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How to raise smart kids

© Jack Hollingsworth/Photodisc/Thinkstock © Jack Hollingsworth/Photodisc/Thinkstock

By Gail Belsky
From Your Family Today 

Most parents want their kids to do well in school, and many help with skill drills or homework. But the best way to raise smart students is to help them become good learners outside of school, according to Georgene Troseth, associate professor of psychology at Vanderbilt University's Peabody College of Education and Human Development.

"Parents get hooked on thinking of academic subjects rather than the broader picture," says Troseth. Here are five ways to help your kids become more creative, more motivated learners -- beyond the classroom.

1. Show your interest.
From a very young age, kids learn by watching their parents, says Troseth, so it's important to set an example of being inquisitive and involved. If you put on classical music, but then walk away to fold laundry, your kids don't see you being engaged by the music -- or liking it very much. But if you sit down to enjoy the music and demonstrate your interest, they're more likely to become interested too.

2. Explore the real world.
Kids have a variety of opportunities to learn about things: They can read about them, watch movies or TV shows about them, or they can actually go out and experience them -- with you as their guide. If your child is fascinated with trains, visit the station, take a ride and talk to the conductor. Sharing experiences is a big part of the learning process, according to Troseth.

3. Keep reading to them.
Firsthand experience gives kids a personal and specific understanding of a subject. But for gaining broader knowledge, nothing beats a book. That's where they learn about feelings, history and things they can't see. Even if your kids can read, Troseth recommends reading to them for as long as they'll let you: "When they're starting to read for themselves, they're struggling with the act of reading. In order for them to get real knowledge, you need to take away that step and read to them."

4. Embrace their obsessions.
While it's important to give kids an opportunity to explore different areas and activities, once they find something that really fascinates them, let them run with it, suggests Troseth. You many not want to hear about the planets all day long, but your child's obsession with them will motivate her to keep learning. Not only will she gain deep knowledge, she'll also start developing skills that she'll use in the future, such as categorizing, classifying, and identifying properties.

5. Give them time to create.
Once kids grab hold of a concept or subject, they will build on their knowledge in imaginative ways -- if you let them. "The most creative learning happens when kids have free time to play fantasy and invent things," says Troseth. "You can't buy creativity or drill it with flash cards." You can give your kids an idea for inventive play (e.g., "Once you finish the fort, you can decide who gets to live in it"), but let them build on the scenario by themselves.

The formula for raising good learners is fairly simple, says Troseth: "Give them broad experience, let them have obsessions and model learning yourself."

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