How to Help Your Child Become a Self-Learner

Sep 25, 2018 at 1:30 p.m. ET
Girl reading
Image: Getty Images. Design: Chris Frank/SheKnows.

Each fall, your child starts a fresh new year full of learning. Although classroom teaching can be the foundation kids use as they move through childhood, those who can self-learn have an even greater tool, and it's one that will stay with them throughout their lives. Parents can help their child become a self-learner from a very early age. Here's how.

What is self-learning?

We're all familiar with a traditional classroom. The teacher stands in front and leads a lesson designed for all students (regardless of their personal learning ability) who then take notes and internalize the lesson. Eventually, they are all expected to demonstrate their skills through assignments and testing. This is known as passive learning, says Dr. Mary Mokris, Kumon North America's manager of materials, and it differs greatly from self-learning. "When a child is self-learning, that child is active, involved and engaged," Mokris says. "Self-learning builds on the existing academic strengths of the students and asks them to use what they know to learn something new independently."

In other words, self-learners can tackle new material on their own. They have problem-solving skills that help them with homework and create confidence not only for themselves but also for parents.

Steps to becoming a self-learner

Self-learning can begin at an early age, says Mokris. "Toru Kumon, the founder of the Kumon Method of Education, used to say that when children are exposed to new challenges that allow them to learn on their own, they have a hard time distinguishing between play and learning," she explains. Here are a few ways you can encourage your child to become a self-learner.

Start early. Lively, entertaining activities, which can be as simple as singing and reading to your young child, help increase vocabulary, memorization skills and concentration skills. A strong foundation, built during your child's infancy, will help develop their working memory, impulse control and flexibility.

Use real-life examplesMath is easy to incorporate into daily life, and this can also begin at an early age. You can start with counting everything, from the items on your child's plate to how many 1s they can see in signs or license plates when you're out on the road.

Think about the next number"Self-learning happens when a child builds on something he or she already knows and takes the leap to the next step," says Mokris. In the case of math, ask your young child what the next number is — knowing what number comes after 1 is just a short hop to 1 + 1 = 2. As your child's skills grow, encourage further mathematical exploration, such as grouping together those real-life examples into workable math problems. ("Here are five pieces of corn on your plate. If we add three, how many are there?")

Encourage phonetic games. For pre-readers, you can help build an oral vocabulary (an important first step to learning how to read) by engaging in phonetic games. Rhyming games are a good start because they can help develop those essential self-learning skills and expand your child's brain power. Further down the road, ask your child to complete a several-step request. At first, it may not happen, but eventually, they'll be able to remember and do everything in sequence.

Create example problems. Once you get to the point where your child is bringing home homework, you can encourage self-learning skills by creating example problems for your child. "Try doing the first problem or question together, and use that as the guide so that your child has something to follow," says Mokris. This is how the Kumon program works, she notes. "Each new concept is introduced with an example problem for students to study before they tackle the rest independently," she says.

Help fill in any gaps. The one-size-fits-all method of passive learning sometimes leaves a few gaps along the way, and it can be difficult to move on to the next concept if that foundation isn't quite there yet. Help your child identify any gaps in their learning and work with them to fill those spaces in. "Filling in gaps, providing encouragement and helping students achieve that feeling of 'I can do it!' are all keys to a successful academic career," says Mokris.

Consider an after-school math and reading enrichment program such as KumonAt Kumon, students are first placed into materials that are easy to do because they've already mastered these concepts. "From this strong foundation, they can build their concentration and work skills and then move on to more advanced math and reading challenges as they increase their ability," says Mokris. The program itself is designed to promote self-learning as students continue through more challenging material, slowly building one concept on another.

Benefits of self-learning are boundless

Once a child begins to develop those self-learning skills, learning is truly limitless. "Children who self-learn build skills for life," says Mokris. "They build cognitive skills so they can tune out distractions, concentrate on what is most important, remember something already learned and apply it to something new, and adapt to changing rules from one situation to the next (like knowing to be quiet at the library but yell at a sporting event)."

Problem-solving, communication and reasoning skills develop well when a child has the ability to self-learn, and the benefits don't stop there. "They become more caring individuals and want to contribute to society," explains Mokris. "Self-learning opens up the world to a child and allows them to choose the future of their dreams." 

Learn more about Kumon's after-school math and reading programs, and get a free two-week trial here.

This post is sponsored by Kumon.

Comments