Wednesday, January 27, 2016

How to kill your child's love of learning

Hobo Mama wants you to know she's a professional blogger! Look at how professional she's being!

You want your kids to enter into learning
because they want to,
not because they have to.
Quiz them on a topic.

Make a lesson out of it.

Tell them what they should know about it, and make them present what you deem as important, in a format you consider appropriate.

Mikko's been watching some Wild Kratts episodes lately and inserting random factoids into everyday conversations. (Did you know hummingbirds beat their wings in a figure-8? Now you do.)

One in particular on "The Gecko Effect" struck a chord, and Mikko decided he needed a pet that could walk up walls. We started researching together on YouTube about what lizards make good pets, what kinds of geckos are best for kids (with younger siblings & kitties) to keep, and what gecko care entails. We went to the pet store to talk with a worker there about what gear is necessary and price it out, and we got to hold a crested gecko (eep!). We browsed the local shelter's adoptable lizards to get an idea of what rescues are available.

Mikko's learned the differences between leopard geckos, crested geckos, and tokay geckos, and how geckos differ from bearded dragons, iguanas, and chameleons. He likes the climbing ability of the tokay and crested, the ability to regenerate a lost tail of the leopard and tokay, and the ease of care of the crested. He's nearly decided on getting a crested gecko once he's saved up his allowance, but he's trying to decide if a potential lost tail is a deal breaker. ("Mama, you're a master sewer — can you sew the tail back on?")

He knows so much about geckos now — their habitat, their origin story, their endangered status, their classification and cold-bloodedness, how some of them lick their eyes clean since they don't have eyelids, how the hairs on their foot pads enable them to climb straight up flat surfaces despite not being sticky or shaped like suction cups.

What I could have done to ruin his enthusiasm is this: I could have insisted he watch a particular video and take notes. I could have assigned him a book to read. I could have told him to take his knowledge and make a diorama and write a report. I could have quizzed him on arcane facts and marked him down if he forgot something he had deemed irrelevant. I could have cut him off if he asked questions that weren't in my plans. He could have learned just enough to complete the project and pass the quiz and then forgotten it all again.

Instead, I'm just letting him absorb it all. He's asking questions, discovering the answers (with my facilitation but not my agenda), and crafting his own priorities.

Here is the face of a child telling me what he knows about geckos:

Unfettered, unprompted, excitedly teaching me in turn what he has learned.

Here is the face of a child telling me what he knows about Power Rangers:

He doesn't need a Power Rangers quiz or book report. He's just taking it in and proving he knows it by giving it back out. With the joy of a natural learner, he assumes that everyone wants to learn something new.
Alrik took it upon himself to practice numbers & letters in a drawing app on my phone called KidsDoodle. I could have made it a task he had to complete and insisted he got them all "right" (like that backwards 7 at the bottom there). But he's been pushing himself really hard the past few weeks to learn how to recognize and draw numerals, and he comes up with play-based ways like this to help himself practice and master them. He's also been playing Go Fish and other card games.

This isn't me saying I get this right all the time. This isn't me saying I never make learning into a chore or a task to be completed on my terms. This is me reminding myself that even when I step out of the way — especially when I step out of the way — learning happens. And it happens in a joyful, natural, organic way that sparks curiosity and stays with the learner far longer than if it had been forced because of a curricular need or a parental worry.

To demonstrate, here are a few fun facts about geckos Mikko has passed along to me. If I get any wrong, count that as my fault as a student, not his as a teacher.
  • Leopard geckos do have eyelids, but most geckos don't, which is why geckos lick their own eyes. Mikko thinks this is an endearing feature.
  • Leopard geckos are good climbers but not of flat surfaces, because they lack the right kind of paws. Crested geckos climb, climb, climb straight up walls. Cool! I think our cats will think so, too, so we have to keep them carefully separated.
  • Tokay geckos are bigger, tend to bite, and are wary of human interaction. Probably not the best pet for young children!
  • Leopard geckos demonstrate their health through big fat tails.
  • Geckos are nocturnal. Since Mikko is, too, this works out.
  • Geckos are surprisingly light and soft (says the woman who has now held one!). But: They do like to jump, which can be quite startling. (Ask Karsten….)
  • In the wild, geckos eat insects and fruit, and many pet lizards must eat live (moving around!) insects, such as crickets and mealworms. Crested geckos can make do with a lizard chow powder that the pet store sells. This is a point in the cresties' favor, methinks.
  • Geckos don't eat every day. How dainty!
  • Geckos tend to drink drops of water off the plants in their enclosure or dripping off the sides. You have to spray their cage down twice a day to keep it nice and humid.
Pretty cool, right? 

Don't worry — I won't quiz you on any of that. Take what you like, investigate further if it interests you, and learn what you want to know. And marvel as your kids enjoy that same journey of discovery!


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