Here’s one of the greatest things you can ever do for your children …

When I walked into the classroom, I was immediately in childish awe of the hand-made paper stars sprinkled with colored glitter hanging over each student desk, with someone’s name clearly printed on each one.

I immediately sensed the third grade was going to be different.

But then there was Mrs. Avery.

She already had streaks of gray in her hair, which was worn in a seriously tight bun near the back of her head. Her conservative appearance was embellished with the black horn-rimmed glasses she wore. It didn’t take long to discover Mrs. Avery was old school even then — she demanded attention and obedience in her classroom and she wasn’t hesitant about rapping a child’s knuckles with a ruler when someone wasn’t living up to her behavioral code.

But behind the serious approach to her classroom was a woman dedicated to sharing her love of learning. That year, she shared that gift with me. It was from this elementary teacher, in my third grade class, that I learned to love learning, and my life has never been the same.

Students across the country are returning to classrooms this month, but not all of them will have teachers who help them learn to love learning. One of the greatest things you can ever give your children as a parent is a love for learning. If you wait for a teacher to introduce your children to a love of learning, your children may never discover a life of wonder, exploration, and perpetual growth by being a life-long student.

Don’t leave it up to teachers to instill a love of learning in your children. Instead, fuel their imaginations and encourage discovery and exploration at the earliest ages. Read to your children, then read with them, and model the value of reading by letting them see you turn off the TV and pick up a book. Make learning fun, as well as a positive challenge for your children before they ever start school and you will be setting them up for success once they are in school.

Mrs. Avery was my stepping stone to educational success. When I graduated from high school, I took a drive to Supai Elementary School in Scottsdale, Arizona and got permission from the principal to be on campus. I discovered Mrs. Avery in a different classroom, hair a little grayer but still looking serious. But when I told her I had come just to thank her for teaching me to love learning, she smiled the most brilliant smile and blushed just a little.

“You know, I’ve had several students come back over the years,” she said, almost mischieviously.

I bet she has!

As the new school year begins, it’s an opportunity for parents to re-evaluate what they’re doing in the lives of their own children to foster a desire to learn. The influence you have in the lives of your children already makes you their primary teacher. How are you using that influence to nurture a love for learning in children?