Friday, 15 July 2011

Learning with purpose

Perhaps the most concrete idea I've taken from these past weeks of reading is that learning should be done with a purpose. There's no point in just having someone memorize the facts of history without delving into how it relates to us, here and now. Otherwise, it's just another story, and very likely a fictional account would make a much more interesting read.

There is so much to learn out there, and it really can all relate back to life. Whenever I come up against something hard in motherhood, I like to remember that billions of women have done this before. While I may feel all alone in my uniqueness, odds are that sometime, somewhere, someone has been through this before. And all those experiences are captured in books, in a variety of subjects. History, geography, science, literature - everything I could possibly learn relates in some way to the world in which I live.

History is the most obvious, because humanity doesn't really change all that much. While I find it hard to imagine a full life out of a paragraph in a history book, I try really hard to picture those ancient characters doing something really ordinary, like needing to run to the bathroom really badly, or the delight of someone cooking their favourite meal, or a speck of dust getting stuck in their eye and trying to work it out. It helps me remember that even from this small paragraph, I can perhaps glean something from their experience that relates to mine.

Geography, well, land is land. This earth that I walk on has been walked on for thousands of years, by millions of feet. The same earth has yielded crops for millions of mouths. The varying landscapes rolled on before my eyes ever fell in love with them. Learning how this earth works helps me know what to wear for the weather today, and how to coax red peppers from the ground, and what's behind the hundreds of shades of green that I perceive.

Science is the basis of life around us. As I learn about my body, I can more readily prepare a diet that will make me feel great, and finally decipher the code to the perfect cleanser for my skin. As I learn about the properties of elements I could actually create my own baking recipes instead of just following others, or figure out how to tweak something that's nearly right so that I can achieve perfection.

Literature, music, art - these are the ways to tap into the soul. I read a book and feel as though I have made a new friend, both in the character and in the author. A book allows me to know someone so intimately, in a way you rarely get to know anyone in real life. A song can capture a life's worth of emotion in 3 minutes. A piece of art can freeze life indefinitely, let you live in a moment for as long as you like, because life never holds, even for a second.

All this is important to remember, because as I teach my children, I need to remember that the things they learn never need be disconnected information. They should be relatable to their lives, to themselves inside and out, to the world in which they live. Everything can open their eyes and increase their understanding. This is when education and learning is exciting! This is when a student drinks up knowledge as though they are parched. This is when they have a true desire to learn.

Have you ever noticed how much kids want to be like adults? Our life is so fascinating to them, and so often I find myself relegating them to playing. "Go play in the other room," I urge, so that I can get something done, something adult, something boring. But perhaps it wouldn't be all that boring to them. Maybe cooking dinner looks so fascinating, they would eagerly figure out fractions in order to bake the pie. Maybe sorting laundry would finally help them understand fashion, and what goes together and what doesn't. Maybe turning the dial on the sprinkler will show them how gears work. Why do we so desperately want our children to be children, when they so desperately want to be more adult? We spend all these years telling them to run and play, and then wonder about the phenomenon of 30 year olds still living in their parents' basement.

I tried for months to teach Caleb his alphabet with no response. Then one day I caught him reading the letters off of a cereal box. Sitting in front of a worksheet had absolutely no relevance to him or his world. But those honeycombs sure are awesome, and honeycombs has an H-O-N-E-Y-C-O-M-B-S in it.

I'm going to try to look for more natural ways my kids can learn all these subjects I want them to. Because I don't want them to just rattle off rote memorization. I want them to see that everything out there is relevant in one way or another. I want them to relate to life and learning.

1 comment:

Mom said...

I feel the same way about education - it's great to know details, but if you can't apply it, what's the point. It's like reading - if you can decode the letters/words, that's great, but if you can't understand what you are reading, you aren't going to get anything out of what you have 'read'. I used to have parents saying to me "but my child can read" and I used to tell them that decoding was only worth about 10% of the reading mark - comprehension was worth 90%. Some couldn't understand that because they felt that since their child could 'read' the words, that was reading. When I read a book to the children, I like for them to try and relate it to themselves (not all books, though - sometimes, I read to them just for enjoyment). But when I am trying to help them learn something, I will ask them questions to help them try to relate the story to their own lives. I did that this week and even the kindergarten children can do this. It's exciting when I see children learning through my guidance.

I also love the way you treat your boys like 'people' - when they ask a question, you don't try to slough them off like they wouldn't be able to understand. Rather, you try to explain it to them in words they can understand - or give them experiences which will help them understand. Dad and I tried to do that with you girls as you were growing up because we wanted to help you learn.