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  • Writer's pictureIntegral Ed

Lifelong Learning Starts at Home

Updated: Feb 22, 2019

By Emily Atkins

The parent guidebook seems to grow longer and longer with each new generation. With all of the advice for the best learning experiences, a parent can easily get lost in doing all the “right” things to help their children grow up the most prepared to take on adulthood.

With the daily advent of new technologies and methodologies for raising and teaching children, it’s challenging to decide which direction to take. So, I offer an idea rather than a step-by-step, life-changing approach: encourage lifelong learning.

What makes a lifelong learner?

Lifelong learning is a mindset: a flexibility and positivity toward new experiences. Rather than a fear of change or rigidity in routine, the lifelong learner is intrigued by new ideas and experiences.

Life-long learners benefit from changes of scenery, new challenges, fresh beginnings, new understanding. But how do we start this kind of exploration in young children? How can we develop a sense of adventure when facing the unknown rather than fear?

A lifelong learner is flexible, open to new ideas and new ways of thinking. Having the flexibility to approach an area of unknown and see it as a way to explore, rather than a negative weakness, is the cornerstone of lifelong learning.

Let’s consider a few different ways to foster lifelong learning through the visual arts.

Exploration begins in the kitchen.

As a child my mom taught me to cook. I learned not to over-knead pastries and how to roll, cut and pinch pie crusts. I learned braising meats and measurement conversions and candying fruits. From the early kitchen skills my mother taught me, I went on to explore new cuisines and processes. When I encountered a new flavor palate or a new kitchen technique, I wanted to understand and recreate it.

Try this cooking activity at home!

Allowing children autonomy in cooking can be scary, as there are so many risks with sharp tools and hot equipment, but children can learn success in this area. Like many learning opportunities, we have to teach and model practices, so that our young learners can take on more and more responsibility as they gain experience and skills.

The same holds true for other areas of learning. We all start with some small insight or taste of a new direction for learning. We must then follow that path to new areas and insights.

Guided Learning Baskets

Here’s the kids’ creative corner we created in our home.

In your home, consider setting aside areas where your children know that they can access the creative materials on their own, without parental permission, to play, explore and create. Consider curating the books in that area with what you know your children are interested in—do they want to color? Do they want to learn about art media? Do they want to read chapter books with characters they find interesting?

In my own home, though my husband and I do not have children of our own, we have placed a set of baskets in our living room filled with colored pencils, stencils, drawing paper, stuffed animals, monster trucks with giant wheels and a giant marble run. Our nephews, our friends’ children and other young visitors know that this space is entirely their own.

Children can access everything in those baskets without parental approval. None of their choices or decisions are ‘wrong.’ And none of the materials will stain our furniture!

Supervised Experiments

Providing your children with opportunities to create in a messy manner, or with tools and equipment that need adult supervision, can foster creativity and openness to new experiences. One of my favorite supervised art making activities involves tie dying a variety of objects with my nephews. This summer we tried out ice tie dye, which involves sprinkling dry fabric pigment over ice, placed over whatever item you are tie dying. As with most tie dye methods, the results are unexpected and difficult to control. My older nephew, while gifted in many ways, does not do well with unexpected, creative moments and can be quite literal when embarking on a project. The info packet that came with our tie dye materials offered bright pictures of varying results, to which my nephew put in his mind as the ‘right way’ to tie dye. I’ve found in each tie dye opportunity we undertake, he becomes more open to our results as “good” or “right.”

While not messy, I’ve hoarded paper towel tubes in our home for almost a year now. I’ve had in mind an epic construction adventure with our nephews, where they will take all these tubes, with my mini lessons on how to cut, bend and join them to create structures or functioning toys from the recycled materials. The possibility of a massive paper towel sculpture dominating the living room can seem messy or overwhelming, but what fun! A paper towel tube without purpose is trash. Yet, with guidance a paper towel tube can become a material for learning. And if our construction results in nothing but learning how to join cylindrical shapes together? Or how a 3D cylinder flattens into a 2D rectangle? Well, it’s all recyclable. And the experience with manipulating materials and tools build our child’s toolbox for engaging the next creative venture.

Raising Positive Lifelong Learners

Many times as a teacher I met students too afraid of failure to even begin a project. Fear can prevent many of us from stepping out in a new direction. Our history shows us hundreds of brilliant thinkers and creators who had failure after failure before finally creating that one thing that placed them on our timeline of innovators. Creating a safe environment for experiments and possible failures, as well as approaching failures with a positive attitude and an outlook to what could come from a failure, are ways to help our children develop comfort with not finding success in a first, second or even third try.


Emily Atkins loves to write about and create art. She lives in North Dallas with her husband Mark and their two cats and dog. After ten years teaching kindergarten through 12th grade visual art, Emily recently traded in her teacher's hat for that of writer and ceramic artist from her home studio. While education and art remain some of Emily's favorite areas of interest, she also loves spending time out in her garden and trying out new children's art ideas with her nephews.

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