Spark and Fuel: How to Help Your Child Learn without Resorting to Compulsion

How can you truly facilitate your child’s learning? More important than what to do is what not to do.

First, what is learning? Learning is the accomplishment of a cognitive improvement: either new knowledge or a new skill. All improvements are made for the sake of the better pursuit of purposes.

Now here’s the key for not getting in the way of you child’s learning. Never force your child to acquire an improvement that is for the sake of a purpose that is not yet her own. Don’t force them to learn something while using the lame teacher excuse of, “trust me, this will come in handy later.” The child should never have to try to acquire a new improvement (knowledge or a skill) only for the chief purpose of appeasing you or anyone else.

You can compel study, but it will be a grudging study, and it won’t stick. In fact it will counterproductively foster an aversion to the subjects that are forced upon the child. Later in life, once the obligation to appease a parent or instructor drops out, so too will the pursuit of study. This is why so few graduates of the American school system become devoted autodidacts once they finally pass through their 16-year gauntlet of compulsory scholarship.

Little Autodidacts

Your job is to provide the spark and the fuel, not the fire itself.

Children are natural learners. Unbidden, they hungrily seek new knowledge and skills from early on. There is no danger in a free child not developing a love of learning, so long as they are not trapped in a stimulus-impoverished environment. What truly endangers the spirit of learning is the threat of being crushed by forced study. As Maria Montessori stressed, adults are more likely to impede learning than foster it: especially given the currently backward learning philosophies that currently reign.

The chief role of the parent in the child’s learning process is not that of a home-based schoolmaster, but that of a provider and a playmate. Provide and play, every day, and watch as your child eagerly teaches herself.

Your job is to provide the spark and the fuel, not the fire itself. Present pursuits to your child in a way that elicits her voluntary interest. Instead of forcing your child to acquire improvements for the sake of purposes that are not yet her own, you inspire her to develop her own purposes by sparking her interest in something new. Then you fuel the flame that you sparked. Offer to show her new improvements (knowledge and skills) that will help her achieve those goals, along with useful materials. Only then will she truly, deeply, and gladly pursue a course of learning that you think will benefit her. Your role is to inspire ends, not to impose means.

Friendship Instead of Drills

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