Teach Your Child to Love Growing Understanding

[Photo: Growing Understanding]
Photo credit: Milton Grant, United Nations

So you want your child to love learning. What exactly do you mean?

Do you want to your child to enjoy knowing things? Or to enjoy the satisfaction that comes from getting an A on a test? Or to feel the pleasure that comes from getting better at something over time?

I’d suggest that all of these are worthy, but that there’s something even better out there: teaching your child to love growing understanding.

You could ask your child: What did you learn at school today? They might tell you about disasters or plants or letters.

What question did you ask at school today?

Or you could ask your child: What question did you ask at school today? They might tell you they asked whether dinosaurs eat people. Then you might ask: What did you learn about that?

It doesn’t matter if they don’t answer or can’t answer. Just by asking the question, you’re helping them internalize that the most important thing is not what they know, but what they’re learning. You’re making growing understanding the center of attention.

If they do respond, listen carefully and, if your child teaches you something new, thank them. See if you can get into a back-and-forth conversation about the topic. In your body language and tone of voice, celebrate the growing understanding you’re both experiencing.

This distinction between knowing things and growing understanding is visible in schools around the country. In some classrooms, it’s easy to see how students have come to believe that math is about knowing how to compute answers. In other classrooms, it’s exciting to see students internalizing the idea that math is about discovering and describing the world around them.

Immerse your child in the pleasures of growing understanding

“Growth mindset” is all the rage these days, and for good reason. Students who believe that intelligence is malleable — that success depends more on how hard you work than on how smart you are — learn more and do better in school. Schools and nonprofits are putting more and more effort into teaching young people to have a growth mindset.

But there’s something even better than introducing 10-year-olds to the growth mindset idea: immersing young children in a home culture that deeply values growing understanding. Children who grow up in this kind of environment won’t need to be taught a growth mindset; they’ll already know the rich pleasure to be had from constantly growing their understanding of the world.

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Teach Your Child to Love Growing Understanding