Thursday, April 5, 2012

How to learn something new?

How to stretch a kid? 
How to get them out of their "stuck" position and move them into learning?

     On my mind, actively, this spring break, is my son who is a junior in high school.  A year from now, we hope he is opening up college acceptances....  We know he is interested in college, but in a very passive, third child, calm way.  He is an easy-going, happy kid.  Not particularly charged about any one topic – likes building and creating (engineering?), enjoys his high school law and forensic science classes (criminology?)  He is young, a late June birth, meaning he has always been one of the youngest in his class...truly I wonder if he just needs a year off, a “gap”  year...he is uncertain. He watched and listened to the "buzz" around the his older brothers going to college, going to law school; my new job; Dad’s new job; and he just slips away, to play games, use the computer, hang with friends.  He is happy being in the background, perfectly content to let his family dig deep into their pursuits.

How to introduce some forward thinking?  
How to take him further is his pursuits, in his interests?

     On my mind, passively, this spring break, are my preschool "race car drivers."  I have several students who race cars every day, every day, every day.  They are easy-going, happy kids.  Sure, with their classmates, they read great books, create exciting engineering projects, explore puppets, nature, math, on and on.  But, every day, as soon as they can, they slip away and return to cars - talking about them, building garages and roads for them, and racing them.  They are happy being in the background, perfectly content to let their classmates get deep into other topics. For them, it's all about cars.

How to introduce some literacy, some math, some critical thinking into their play? 
How to take them further in their pursuits, in their interests?

     Here we are, on a spring break college tour with our junior ... we are “putting out a carrot,” trying to whet his appetite, increase his desire, draw him in.   He hasn’t sought to know more about college; as of yet, he’s not owning this pursuit.  We challenged him to name four colleges about 2- 3 hours away, perhaps places we didn’t visit with his older brothers, "let's make it a mini-vacation."   We turned the spotlight on him.  In the end, we chose the four colleges, colleges that we have heard positive things about, and we planned a get-away for spring break, scooping him up, immersing him in the topic of going to college - seeing, doing, hearing.  He visited Admissions Offices, walked campuses, sat in quads, soaked up the college atmosphere.  Saturation, immersion, cultivation.

     And here I am planning a new dramatic play center for my "peripheral" learners – the ones who engage briefly in our projects and then take off to race cars.  Let’s turn the spotlight on them. I’m thinking “Auto Repair,” a center where I might have lots and lots of old, broken toy cars for painting and detailing (every car will need a race number!).  Maybe we could have a car washing area, with rags for scrubbing or waxing? Perhaps we could build a “race course” – a place to test out our repaired cars?  (Maybe one of the older elementary students could help us.)  We could have small writing pads for writing up repair bills.  We could have mechanics tools.  It would be fun to decorate the area with old license plates, maybe a hub cap or two? Could we create one large cardboard box car, for children to go in and out of? Perhaps we could create a ramp for cars (not balls) and do timed runs?  Measure distances?  

     Our family keeps talking about college. We built a trip to cultivate interest in college.

      I think the college trip has made our junior feel very special.  More importantly, it has made college more "real" for him.  He sees that his parents are interested.  He is excited about possibilities.  He is making comments, asking questions: 

I’m not sure I want to be at some place so small.
This place is cool – the downtown is fun, the campus – I like it.
Mom, did you hear that they have a major that combines Engineering with Liberal Arts – you can get two B.A.s in the 5 year plan?
Where is the main part of this campus?  It is so big.
I wonder how diverse this campus is?

     His process of discernment begins.  If, over time, it is becomes apparent that he isn’t interested in - or ready for - college right now, we’ll regroup, refine, re-plan.

     The preschoolers keep talking about cars.  Let's build a dramatic play corner to cultivate this topic.

     I think this dramatic play corner will make these preschoolers feel very special.  Using their own interests as a starting point, they will be working on literacy and math.  If it turns out that the children aren’t really interested in the new "auto repair" area, we’ll know it soon – when we see them spend time elsewhere.  And we’ll refine, regroup, re-plan.

     This is "emergent" learning...the topic is "of" them; our role as teachers (parents) is to nurture and encourage the topic; the children must participate for the subject to grow...and it may all fizzle out and we'll move on to something else.

With children of all ages, 
we simply:

need to provoke,
need to stimulate,
catch them thinking,
get ‘em thinking!

It can seem light, cursory, even extravagant.
Why put a child’s interests above your own?

To see where it leads,
see if there is a spark.

How do you learn more about something?
How do you learn something new?


  1. Hi Maureen, I'm late reading & commenting-a very busy day! I love your post & it spoke to me very much. If you had been reading my posts longer you would know that I teach at an independent school whose total curriculum is based on choice of individual topic, which the core teachers & every other position in the school supports in various ways. It is a super school & you just described much of our philosophy: if it doesn't come from the child's choice of topic & further exploration, it won't 'go'. They are the drivers; we are the rest of the vehicle. Thanks very much for this-does my heart good!

  2. Linda, your school sounds very, very special, indeed! Thank you for commenting!

  3. Your post reminds me of my own thinking about my students who seem to have "one track" play and you've provided some inspiration for my Tuesday slice.