Four-year old Luke sat quietly while his dad participated in a meeting with a bunch of grownups, hard at work on an effort of his own. Brow furrowed, he labored intensely throughout the meeting.
When the group adjourned, Luke shared his work. These words were written on small cards: AQUAMAN, SUPERMAN, SPIDERMAN, BATMAN and ROBIN.
Each word was spelled correctly and written meticulously in his clear childish block letters. I was heartily impressed.
As I reflected on Luke’s effort, something else impressed me: the adults in his life have encouraged him to learn about what matters to him.
His mother might have said, “Luke, you shouldn’t think about those superheroes so much. Let’s learn to write words about dinosaurs, instead.”
His dad might have said, “Luke, Aquaman starts with an A. What other words start with A? Apple? Avocado? Anteater?”
Instead, when he asked, “How do you spell Spiderman?” they responded “S-P-I…” Serving as consultants, they provided the wanted information, and he took that information and ran with it, acquiring important advances in several aspects of language expression.
Parents are often excited about their kids’ learning, but want to dictate the terms rather than following the lead of kids’ natural curiosity.
When parents ignore kids’ very real interests and instead force them to complete a workbook page, kids get the message that learning is irrelevant to things that really matter in their lives. On the other hand, when kids are encouraged to pursue their interests, they become engaged learners whose curiosity about their world increases.
Twentieth century educator John Holt supported this response of adults to kids’ motivation. He wrote, “We can best help children learn, not by deciding what we think they should learn and thinking of ingenious ways to teach it to them, but by making the world accessible to them, answering their questions, and helping them explore the things they are most interested in.”
In Luke’s life, it’s as simple as having adults around him who help him learn what he wants to know. The result? He’s developing some super powers of his own.