My four-year-old daughter, Matilda, has a major obsession with the Presidents of the United States. She discovered a placemat that had the faces and names of 42 of them at her grandparents’ house and after learning who they were, she was immediately drawn to their stories.
Through her daily adventures, Matilda explores lots of subjects, stopping to read books about the solar system, counting the leaves that she finds on the ground, wondering about mammals, and experimenting with cooking. In the excitement of an election year, something about the presidents really pulled her in. Developmentally, she’s also becoming aware of the bigger world around her. She’s realizing it’s not just her, it’s not just her family, it’s not even just her country out there. There’s a whole world (and universe!) to explore.
But back to the presidents. She now carries the placemat back-and-forth from our house to her grandparents’ house, having memorized the names and facts about each president. The placemat was made pre-Obama, so we got a sticker of Obama to add on to the end. She has a book about the presidents, which she reads religiously. And she constantly spouts off trivia. Did you know that Martin Van Buren was the only Dutch president? That teddy bears were named after Theodore Roosevelt? Me neither.
Watching Matilda take control of her learning has been a wonderful adventure in self-directed learning. In the world of education, there’s a lot of talk about helping students become self-directed learners. This generally means kids take initiative on their own, knowing their needs and goals and figuring out how to learn the information they need to meet those goals.
If I had sat Matilda down and said, “Today we are going to learn about the Presidents of the United States of America. Let’s start with George Washington…” she may have gone along with my plan, but likely wouldn’t have been too engaged. But because she was able to pursue a subject she was curious about, Matilda took charge of her learning.
Want your kids to develop the skills to become self-directed learners? Follow these three tips:
1. Follow Your Child’s Interests
No matter how random they might seem, allow your kids to fully embrace their interests. I never thought I’d have a presidents-obsessed four-year-old, but here I am. Whatever your child is interested in, help them explore and find out the answers to their questions. By supporting our kids to pursue their interests, we are teaching them the skills they need to be lifelong learners. We are also teaching them that learning is fun, inspiring, and connected to everyday life.
2. Find Learning Opportunities
Any interest can become a great learning opportunity! Through learning about the presidents, Matilda has picked up way more than the history of America. She has learned to count and compare presidents (Did more presidents have beards or mustaches? Glasses or mustaches)? She pays attention to the letters in the presidents’ names when reading them and she’s become extremely interested in the current election.
3. Focus on Skills & Content
Learning isn’t just about facts and information. It’s about the skills we need to become engaged citizens. Any learning experience is a chance to focus on developing lifelong skills. This skills include:
- Critical thinking
- Finding out information
As Matilda continues to learn about the presidents, she’s been working on several of these skills. For example, she wants to know whether certain presidents were “good” or “bad,” and as she learns more about them she categorizes and analyzes their characters. She’s also been asking more detailed questions as she develops a more complex understanding of presidential history. And she’s also learned how to gather information from multiple sources, such as books, the Internet, family members and teachers.
When we help kids learn how to learn, we set them up to be able to pursue their interests. In addition to talking with your kids about what they’re learning, be sure to talk with them about how they’re learning.
Want more help supporting your kids to become a lifelong learner? Download our free planning sheet that you can use to create magical learning experiences for your kids.