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The Love of Learning

It’s important to make sure children grow up loving learning rather than being anxious about performance or being hooked on doing everything perfectly. Studies show that extrinsic motivation (rewards such as grades or money) can destroy intrinsic motivation (enjoying a task because it’s interesting.)

Little kids love to learn new things and try new tasks. Whether it’s talking, sounding out words, walking, climbing or helping wash the dishes. But as they grow older, they can lose their love of learning. Making learning a duty, and attaching rewards and punishments to it, takes away their natural excitement and sense of accomplishment. A love of learning can be lifelong, but a love of grades sometimes interferes with it.

If learning has become a source of anxiety for your child, it’s important to turn this around as soon as possible. Let them know you have confidence in their ability to learn and to do the work. Tthat you believe it’s important that they have a personal and social life as well as do schoolwork. Let them know that you believe grades aren’t as important as enjoying the work and feeling they accomplished something. Do not offer rewards for As or Bs, as these only encourage them to focus on the grades rather than on the learning. Express confidence that they will be able to handle the challenges and offer help to make the load manageable.

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Demystify for your children the requirements of higher levels of schooling if they are becoming anxious about doing well enough. At the higher levels the main differences are that children have to spend somewhat longer completing their work, more research is sometimes required and they have to organize their work over a longer period of time. That’s all. It isn’t insurmountable.

Help your children organize their study habits to cope with the new challenges. Give them a regular time and place to do their work and teach them (if the school hasn’t done so) to make a list of assignments and their due dates. Help them figure out how long each assignment will take, and which tasks they need to do first. It’s best to avoid monitoring them constantly, lecturing them or, of course, doing their work for them.

Let them organize their schoolwork so that they feel comfortable with it. Different children study in different ways. Some need silence; some need music. Some need regular short breaks, others work for a long time and don’t like interruptions. Allow your children to study in the way which works best for them. But don’t let them stay up past their bedtime doing schoolwork. Make sure they start their homework early enough to get it done and have some relaxation time. If there’s too much work for the time available, you may need to intervene with the teachers, as they may not be aware of the problem unless an adult lets them know. Your child probably isn’t the only one with the problem.

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