Monday, January 24, 2011

Sweet Child, Teacher O’ Mine

Guest post by Jacob Gutnicki

As a parent, I often like to ask my child, “so what did you do in school today?” Depending on his mood, the answer will vary from the “nothing” answer to “science” or perhaps “I did music”. In short, it is an answer with not many details. At first, I wondered why he would not divulge the details of his day. In time, this mystery unveiled itself.

As expected, there have been many times he would share with me what occurred in school. Often it would involve an exciting trip, an educational video, a computer game, as well as other items. In each instance he would voluntarily provide details about the experience. I know that his favorite Sponge Bob episodes involve a roller coaster, a time machine, and karate. On a similar note, my son will elaborate without fail how to use various computer applications. For example, my son has explained to me what strategies he employs to succeed in Toon Town; a web based virtual town.

In time I noticed that my son consistently discusses in great detail his favorite television show, movie, toys, and computer games. For example, I can ask him deep probing questions, which demonstrate a sophisticated understanding of fantasy and non-fiction, scientific and historic facts, problem solving, as well as other academic disciplines. Being an inquisitive fellow, I began to compare and contrast his various responses to my questions, and a revelation hit me like a ton of bricks. The reason he often does not discuss school events can be summed up with one word. Boredom. After all, who wants to discuss math problems when that time can be spent designing video games or other child based interests.

As I thought of this revelation deeper, I realized that his passions and interests are an excellent springboard to further enhancing his thinking skills and creative spark. To be clear, I have always understood the importance of “passion based” education. However, despite this truism, every time I witness a spark that motivates my child, it gives me a far deeper understanding of how critical it is to always teach children through their interests.

A few years ago I witnessed first hand how my child’s vocabulary and comprehension of every day occurrences expanded vastly through watching Sponge Bob. Similarly, he is acquiring new language and content skills from a variety of media sources. For example, the other day he told me that he learned a new expression while watching Sid the Science Kid. He now uses the phrase, “Ask away.” More importantly, he is learning a wide variety of science skills through this program.

Nowadays my son discusses his day with me in much greater detail. He tells me what he likes and dislikes about school. Through observation, I have learned what truly motivates him and helps him learn. In effect, he has helped me develop a far deeper understanding of what matters to children. For this reason, I am more likely to ask him about the characters he interfaces with when playing Jump Start, how a movie should have ended, or if he would like to build a Lego Robot?

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