The middle school years can be hard-hitting, transitional and defining for many students and we have parents frequently contact us about working with their students as early as 6th and 7th grade. Though we don’t start with students until 8th grade, as parents and educators, we do have some concrete suggestions on how to foster a love of learning in younger children. In fact, Michele’s second book was The Middle School Years which focused on precisely that – how to help children transition from the dependence on their parents in lower school to becoming independent in middle school. The key takeaways from our combined PhDs, Master’s degrees, and years of working with students are below.
TOP TIPS FOR FOSTERING A LOVE OF LEARNING IN MIDDLE SCHOOL STUDENTS
- Do everything possible to encourage love of learning. That might mean spending afternoons at the local public library exploring, joining books clubs, attending local “camps” sponsored by a nearby high school, joining a chess club, reading the kids’ version of the daily newspaper or Time Magazine… the key is exposing your kids to everything. Think of these years as a buffet of opportunities to prompt and spark a love of learning in your kids.
- Surrounding them with books – the single most important skill for success in middle school and high school is READING. Read out loud to your children (even through middle school) and encourage family reading time in the evenings instead of screen time/TV time. Listen to books from Audible when in the car instead of popping on a video in the backseat. Create a neighborhood bookclub or Family Reading Night. Check out the Great Books Programs for younger students.
- LIMIT IPHONE/SCREEN TIME – nothing kills reading skills like too much screen time. As parents, we’d highly recommend limiting social media until high school – we are not kidding. High screen time leads to less interaction, depression, social issues (bullying) – all anti-intellectual.
- Weave in trips to local historical sights – plan educational outings even on vacations to encourage love of learning.
- The other key skill is WRITING – once your student has become a strong reader, learning how to write is the other most important skill. We are thrilled to announce our new Academic Writing Program we recently launched geared towards teaching and nurturing students’ writing skills from 6th grade on.
- If you can, have your students learn a musical instrument or join a singing group – any talents they pick up early will last them well into high school. Music instruction enhances creativity, develops discipline and enhances the abstract reasoning skills necessary for learning math and science.
- Physical activity is key, whether through organized sports and dance classes or individual pursuits, and again, the benefits children derive from physical activity are well-documented. Physical activity positively impacts the brain, and improves cognition, mood, attention and academic achievement. Sports, IF your student is talented can be very positive too – but we’d caution against forcing kids against their will. In general, sports only “count” if you reach the level of being formally recruited, which nowadays requires an almost professional level. In general, we’d recommend staying in shape and doing something athletic, but don’t worry if your student does not love or excel in organized sports.
We find that parents who provide a positive environment for learning with many opportunities often produce kids with a natural curiosity for learning. This love of learning is THE single most important quality that admissions officers look for, so start early and experience the wonder of teaching your child how much there is to explore.