Reignite their passion for learning
“I don’t want to go to school!” “I hate math!” “I feel sick to my stomach!” Parents of school-aged children hear these statements (or similar more colorful ones) on a daily basis, while school is in session. It’s a sad reminder of the damage traditional school system constraints and rigidity may inflict on a child’s desire to learn.
Fortunately, there is a way to turn stress into success and transform a child’s emotions from defeat into delight. All it requires is a little bit of fun and an understanding of why the human brain processes things the way it does–and how leveraging the power of fun can make all the difference in the world. Let’s take a deeper dive into the neuroscience behind learning, and why incorporating fun builds excitement and anticipation around what the next day of learning will bring.
“When the fun stops, learning often stops too.” – Our brains
It’s no secret…we are designed for learning. From the moment we are born, our brains are hard at work taking in information, processing the world around us, learning, and growing. And we love it! Our kids approach new experiences and new learning with awe and anticipation. The simple yet oft-repeated question “Why?” is just one of the indicators of a mind eager to learn.
Preschoolers and kindergartners cannot wait to head off to school, and when they come home excited about what they learned, we enjoy hearing about the games, finger-painting, crayons, and macaroni projects that filled their day. Little do they know that as they dive into the foundations for reading and math, they are developing new neural pathways that provide connections they will rely on for the rest of their lives.
Sadly, somewhere along the way, the rigid structure of school all too often squashes their enthusiasm. What was once exciting, new, bright, and colorful becomes an obligation that no longer has that same appeal. Perhaps it is the emphasis on standardized testing or the fact that the agenda set by a teacher has to meet the needs of all students, as well as state standards. Or maybe it is the ever-shrinking time for exploration, laughter, art, music, dance, and other avenues for self-expression.
No matter the reason, the results are the same. Kids struggle academically and they lose confidence. And when they drag themselves through the front door at the end of another miserable school day, it breaks your heart to see that the light in their eyes has dimmed. The question “Why?” takes on a different sort of meaning. Rather than a why inspired by curiosity, this why is often a “Why do I have to know this?”
If you made the decision to escape the traditional school model and renew the hunger for learning, congratulations! You are about to embark on an exciting journey. But how do you provide the best education for your child? One that makes learning fun again. Have you thought about homeschooling?
Before explaining why homeschooling could very well be the solution to your child’s struggles or frustrations with traditional school, it’s important to note that homeschooling is not the same as the distance learning, virtual learning, and remote education your child may have recently experienced. Modern homeschooling has existed for more than 50 years…and its results are proven.
With homeschooling, your students will no longer be forced to fit into a specific mold. Instead, they are given the freedom to learn in ways that best fit them and your home. And this is where neuroscience and fun come into play.
This isn’t a theory; it’s fact. Studies show a direct correlation between learning mastery and fun (McEwan & Strickland, 2003). With that in mind, here are 10 ways you can reignite your child’s natural passion for learning and get them ready for an unforgettable school year. (Take special note of the first three proven recommendations that are all about leveraging the power of fun!)
Science Lesson: The dope on dopamine
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter made by your body, and it’s used by your nervous system to send messages between nerve cells. Dopamine affects how we feel pleasure, think, plan, focus, strive, and how and why we find things interesting. If you found that interesting, that was your dopamine kicking in!
With that in mind, we highly recommend that you find a way for your student to…
- EnJOY Learning
Homeschooling is NOT about re-creating a one-size-fits-all classroom experience. It IS about the joy of learning; the freedom to let curiosity take over; the time to explore interests, to enjoy laughter, and to add fun to everyday learning. And all for good reason. Neuroscience shows that joy leads to a higher release of dopamine, and that dopamine release results in greater interest, engagement, and long-term memory.
Begin with a shift in perspective. Provide “learning experiences” rather than “learning exercises.”
- Take a moment to laugh over something.
- Let your kids enjoy the why of what they are learning.
- Encourage them to explore their interests by digging deeper into a topic.
- Add in excursions to a museum, zoo, local park, or your own backyard to make memories.
- Encourage Discovery
When students are free to explore and discover, they are automatically more engaged and motivated. Their excitement about learning leads to that dopamine burst, which makes them more likely to remember, understand, and employ what they learn.
Creating an environment that allows for high-spirited discovery is a powerful way to leverage your child’s brain dopamine push. As your kids discover answers to their questions or explore something new on their terms, they experience “a-ha” moments that fast-track their brain’s ability to learn. A positive side effect you are bound to see is their growing confidence as they realize the pure joy in figuring out how much they can learn on their own. Once they do, you have a lifelong learner on your hands. And isn’t that what education is all about?
A “new-to-homeschooling” family shared a story about their daughter, Fiona. She struggled staying interested in a classroom setting. Everything moved a bit too slowly for her, causing her to become distracted from learning rather than engaged. During the COVID pandemic, Fiona’s parents feared that sitting through Zoom calls all day would be disastrous. Knowing the school systems and teachers alike were out of their element, they decided to give Fiona a real opportunity to succeed by turning to an experienced homeschool academy.
What happened? Fiona’s classes were chosen specifically around what excites her, how she learns (learning style), and what her academic goals look like. How and when she was taught was decided by her parents, working with her academic advisor. Her learning experience accommodated extra space in her day to explore her interests, connect with neighborhood friends, and enjoy the world around her. Learning became part of all she did rather than a walled-off part of her day. And her parents saw a new side of Fiona. More dopamine. Less anxiety. More generous smiles. Less frustration.
A discovery-based focus helps kids uncover more about themselves. By giving them some choice in how and where they study or how they demonstrate understanding, we can build on the idea of discovery learning and create a sense of ownership. That leads to kids who are more accepting of their errors, more motivated to try again, and less fearful about asking questions.
For ideas on how to add creativity into your learning environment, read our blog article, Spicing Up Your Homeschool.
Science Lesson: Negative emotions, stress, and anxiety get in the way of learning
Neuroscience and FMRi studies show us what happens in the brain as a result of learning frustration, stress, and anxiety. These FMRi images show that under stressful conditions, information is literally blocked from entering the prefrontal cortex, where higher-level cognition, processing, consolidation, and memory occur.
In other words, when stress kicks in, the amygdala (the region of the brain primarily associated with emotional processes) steps in and tends to cause negative emotions to flare, thus limiting the transfer of information to the higher cognitive networks and shutting down the learning process.
So, how do we limit the flaring of negative emotions when it comes to learning? Keep stress low by…
- Tailoring to Learning Style
New skills and concepts can be difficult for students. And when difficulty sets in, the resulting frustration tends to lead to even more struggles as they begin to approach those subjects with dread and/or a feeling of “I can’t do this!”
This is why understanding your child’s learning style and speaking their learning language is so critical. When you can appeal to the “who” in your child, you are better equipped to help them understand and master new concepts, and reignite the excitement around learning. When students approach new information in their preferred learning language, they are better able to think critically, solve problems, take risks, and push through tough challenges.
This is what we do at Bridgeway Academy. By leveraging our proprietary learning and personality style assessments, placement tests, and a wide range of tools to uncover the unique “right fit” learning program, we help define your child’s optimal learning experience.
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