Unless you have a child that loves to read 500-page novels or do quantum physics, chances are your kid runs away from the first sight of a book or even the word “learn.” It can be especially difficult during the summer months when school is out. Add to that a global pandemic with most states still at shelter-in-place orders, spending the day at camps might not work out too well for you. 

My son certainly seemed to enjoy school during the school year, but after school campuses were closed and went to online learning, let’s just say that picking up a book to actually read through the contents became nearly non-existent. I could threaten him, cajole him, even bribe him, and any of those might have worked if the school hadn’t been closed since March. But one thing that seemed to have worked (and we’re still going through the possible stage), was getting my son to do research on his favorite topics online. Yes, he’s still staring at a screen, but at least he’s learning some valuable researching skills as well as taking an interest to actually read.

I’ve been working with young children for over 20 years and the one main thing I learned about children is that you can’t really force them to want to learn. Unless they actually enjoy learning, most of the time it’s either required by school or some bribery is involved. Below, I’ve come up with some ideas on how you can foster a love of learning for your children.

1. Expand their interests. Children, even as young as three, will have already developed some kind of interest or affinity. It could be cars, dolls, or gemstones. Find books that share their interests but keep the books below 100 pages. Depending on the age, pick books with pictures to keep the connections fresh in their minds.

2. Give them incentives. There is probably a more proper word than bribery, but giving your child incentives to finish a book can be a positive thing. Money for reading 2 books or extra screen time are great options; you will undoubtedly find something that works for your household.

3. Let them choose the titles. Unless your child is an avid reader, you could just let them choose a couple of books on their own. If bookstores are closed in your area, you can always shop online. When children have control over what they buy, they tend to have more interest.

4. Graphic novels. Graphic novels are no longer a “nerdy” deal. They are filled with interesting stories and drawings that can surely capture any age. Graphic novels are basically stories told through drawings. There are graphic novels for various genres and ages so be sure to start at an early age.

5. Make a list. Have your child help you write down lists. It could be chore lists, grocery lists, or anything that requires jotting down things to accomplish. This helps your child with spelling, organization, and attention to detail.

6. Take nature walks. Being out in nature is a beautiful thing. You and your child can take walks in the park, in the forest, or at the beach (depending on your state). As you are both walking, point out items of interest along the way. If it’s something that you both don’t know about, decide to research it at home.

7. Do a nature hunt. I do this with the environmental program I run at an elementary school. I give the students a list of items that can be found in nature and they check it off the list as they locate them. The list can include a pink flower, a white rock, a squirrel, and anything that will work in your area.

8. Start a subscription box. You know those subscription boxes you see practically everywhere? Some of them are actually pretty cool and entertaining and the ones geared towards children will most definitely involve some learning. Subscription boxes can include STEAM, STEM, and Nature.

9. Write your own story.  Writing can be a scary thing for most kids. Heck, it can be tough for adults too! Give your kids the opportunity to create their own stories through words or even drawings. Kids are already pretty creative, so have them start off on an easy topic, like their favorite doll or their favorite stuffed animal, and go from there. Soon, you will have a child that loves to write and create.

10. Participate in book clubs. Yes, there are book clubs for kiddos too! While right now might not be best to meet in person or groups, you can still host book clubs via Zoom or any online host site. Have your kids pick some friends they like to read together and start your little book club!

However you decide to expand your child’s love of learning, small steps are the easiest and less tearful way. Make it fun and challenging, but don’t make it into a chore that they’ll likely oppose.