(Section excerpted from Chapter 3 - Mindset over Matter: Thinking Like a Professional Tutor)
If you get nothing else from this chapter—if you get nothing else from this entire book—at least follow this one rule: show your children that you love learning. (If you don't love learning, for the sake of your child, pretend you do.) The easiest way for your child to become an academic success and a curious, mentally alert person is for him to want to learn. You are your child's role model and his main window into the world of grown-ups, so if you value learning, your child will see that trait as a natural part of adulthood.
How do you model the love of learning during a session? Easy—show excitement as you talk about your child's studies. Get engaged. Your comments and questions should reference actual academic content, and they should do so with enough detail to show that you truly care.
- Photosynthesis: "Oh, cool. This is how plants breathe!"
- Great Expectations: "Isn't Miss Havisham's house creepy?"
- Chinese language: "I'm amazed you remember the stroke order. Can you teach me how to write a character?"
If your child expresses dislike of a particular subject, you can show that you sympathize, but then put a positive spin on the material. It may be hard to do, but try to think of the most interesting connection that comes to mind about a particular subject, even if it's goofy.
STUDENT: I hate fractions.
BAD PARENT-TUTOR: Then just finish quickly.
GOOD PARENT-TUTOR: Fractions remind me of pie. Would you rather eat two-fourths or four-eighths of a coconut custard pie?
STUDENT: The fall of Rome is so boring.
BAD PARENT-TUTOR: I never liked it either.
GOOD PARENT-TUTOR: Oh, hey, did you know that some historians had this theory that the entire Roman civilization collapsed because people were poisoned by lead in the drinking-water pipes?
GOOD PARENT-TUTOR (with slightly less knowledge): I wonder what caused the fall of Rome. What do you think?
STUDENT: Why do I have to study Portuguese? That's not fair.
BAD PARENT-TUTOR: Life's not fair.
GOOD PARENT-TUTOR: What if Brazil invades America? You'll be able to translate!
Here are other ways to show that you love learning:
- Value learners. Whether it means making positive comments about the "nerd" character in a television show or praising the efforts of a neighbor who has decided to study gardening, send your child the message that you admire people who make the choice to investigate and acquire knowledge.
- Ask follow-up questions. Let's say uncle Frank visits and talks about his interest in phrenology. Don't just go "uh huh." Find out what phrenology is, why he started studying it, and whether anyone still really thinks that you can measure architectural talent by skull shape.