Help Your Child Become an Independent Learner

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Search for genre books, both fiction and nonfiction, that reflect your child’s interests; popular series for children are available with a focus on everything from sports and science fiction to animal care. One popular series of children’s fiction books focuses on children whose parents operate a veterinary clinic; another is based on the “Star Wars” trilogy—and of course, there’s the Harry Potter series for aspiring wizards. All feature recurring characters involved in a variety of adventures; kids follow their favorite characters avidly and improve their reading skills in the process.

If you’ve got a budding mathematician, a fledgling fashion designer, or a future baseball star in the making, find a magazine that specializes in that subject and order a subscription in your child’s name. An amazing variety of children’s magazines is published on every topic imaginable.

Visit interactive museums and libraries and take part in classes they offer in art, sports, or poetry writing; sign up for newsletters and notices of upcoming activities at these places. Check out children’s websites that have a focus on relevant topics, and allow your child to subscribe to an RSS feed so he can keep up to date on the website’s offerings.

Let your child’s teachers know of her involvement in hobbies, sports, and particular reading materials; an engaged teacher can often find ways of incorporating students’ interests into lesson plans. This type of integration of interests and core subject matter can help your child to succeed across the curriculum.

Encourage your child to blog about his interests; as he educates his readers about his favorite topic, he solidifies and stretches his own understanding of the subject. (Communicate with your child’s teachers and administrators for advice on safe websites that allow children’s blogs, and make sure your child doesn’t include personal info on a blog that could put him at risk.)

Be prepared to scout out a whole new round of resources if and when your child shifts focus; your budding NASA specialist may decide next week she really wants to be a gourmet chef.

Tips

  • Develop a budget for your child’s sports, hobbies, and reading interests, and within that budget, give him some say in how to spend that money.

  • Any money spent on the acquisition of knowledge is money well spent, but if you can’t afford to buy a new batch of books and magazines, don’t worry. Libraries have gone way beyond books, and have children’s resources available in a variety of media. If your child wants to read specific materials that your library doesn’t have, he may be able to request them through the inter-library lending program through your local library. Also check out resources at schools and local social service organizations to see if they have programs that offer resources for low-income children.

  • Encourage your child to save a certain percentage of her allowance, but also allow her to spend some of her money on her interests, and help her budget her expenditures.

  • Don’t belittle your child’s interest in a topic, or his ever-changing focus. It’s normal for children to jump from interest to interest in their exploration of the world and what it offers. It is okay, however, to encourage persistence, and to insist that your child give a hobby or sport a good-faith try before abandoning it.

Avoid letting your child get involved in too many activities at once. Two or three hobbies or activities at a time are enough; if you find her going in a dozen different directions, help her to rein herself in. If she scatters her energy, she won’t get much benefit or enjoyment out of anything.

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