25 Ways to inspire your child to learn


The Honolulu Advertiser, Monday, Nov. 15, 1993


We hear so much about the inadequacies of schools, but perhaps we're expecting too much, expecting schools to take over tasks that rightly belong to parents.

That's the assessment of parents, teachers and respected individuals from a wide variety of disciplines who worked with Special Report magazine to develop a list of 25 simple things parents can do to inspire their children to enjoy learning.


Here's their advice:

1. Take care of basics.


Read to your child.


Make sure your child gets enough sleep and is well nourished.


Find a quiet place for homework.


These are very fundamental things, but they're not always done. If a child isn't getting enough sleep at night, for instance, it's pretty hard for him or her to learn. If the child doesn't have a secure place to live, it's difficult for a school to do much of anything except provide a safe environment.

TRACY KIDDER, author of "Among Schoolchildren" (Houghton Mifflin, 1989)

2. Have your child share what he or she is doing.


When your kid comes home from school, don't ask, "What did you learn today?" The answer will inevitably be "Nothing." Instead, ask your child to show you what he or she is doing in reading, math, whatever.

I realized the important of this one day when I asked a student whose family had immigrated to the United States from Thailand why he said, "Do you know what it's like to go home and teach everybody in your house the algebra you learned that day? People remember 90 percent of what they teach, so by asking your child to explain to you what he or she is learning, you reinforce those classroom lessons.


HELENE SKRZYNISRZ, school administrator, East Providence, RI

3. Learn through cooking.


Children need to know how to make fresh, healthy food. Besides, cooking is good training; you learn about organization, you use your hands, and you put mathematics into practice. Get your kids involved in the whole process. When you shop, discuss what you're buying; then, when you're cooking, let them measure things out. Your children will take pride in their work and develop confidence.


JULIA CHILD, chef, author and teacher



Kids like to talk about their accomplishments and problems, but they need the reward of telling. And they get that from having the attention of a truly interested listener.


HAJZOLD STEVENSON, professor of psychology, author of "The Learning Gap" (Summit Books, 199Z)

5. Allow your child to fail.


The confidence to try out new ideas can be nurtured in a home situation that encourages innovation and allows failure. All homes should have some space that's friendly to kids' experimentation plus the patience to see that creative activity through to a meaningful, if not necessarily always successful, conclusion.


BOB EATON, chairman, Chrysler Corp.

6. Make music.


You can educate your child in music by getting some recordings, going to a concert, letting the child study an instrument. Don't make him, or her feel it's necessary to be a virtuoso. When our kids were growing up, we would have 20 minutes of record-playing after dinner, where we'd play 10 minutes of classical music and then 10 minutes of the Beatles. Then we'd mix the stuff up.


ITZHAK PERLMAN, violinist and father of five.

7. Teach with the newspaper.


For a younger reader: Let your child use the weather map to choose appropriate clothes for the day and see what the weather's like where Grandpa lives. Cut the dialogue balloons off comic strips, then ask your child to tell a story based on the pictures alone.

For an older reader: Find stories that express two perspectives on an issue, and discuss both. Look through the entertainment section and have your child figure the cost of a family night out.


PAT SCANLON AND KATHY JONES, team teachers, Albuquerque, NM

8. Schedule TV time.


Schedule things so that when an appropriate program is on, your children can watch it. This is better than just letting them see whatever happens to catch their fancy.


JOAN EMBERY, author of "My Wild World"(Dell, 1981)

9. Expose your child to foreign languages.


Use meals in ethnic restaurants as a starting point for discussion about how different words mean the same thing in different languages. Visit the nearest concentration of immigrants in your area.


CAROL JOYCE SWINNEY, Spanish and French teacher and Kansas Teacher of the Year, 1993

10. Teach tolerance.


Children learn by observing adults. By letting your child see you being tolerant, and making the child feel that tolerance is important, you'll encourage your youngster to respect others. Sometimes I think you have to ask your child, "How would you feel if that happened to you?"


JUDY BLUME, writer

11. Acquaint your child with the work world.


Parents need to encourage their children to hold as many different part-time and summer jobs as possible, so they can find out what they DON'T like about each one. Perhaps they'll realize they don't want to work in an office or don't want a job that requires weekend work. Or maybe they'll realize they're not cut out to be an auto mechanic.


GLENN T. MINAMI, Hawaii Teacher of the Year, 1993

12. Remember that a gifted kid is still a kid.


The fact that a child is gifted doesn't mean he or she doesn't have to develop the social skills to get along with others. And even a gifted child needs time to learn to ride a bike or climb a tree.


TERRY BLAKELY, eighth-grade teacher, Knoxville, TN

13. Talk about sexuality.


Parents must give information about contraception, about sexually transmitted diseases but not in a frightening way. Educate your child about the whole of sexuality, not just AIDS. Be an "askable" parent: Make information available, but you don't pry and you don't sit your child down and say, "We're going to talk about sex right now!"


DR. RUTH WESTHEIMER, author of "Dr. Ruth Talks to Kids" (Macmillan, 1993)

14. Keep a one-volume encyclopedia in the car.


Our family took a car trip through Canada a few years ago, and we realized right away that Canadian history had all of us stumped. So we picked up a one-volume paperback encyclopedia in Quebec, and for the rest of that vacation we used it constantly to look up the historic sites we passed. We haven't taken it out of the car since. The girls refer to it when they do homework in the car or want background information about news items on the radio.


ELOISE MONTGOMERY, mother of two, Farragut, TN

15. Share family grief.


Ruth Naylor planned her father-in-law's funeral in such a way that children were included throughout the service; she allowed them to see the ashes in the urn, and helpshovel the dirt. The ceremony, she says, exposed the children to the complex and sometimes frightening concept of death. "But just as important, it helped them understand their family with all its generations, and the place where they fit in."


RUTH NAYLOR, mother and grandmother, Napannee, IN

16. Introduce your child to nature.


We need to help our kids experience silence and the wonder of nature while they're young. Wonder is in short supply these days. And nowhere else can you find so much of it as outdoors in spring, when new animals, new leaves, appear day by day.


BILL McKIBBEN, Author of "the Age of Missing Information" (Random House, 1992)

17. Emphasize writing.


Urge your child to write at every opportunity to correspond with friends and relatives, for instance. Keep a family journal.

When you're looking at what your child has written, don't be too critical. Spelling, punctuation and grammar aren't as important as creativity and content. NEVER use writing as a punishment.


LOIS RODGERS, advanced placement English teacher, Hattiesburg, MS

18. Show your love.


The most important thing children need for learning is to feel they are loved and valued by their parents. Those feelings happen through everyday experiences.


FRED RODGERS of "Mister Rodgers Neighborhood".

19. Participate in public service.


The best way to teach your child to give something back to the community is to do that yourself.


MARIO CUOMO, governor of New York

20. Start a garden.


Gardening teaches organization, responsibility, patience and persistence. And kids learn that food comes from the ground, not the supermarket.


JIM AND CAROL SPICHER, parents of 5-year-old Jonathan, Mountville, PA

21. Be a friend.


Children want to be with other people, particularly older ones, and to please them. Parents need to share their enthusiasms, and anxieties with their children. They need to do things with their kids, talk, sing, tell stories, and even share sad moments. If parents devote energy and love to their children, the children will repay them a thousandfold.


HOWARD GARDNER, Harvard professor of education, author of "The Unschooled Mind" (Basic Books, 1991)

22. Use the news.


Families can learn a lot from watching the news together. Out of that grow lessons in geography, history and current events.


As for sensitive subjects on the news, it's better to talk about them. Your child is going to hear about them somewhere.


TOM BROKAW, NBC News anchor

23. Accentuate the positive.


Make sure that your child's curiosity and love of learning are encouraged, rather than suppressed by boring activities. Lend a sympathetic ear and give praise. Encourage hard work, but never boredom or drudgery.

E. D. HIRSCH JR., author of "Cultural Literacy" (Houghton Mifflin, 1987)

24. Help your child stay in shape.


Today's kids aren't nearly as physically fit as they used to be. One method of changing that is to go back to the old ways. Let your child carry the groceries into the house. Buy a lawn mower that's not self-propelled.

JAMIE HOFMEIER, physical-education teacher, Salina, KS

25. Keep track of your teen's schooling.


As children get older unfortunately, most parents become less and less involved in their education. The adolescent years are a critical time for education. This is just when most kids need more support from their parents, not less.


NORMAN CONARD, high school teacher, Uniontown, KS