Remember when the giant anthill down the street captivated your attention for days? What about the weeks spent dismantling electronic devices or spending untold hours in your bedroom refining those guitar skills? Chances are those experiences — galvanized by unbridled curiosity and passion — still conjure up fond childhood memories and serve as a catalyst for a wide breadth of knowledge. Why? Passionate engagement is the root of learning (and remembering). Experience and common sense tell us that children are more likely to learn if they are motivated by and engaged with the subject or project at hand. Now science is telling us the same thing.
When children/teenagers are passionately engaged in learning a myriad of responses in their brains are making connections and building schema that simply would not occur without that passion or emotion. Some educators or psychologists call it being “in the flow” or “in the zone”— it is that magical moment when kids are mesmerized by their learning environment or activities — those times when hours pass in a blink of an eye.
Traditionally, students are expected to memorize facts and figures, yet memorization has little emotional charge to it. Emotions can significantly alter the creation and recall of memories. All of us, young and old, are better at remembering information that is emotionally charged rather than information that is neutral or flat. Passion-based learning unlocks the imagination and unleashes curiosity. It empowers kids to feel in control of their own learning.
As a parent (and your children’s most important teacher) how can you spark a passion for learning in your own home? Whether you are talking about passion, inspiring passion, cultivating passion, or thinking passionately about your own interests, you can be the one to revolutionize learning in your home.
Value all passions equally while seeking to understand where they come from.
Try not to let any bias creep into the picture when it comes to your children’s passions. While it may make you happy to learn that your daughter shares your love of marine biology, be sure and honor the emerging moviemaking passion demonstrated by her brother. Though you may harbor a secret fondness for the former, do not let it show. For some children, an expressed passion may be a way to connect or create a bond between a parent or a peer. Understanding the origins will help you guide and direct its growth.
Let children take control.
When children feel they are in control of their own learning, they value it twice as much as they would otherwise. This includes setting aside adequate time to allow that “in the flow” stream of thought and focus. Strict adherence to timetables makes it impossible for a child to passionately engage in an activity. Set aside enough time in your daily schedule to provide those passions an outlet. Your child will reap the benefits.
Allow Children to freely share their passions.
Let kids share their passions individually and with others. The act of sharing something personally fulfilling enhances excitement and provides further motivation. It is also best to allow the intrinsic passion to flourish within the child organically. Outside influence highlighting the practical value of a child’s passion can stimulate interest for the long haul; however, initially allowing the child to exercise autonomy and control over learning provides a powerful impact. Feedback or judgments can damper enthusiasm. This is the time to allow the momentum of your child’s enthusiasm to drive the outcome.
Connect your child with others who share the same passion.
Sharing a passion with someone who is equally enthusiastic is powerful! It is wonderful to share a passion with someone who reciprocates that passion; not only does it confirm that your child’s passion is valued; it confirms that as a person, he/she is valued.
Introduce your child to resources that help them exercise their passions.
When the timing seems appropriate, introduce your child to resources that will fuel their curiosity and passion. Books, websites, and after school classes offered in your community are an excellent source of inspiration and knowledge.
Connect children’s passions to real-world scenarios.
Once your child is immersed in his own activities and self-paced learning, introduce him to the practical applications of his interests. A child interested in robotics would benefit from viewing videos of robot competitions and other engineering projects from universities and institutes across the world. Emphasizing the real-life significance of machines built to help people, whether in life-threatening medical situations or in the kitchen at home, can add another level of interest.
Connect passions with intelligence, not talent.
When your child creates an outstanding watercolor painting or wins a local art contest don’t just make him feel talented; make him feel smart. Compliments such as, “You have a keen eye for detail”, “You really know how to paint!” can make your child feel that the skill is in her control, something she earned because of effort and enthusiasm for learning, not simply a “gift.”
Trust that hard work follows naturally from passion.
It is truly amazing to witness the magic that occurs when a child is passionately engaged in learning. When children are motivated to learn, they seem to naturally develop those skills they need for the task at hand. As parents, we can assist where needed, but the intrinsic desire to achieve, learn, and produce is what spawns the best results.
Indulge in your own passions and share those passions with your kids.
Whatever your personal hobby or interest — make time for it! Whether it’s fitness, gardening, building, or astronomy, the energy and enthusiasm you have for the activity will be contagious. Children love to model parent’s behavior. Seeing you making the time for something that is important to you and including them in the process will have a profound impact. This also can include participating in ongoing education, listening and sharing TED talks or podcasts and finding inspiration in other impassioned educators. You aren’t as likely to ignite the joy and excitement of learning if you are not excited yourself. The passion you direct into something you love will inspire your kids to do the same.