Hijacking your Kids’ Education… But No Pressure

I came across this excellent TEDx talk.  It’s about a mom who recommends “hijacking” your kids’ education.  To get it out of the way early, this does NOT mean homeschooling.  Or interfering with the curriculum and practices of the school.  What it means is, leave the school to do what they do and then take charge of their learning after school.  I’m embedding it here.

I find this interesting because I’ve been hijacking my kids’ learning in one way or another since they started school.  At first in Jordan, I found that based on decades-long approaches to education (including early education), I needed to work with them on creativity and individualism.  At home we would do arts and crafts projects every week in which there were no lines, no right answers, no required colors… Basically, I was giving them not just permission but the requirement to be creative.  If they asked a question about what color they should use or should a feather go here, I always told them that I was certain they’d make the best choice.  At school, bunnies were brown and snow men’s coats had to be put on properly (so yes ButterBean’s cape was “fixed” by the art teacher!).  At home, bunnies were just as likely to be rainbow polka-dot and snow would have capes, or bikinis, or sandals, or swim trunks.

The thing is, what this mom suggests is hard to do.  Helping your child find their “passion,” a new-age catch word that college applications are rife with and admissions reps expect to see, is hard work.  And it strikes me as kind of odd that we’re placing so much focus on it anyway.  When I was in college, it was a time of exploration.  Because at home your mom and dad would NOT have been expected to expose you to every possible interest.  Listening to this mom’s exhaustive list of steps they took to find the passion was, well, exhausting.  So, I think I’ll probably look toward taking only some of what she suggests.  The watching closely to see where they are showing interests is a definite possibility.  Also finding opportunities for them to explore those areas is a possibility.  But me personally trying to determine every possible area of interest and then explore it… not likely to happen.

But I do like this idea of finding the areas of weakness and owning our role in supplementing them.  Between giving our kids time to play and enjoy themselves and continuing their learning, we will need to find a balance.  Because I do want my kids to be able to write a coherent essay with an outline.  And I do want them to spend some time seeing what happens when food is dropped and ants come and carry it off, and I do want them to try out an instrument.  But I also want to know that I’m not going it alone.  It’s interesting to see where this journey will lead us…

Happy Hijacking

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Teaching parts of speech through song… why’d we stop?!

So, when I was a kid, ABC had their Saturday morning specials.  They were cartoons and in between they had these awesome little vignettes, songs actually about the various parts of speech in English.  What American product of the 70s doesn’t remember Conjunction Junction?  For those not in the know (and what a deprived childhood you had), here it is.

It taught us about conjunction, which are words or phrases that tie things together (you know and and but).

But, they didn’t stop there, here’s one about adverbs. This was one my favorites. I loved me some Lolly, Lolly, Lolly…

And, then there’s the perennial favorite that ensured that wee Americans understood the process for getting bills passed through our legislature… I’m Just A Bill…

They had others about grammar in general, and interjections, and so on. These days the Beans learn in school about Naming Words and Describing Words instead of nouns and adjectives. And they learn about aaah, buh, cuh instead of ABC. I’m sure some bright person who knows oodles about education has done studies and shown it’s more effective… but I fail to see how you can spell out loud that way. In our house, we still call nouns nouns. We still call A… A. We don’t “dumb down” the terms because I’m positive the Beans have enough going on upstairs to get it and retain it. Oh, and of course I’ve introduced the Beans to Schoolhouse Rock. Because who can’t benefit from knowing what an adverb is as taught by Lolly, Lolly Sr., and Lolly III? So, for those who’ve never seen it, welcome to Schoolhouse Rock. And for those who’d forgotten, introduce your kids today!

Happy Parts of Speech!

“Teach them how to ask questions – because that’s how you learn.”

A good friend linked to this article on America’s new historically illiterate generation.  In some ways, I think it’s meant to be a wake-up call.  It should be.  One of my majors in college was History.  I loved the study of history.  And do you know why?  Well, there are several reasons.  As a fairly young child (I was an astonishingly precocious reader), my mother would always stop at the Historical Marker signposts long any US Highway we were on.  On each of our many, many road trips, we took scenic by-ways and stopped to read historic plaques about what had happened in this place or that.

We also went and visited the sights of Alabama’s history.  I loved Moundville, which features a Native American civilization that lived in Alabama.  I though that the First White House of the Confederacy was amazing.  It seems many people aren’t aware that Montgomery Alabama was the first capital of the secessionist states.  We used to visit the north Hull Street Historic District and my imagination was inspired by the dog trot house (there are rooms on either side of a breeze way in the center (you know where the dogs could trot).  These weren’t dead places that someone lived a long time ago.  They were windows into the past.  They were places that I could imagine.

I also loved to read books about historic figures.  Who didn’t love Little House on the Prairie?  Who didn’t want to be Laura Ingalls?  I sure hope the author of that one got it right, because it forms many of my memories and understanding of that time in history.  Learning about history was about meeting myself.  It was about seeing other times and places that I could have lived. It was about understanding that history wasn’t some long ago thing that happened in some far off place.  It happened right here.  Wherever you are, the place has a story.  And in that story, there was a character like you.  Someone that you can relate to and understand lived there.  I graduated to reading historical novels by the likes of Gore Vidal.  These days I’m taken by Phillippa Gregory and her ability to paint a picture of King Henry VIII and other royals of England.

I also learned from an amazing teacher.  She loved American history.  In particular, she loved the presidents.  She knew trivial facts about each president (like did you know that John Quincy Adams swam nude in the Potomac River every morning? Or how about that Garfield was shot in the White House by a deranged fellow who thought he was owed a job in the government?)  She brought the presidents to life, their oddball antics, their personalities.  She changed them from old, dead, white guys to people who had their own odd situations.  This one had a mentally ill wife, that one hated his successor, another told his White House staff to keep everything ready for him and he’d be back after four years (he was).  In short, she made them real.

When I saw the article noted above, I was saddened.  After all, if Americans don’t learn our history, who will?  Arabs learn their history (often by rote memorization and often with no connections to the events, but…).  They won’t learn America’s history.  Why should they.  I am sad to think that schools aren’t taking field trips to historical sites near them.  I would like for all Americans to visit Colonial Williamsburg and see history literally come to life.  History is a cornerstone in understanding ourselves.  We need to know where we’ve been.  That provide the platform and springboard to know where we can go.

And, one of the very best ways to learn about history – kind that you’ll actually remember – is to encourage questions.  It’s not to force-feed dates… very few of them will stick.  It’s to teach students to have an inquiring mind and want to know who, when, were, and how.  If all you are ever taught to do is take notes and then spit out what a professor or book said about someone at some time said, you will fail in applying anything you’ve learned about history.  To leave you with food for thought, one of my entry-level college History courses has this question on its mid-term exam: What was the most influential war in the 20th century and why.  Talk about a tough thing to answer.  But, what a great question that can result in so many amazing answers, all of them equally right.

Happy Markers!