The importance of self-directed, engaged learning for young children

In your quest for preparing your children for life in the real world, providing them with self-directed, engaged opportunities for learning can teach them valuable skills.

Encourage curiosity and problem-solving in your children.
Encourage curiosity and problem-solving in your children.

Self-directed and engaged learners can solve complex problems, figure out how things work and accomplish amazing feats. They are essential life skills that can prepare children for school and the world.

In her book “Mind in the Making: The seven essential life skills every child needs,” author Ellen Galinsky describes how caring adults can help equip children with essential life skills through self-directed and engaged learning experiences. To help your child be a self-directed and engaged learner, consider the following tips.

Create a secure, trusting relationship with your child

The easiest way to do this is to keep them physically and emotional safe. Set rules and boundaries that let children know you value their immediate safety, even if they don’t seem to appreciate having to follow those rules. It’s also important you help children learn to feel secure. You can do this by being present, involved and engaged with them, but also by being available. Teach your children they can come to you with any problem without fear of punishment, ridicule or embarrassment.

Raise goal setters and goal achievers

Help children be self-directing and motivating by teaching them how to set and work towards goals. Talk with them about what they would like to achieve, let them think about what steps they need to work towards their goals and help them come up with a plan. Learn more about helping children set goals at PBS Expert Tips and Advice.

Engage children socially, emotionally and intellectually

When children are bored and unengaged, they don’t value learning experiences because they aren’t fun. Help your child light the spark of learning by working to really engage them. Get them involved in concrete, active experiences instead of simply watching or listening to instructions. Create opportunities for learning that are meaningful and purposeful, like learning about fractions by making cookies for a bake sale or practicing geometry by building something together.

Encourage curiosity and problem-solving

Instead of giving away the solution or simply solving problems for children, help them work through tough spots by thinking about possible solutions, predicting how they might work and then trying them. When a solution doesn’t work, don’t let children feel like they are stupid or incapable; help them work through failures. Teach them that a failure is just an opportunity to try something new until you find what works.

Help children value learning

When you value learning experiences, so does your child. Help children understand that learning can be fun, engaging and worthwhile by making their learning experiences, fun, engaging and worthwhile.

For more articles on child development, academic success, parenting and life skill development, please visit the Michigan State University Extension website.

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