October 2011

Red Mustang Convertible

Red Ford MustangWhen my oldest son was a baby, we would watch for Daddy to come home. We live on a busy street, so as we watched for Daddy, we would watch the vehicles go by. I would name the color and type of vehicles that passed by, such as red car or grey SUV. Being a boy, my son loved this game. We played it almost every day. By the time my son could talk, he was naming the color and type of vehicles that we saw. I believe that he knew his colors even before he could talk because of this daily game we played.

As my son grew older, the game evolved into more complicated descriptions. Instead of red car, it became red mustang convertible with a black top. At times we have added location or direction like yellow school bus by the stop light or white pickup truck going east. I believe that as this game evolved, it not only helped him learn his colors, but also develop his language.

I have played this same game with all of my children at their different levels. Now, my oldest sons play it with their younger siblings. They all love it! Even my 5 month old daughter loves to watch the cars go by and hear me talk to her. As she grows, I’m sure she too will learn her colors the same way her oldest brothers have.

What fun educational games have you invented for your children?


A Different Kind of Learning Opportunity - They’re Still Learning

When an electronic item breaks in our house, I sometimes let the kids take it apart to learn from it before I throw it away or salvage it. They love to take things apart, see what’s inside and find out how things works. I must admit, I am blessed, my children love to learn.

The case on my son’s dynamo flashlight broke beyond repair and the crank no longer worked. So, I loosened the screws holding it together to get them started and then gave them a screwdriver and told them they could take it apart. They were quite happy about this and got right to work.

Crank FlashlightAs usual, I walked away to let them learn and discover on their own and then came back to check on them in about five minutes. I noticed one of them coming back to the table with a hammer. I was a bit surprised (mostly that they had gotten it so quietly by themselves). As any mother would do, I asked what they were planning on doing with the hammer. Their plan was to smash the flashlight with the hammer to see what would happen. My first thought was “No, that’s not how you learn!” Instead of saying what I was initially thinking, I realized that they haven’t really ever had the opportunity to smash something with a hammer before. They are boys and should be allowed to smash things once in a while just for fun since it is a part of the way God created them.

So as painful as it was for me to allow them to make such a mess, I told them “Yes” they may smash it, though first they must move it to a box on the front porch (to contain the debris and prevent damage to my table). I helped them move the flashlight, went over a few use and safety guidelines of hammers with them, and then let them commence with their plan.

They took turns jubilantly smashing the flashlight with the hammer for a while. After the case of the flashlight was smashed to bits, they played with the circuit board inside. Moments later, they excitedly came running to me to show me that they had figured out how to crank the flashlight and it was now working! Seeing as it wouldn’t crank before, this was quite the accomplishment! I took a few minutes to point out some of the different parts of the now working flashlight circuit board before they went back to play with it some more feeling quite proud of their accomplishment.

It amazes me sometimes how much children can learn from what seems like a silly experiment. My children were going to smash a flashlight with a hammer-not much of a science experiment. Yet, they learned so much because I was willing to let them try their own experiment their way. Learning may not always take the form that I expect. I will try to remember this in the future and consider objectively when they come to me with an unusual plan.

Please share an example of how your children have learned in an unusual way.

Enough Pumpkins Already! You don't have to do every page in the book!

My son asked if he had to color something in his math book and it reminded me of one of my earliest memories of being homeschooled. I had to color and cut out pumpkin after pumpkin after pumpkin. I hated coloring and cutting out things. I knew how to do it and was so bored. I didn’t understand why I had to color and cut out so many pumpkins. I wanted to do the ‘fun stuff’ (though I don’t remember what the fun stuff was) that my older siblings were doing.

PumpkinI asked my mom years later why she made me color and cut out things so much. Though I was obedient, it was obvious that I hadn’t enjoyed it. Her response was that she thought it was excessive too at the time, but since it was in the book, she assumed there must be a reason for it.

I’ve heard this view-point from others as well. I have no doubt that the people who design text books do so with a lot of thought and truly try to design the best book they can. However, as my children’s teacher, I feel the best designed book, may not necessarily be the best for my children.

I try to remember my experience with the pumpkins when I’m working with my children. I try to adapt the material to best fit my individual child and think about why he is doing it. Not just do it because the book says so. If there is something that he knows well and doesn’t like to do repetitively, I ask myself if he really needs to do it and what he is supposed to be learning from it. It may be something that he already knows. If that’s the case, I may choose to skip it or only do part of it. For example he may be really good at coloring and cutting pumpkins (he must take after me), so I may have him only do 2 pumpkins today or skip that section all together. Of course I want him to occasionally color and cut even if he knows how, so he continues to improve his skills and for obedience just because I said so. I am the teacher and parent and it’s important that he follows my directions whether he likes what he’s working on or not. We’ve all experienced this in our work-lives, children may as well get prepared for it.

I like this method because it gives me more time to work with my children on the stuff that they either need my help on or the fun stuff that they want to do. How much better would my pumpkin experience have been, if my mother had let me work on something that was of interest to me instead of repetitively coloring and cutting pumpkin after pumpkin.

Certainly not all of my childhood experiences were like this one. I have many good memories of being homeschooled. I also believe that my mother did the best she could and I don’t fault her for making me color and cut out pumpkins. We are very blessed to live in this time when there is support for homeschooling. My parents didn’t have that experience and had to figure it out on their own.

Help others out by sharing something you have learned as a teacher from an early school memory of your own.