I received my Bachelor of Arts in Literature and Philosophy from Michigan State University in 1990. Around that time I also had the good fortune of working at a child care center. The experience gave me the opportunity to observe the learning tendencies of a wide range of children during their formative years, and helped me to shape some ideas about child learning in general.
Shortly thereafter my wife and I started a family with a strong belief in the merits of learning through play. We placed a high value on quality playtime and simple, old fashioned games and activities. We weren’t reinventing the wheel—we just wanted to provide a wholesome learning environment where fun was a motivating factor, and where there was plenty of opportunity to explore and figure things out.
In the area of learning, one thing is certain. You cannot teach ability. You can teach information, but ability is something altogether different. Try teaching kindness, for example. Or patience, or courage. You can’t. These things aren’t made up of information. You are less of a teacher and more a guide in these matters. Your child becomes these things. She learns her ABC’s, but she becomes patient. The same holds true for learning ability. There’s no magic set of words that is going to make the difference. You have to be a good guide.
Why focus at all on learning ability? Certainly, you should put your child’s basic needs first. You know what those are. Now clear everything else away and ask—what does your child love? Sure as the sun is bright, your child loves to play. The best part about playing, the part that makes it fun, the reason your child loves it, is because she’s learning. She’s advancing her skills and understanding, and that’s fundamentally rewarding. So it’s no stretch to say that, from your child’s perspective, learning is the best part about playing. As evidence, just give your child something to play with that’s beneath her skill level. What will happen? She’ll be bored in an instant. She won’t want to play. Why? Because there’s nothing to learn. So now if you clear all the rubble away and ask, what does your child love?—The answer is: your child loves to learn.
I remember one time when our son was eight or nine years old, I was changing a light bulb in his ceiling fan (one of four was burned out). He was at his desk working on origami. I told him I needed to turn the lights off for a minute. When I finished replacing the bulb, I turned his lights back on and said, ‘There you go, pal—25% more light!’ A few seconds later he said, ‘1/3 more light.’ ‘How do you figure?’ I asked. He turned around and offered the following: ‘There were three bulbs working when you started,’ he said. ‘That’s three thirds. You added one bulb to make four thirds. That’s 1/3 more light.’
avecchioni (at) spaghettiboxkids.com
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