills with our kids can help develop their interests and love of learning.