Thursday, August 20, 2009

Teaching “the spark” — instilling the value of education, learning, and knowledge

by Richard L. Weaver II

After my sister read And Then Some: Essays to Entertain, Motivate, and Inspire - Book I, she wrote me an e-mail that read, in part, “I have never had that thirst that you got and have had all your life. I am so glad you got that bug and just kept pushing toward your goals. I never had any goals and never had any great urge to get further than I was at the time. I just am, so to speak.”

Her comment made me stop and question: what can be done to ignite “the spark”? How can children be motivated not just to continue learning — although that is very important — but how can children become excited about the whole process of learning? If students feel learning new things is fun (that they are enjoying not just what they are learning, but the whole process of learning as well as the environment in which learning is taking place) they are more likely to acquire the thirst.

If acquisition of the thirst for knowledge was entirely genetic, my sister would more than likely have acquired it just as I did. So, there must be more. I do not know if there was a difference between the way my parents treated me as I grew up and the way they treated my younger sister, but I know two things. First, I acquired my thirst before I entered school. Second, each of our four children acquired the thirst.

Parents must begin training their children during the first year of their lives and continue teaching them through all of their developing years. By encouraging them to ask questions and answering all of their questions, you demonstrate that education, knowledge, and learning new things are the most important things in their lives. When they don’t question, question them, so that they learn the value of finding answers to everything that interests them in any way. Never tire of their constant questioning. It establishes an open, receptive, and responsive environment.

Make their earliest memories daily readings from interesting books at their level. This can occur while children are still in the womb. The soft sounds of mothers and fathers reading, if started while children are unborn, make it a natural, comfortable, acceptable feeling when it occurs once they are born.

Regularly and often give children their own books — even before they can read. Have them begin a lifetime habit of looking at books, interpreting pictures, and responding to what they see. Ask them questions about what is pictured, and make book reading an interactive and enjoyable experience they look forward to. When they choose to read, never deny them that pleasure, thus, taking advantage of their curiosity, interest, and desire.

Make daily reading a regular experience. Set aside specific times during the day when you can sit with your children, talk with them, read to them, or let them read to you, so that they become familiar with the joy of learning, the pleasure of acquiring new information, and the true delight in finding out new things. By being with them, you reinforce their interests and the importance of this time together.

Spend whatever time it takes to become a teacher of your children. Remember, you have the primary responsibility of teaching them. Accept this both as an opportunity and as a challenge. The habits you instill are the habits they will carry throughout their lifetime. Not only do you need to answer their questions, but you need to admit that you do not have the answer to some of them. Using online dictionaries, Google, encyclopedias, and other resources, you can teach them that all of their questions have answers, and they can be found quickly and efficiently. The more often this is demonstrated for them, the quicker they will acquire both the interest and the need to find answers on their own.

Just as you read to your children and have them read to you, you must demonstrate that reading is important to you as well — independently of them. They must see you reading books, magazines, and newspapers. You are the first and most important model for the behavior they will imitate as they mature. If you do not model appropriate behavior and habits, you can not expect them to adopt the behavior and habits you want them to. The theory “do as I say not as I do” is not effective when teaching children. Closely monitor both their reading and viewing materials during their growing years. Monitor their personal friendships as well because friends can have an enormous influence on their willingness to read books, seek knowledge, and learn more.

Use time together at the dining-room table to bring up subjects for discussion. Not only can you ask, “How was your day?,” but ask, as well, about the most important things they learned that day. Talk about contemporary events, subjects raised in news reports, things they heard about in school or from friends. No subject should be forbidden or off-limits. Remember, again, you are their first and most valuable teacher, and it is more important that you raise controversial subjects and discuss them openly rather than allow friends and others to offer their answers.

Never use their access to books, trips to the library, or other learning opportunities as penalties or punishments for misbehavior. Learning and knowledge acquisition must always be front and center, protected, and even cherished as something held in high esteem and never sacrificed under any conditions.

Time to do their homework and free time to read for fun and enjoyment should become a regular and expected part of every day just as regular jobs and responsibilities around the home. Children must never become too busy with other things so that they sacrifice any aspect of their education. More important than time to play? Yes. More important than time with friends? Yes. More important than playing video games? Yes. More important than anything else in their young lives. Everything must be secondary to the importance of laying the foundation of learning, education, and wisdom. These are the roots of success. These are the underpinings of education. These are the bedrock for all other accomplishments. These are the fuel that create “the spark.”

By planning ahead for their future lives — whatever career they select — you can demonstrate the clear and important role that knowledge and learning play. Also, you can show how important it is to raising a family of their own, creating a happy home of their own, and, too, instilling in the hearts of their own children the principles and values of education, learning, and knowledge.

Darlene Zagata at AC:AssociatedContent:Education, in an essay entitled, “Teaching Begins at Home,” has great suggestions that underscore what is written in the essay above. Her essay is worthwhile.

At the website AllSands, there is a wonderful essay entitled, “Education Begins at Home,” in which specific suggestions are offered readers for learning “At Home,” “In the Community,” and “In School.”


Copyright August, 2009 - And Then Some Publishing L.L.C.


  1. No matter what we are doing, we always take the time to involve our children. We explain to them what we are doing, answer their questions and when possible - allow them to try their hand at it. Experiential learning is so important! I'm hoping this builds in them a curiosity about the world and a thirst for knowledge!

  2. It's the involvement, of course, but the intereaction, willingness to answer all their questions, making them an important and ongoing part of the learning process that counts. In our busy, busy lives, it is too easy to forget the essentials when it comes to our kids. And one of the essentials, too, is having them see (actually witness) our own desire to read, explore, and find out. It is a multi-dimensional, multi-pronged approach to building curiosity and a thirst for knowledge. Thanks for writing Mr. Ryan.


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