We humans are "wired" to learn.
According to a 2005 article written by Rene Marois of Vanderbilt University's Vanderbilt Vision Research Center, over a lifetime, the human brain will amass a nearly unfathomable amount of information - "more than 50,000 times the amount of text contained in the U.S. Library of Congress, or more than five times the amount of the total printed material in the world!"
Indeed, babies are born with a hunger to learn. Apart from food and comfort, their No. 1 desire is to interact with their environment and pick up new information. The infant's initial exploration of his world is mostly done through the five senses, but is also powered by another drive - the need to be loved.
When a baby is picked up, held, fed, bathed, carried and played with, emotional messages are being given: "You are important. You are worthy of care. You are loved." When the baby takes his first step, it usually is to the arms of someone who loves him. A child's first word is often the person he calls for - Mama or Papa.
The nexus of love is so obvious that we tend to ignore it, especially in the role it plays in education. But love is the electricity of learning. If we can only tap into it, the flow of information and its application is automatic.
You know what inspires your children to learn? It's the moment they see delight and pride in your eyes. When they learn to ride a bike, or write their name or draw a picture, and they see that unmistakable emotion of joy from you, they are positively charged by that to do more.
This isn't limited to home-schoolers, of course. Any parent can practice the art of watching and admiring, of listening and enjoying. We just have to turn off the automatic pilot in our brains that is so intent on getting the next task done, and put our attention firmly on the miracle of our own child.
At first, this is a discipline for most of us. As busy "grown-ups," we have learned to listen to the internal taskmaster rather than to be diverted by what's around us. As a parent, however, we need to put the taskmaster into the background, and pay attention instead.
Try to avoid "scanning" children, and really look at them instead. Notice the many new accomplishments they are mastering, and register them positively, even just as an interior awareness. Laugh at their jokes and respond to their worries. Converse with them, as if they were the most important people in your life - which they are.
When the child mentions an academic issue, you don't have to "give the answer," but you can take the opportunity to discuss it. Play with it. Make it laughable. You'll be surprised how the boogeyman retreats when the parents and children poke fun at him.
Children like firm realities, and they like to know the real-life standards and usefulness of something. I guarantee that a child learning fractions through baking a cake will grasp it much faster than the one taught on a board or from a book. By the way, kids don't need elaborate toys or learning computers. They need an environment where they can explore and make discoveries with a wise and loving adult as their guide. I now realize my children have forgotten almost every present received for special days and holidays, but they never forget the moments we spent playing, learning, singing, reading and praying together.
My advice is don't be afraid to love. Loved children feel secure, and are able to explore their environment and learn without impediments. There's nothing more effective in helping them prepare for the challenges of life.
• Kate Tsubata, a home-schooling mother of three, is a freelance writer who lives in Maryland.