Storyboarding and games
My son, has been asking us to tell stories about various characters he likes from TV or from video games. In recent months he's also been making up his own stories, so I've been helping him to record them in story board form. This story board is the latest evolution of a story he's telling about a character from a game on my T-Mobile Sidekick phone called Bob. Bob is a ball that bounces around from world to world trying to avoid sharp things that can pop him. His goal is to find his little girl friend.
It's a lot of fun for me to do this because it helps him visualize the stories he creates with his imagination. In the beginning he was asking us to tell him stories, but it's really nice to hear his stories, especially for the games. They're often very different, but simple worlds that would be fun to play if they were ever realized. He still does ask us to tell him stories, but somehow I find his to be much more exciting.
Story telling, game playing and literacy
We did a variation of this kind of story recording a few months ago where he would make up sentences and I would type them on my Mac. Then we would have the Mac speak the sentences for us. We mostly got to laugh at the way the computer spoke, but he also got to type letters. He's actually been able to type his name for a few months now. It's funny that the first time I saw him write a word was to type it rather than to write it. He does write letters on his Magnadoodle, but since games are his thing, it's not surprising that he learned to memorize words while playing a game.
Banner ads are good for something
Another interesting technology-related story has to do with how L is starting to recognize letter forms. Last summer he was picking out the word "pizza", I think because of the occurrence of the double z in the middle of the word. We had been playing a game by Living Books called "Arthur's Reading Race" and pizza comes up there often. But he had read it in another context, so I could only guess that he remembered it from that game.
Another funny example happened last week when we were in my home office. I had this screen up on my Mac because I was browsing Moviefone for movie listings in the neighborhood.
When he was playing he was looking at the screen and said, "That says, 'No'". I looked up to see the big word No in the banner ad on the right. I guess banner ads are good for something. I think that one is easy to recognize because on games you are presented with a dialog window asking you to answer yes or no.
The article e
Last funny tech-related reading bit is that inexplicably, L started substituting the letter E for the words A and The. So he'll say something like "here's e toy for you". Hearing "e" after all of the words, I feel like he would have been a good person to go to during those .com days, because he's come up with some interesting e words. Though, it seems nowadays, the only "e" brand that sticks in my mind is eBay. Anyway, that's enough for now.
Yesterday we were sitting on some steps eating a popsicle when Lorenzo noticed the FedEx logo on a truck across the street.
He remarked, "They look like they're dancing -- those letters -- because they're sticking together."
An interesting thing happened the other day that affirmed my belief that learning happens best when driven by self-interest, when it's self-initiated, and when it's allowed to happen wherever and whenever the interest strikes. I was out with my wife R, son L, and two of his friends J (5 years old) and K (3 1/2 y.o.), and their mom. We were at an Upper West Side pizzeria, winding down after a nice afternoon in one of the playgrounds in Central Park. What follows is a brief description of a learning experience out "in the wild".
While we were eating, J, asked if you could get drunk from root beer. I said, "No, but you could get very gassy and burp a lot." That seemed to be a funny idea, and K gave us a nice demonstration of burping on demand, with J giving the commands to burp. Boys are funny. Once the excitement of the belching show died down, J asked what happens when you get drunk. I told him that alcohol makes it hard for your body to react to things quickly and you can get pretty giddy. I had to then define giddy, of course. He said it makes you dizzy. My wife R added that some people might say or do things they normally wouldn't do.
After a moment, J asked again, "but what happens when you get drunk." I paused for a moment and then asked him, "do you want to know what happens to your body when you drink so much alcohol that you get drunk?" He said yes. He seemed really curious, so I said that I thought that the alcohol produced chemical changes in your body, which effected your ability to do some things. I said I wasn't sure what happened specifically, so I took out my SideKick and suggested that we find out. I Googled for these terms physical physiological chemical effect alcohol. Luckily this set of results had some relevant looking pages. We found a page titled Alcohol, Chemistry and You: Effects of Ethyl Alcohol on Organ Function on ChemCases.com, a site described as a web-based resource of curriculum supplements for teaching general chemistry. I started to skim the page to get an idea of what happens when alcohol enters the bloodstream. Luckily the page included lots of illustrations I could use to point out what we were learning. The boys don't read yet.
I was able to understand enough after a skim to provide some high-level explanation of what happens when alcohol enters the body. I told them that it was describing what happened when you drink alcohol. I said it enters the blood stream in the body and that the chemicals in the alcohol act as a depressant, which means that it slows down your ability to do certain things. Then I pointed out the pictures.
I said, "this picture shows you the brain and the different parts of the brain. The different parts sort of talk to each other. This part of the brain tells you what the eye sees. This part of the brain tells your body how to move. If you see something and pick it up, those two parts of the brain are talking to each other in a way. The way they do that is by sending messages back and forth through neurons, which are sort of like electrical wires connecting the different parts of the brain to each other and to the rest of the body. I pointed out the next couple of picture.
This picture is showing you how your brain might talk to your hand to say, I want to move this finger. The message passes through those neurons from the brain to your finger.
I then skimmed a bit more and told them that special fluids in your body are used to help the messages get around in the brain. These fluids are changed somehow when alcohol is in your body. It sometimes becomes harder for parts of the brain to get those messages because other chemicals in the alcohol slow things down. I asked J if he "got it". He looked a bit confused and said "no". Then he had a glimmer in his eye and said, "it's like when a car that moves fast, has to move slower and slower," while moving his hands in the air, imitating a car. "Yes!" I said. It's like that car, which may have had all green lights, suddenly has all yellow lights. It has to slow down when it comes to each intersection, and it takes longer to get where it needs to go.
Of course, this is a major simplification, but the point was to help him satisfy his initial curiousity at some level with a high-level understanding of the effect of alcohol on the body. I told him that a lot more things happened in the body, and that we couldn't find out about them all in the pizzeria -- while skimming my Sidekick, eating a slice and having my son hang off my arm wanting to play games -- but that he could find out more if he went with his mommy to find books about it at the library. I was trying with the limited resources I had at the time to explain very simply the idea of alcohol as a depressant and think I was on the right track. But the amazing thing that happened was that J used the analogy of the car to further both of our understandings of "what happens" and actively engaged in a really interesting and meaningful dialogue with me.
How exciting it is to engage in an educational dialogue like this, both of us learning for the first time about the effect of alcohol on the body. Of course, we only focussed on one aspect of alcohol -- we didn't talk about the disinhibitory function much -- but we got to start our surface skimming of the topic. If the question were raised by my son, L, I think we could spend more time "finding out" more if he was still interested. He's only 3 now, so it's unlikely that this topic would mean much to him, but any number of topics could go the same route, e.g. how do steam engines work would be a good one, because we play with trains a lot.
This is the beauty of a participatory, self-directed education that happens outside of a school. Some people call it home schooling, others who teach at home but don't follow the rigors of such things as a curriculum call it unschooling. I'm not crazy about labels. I don't know if I would call it unschooling. I might call it "Life Education" or something. "Life-based learning" perhaps?. The idea of being an anti-schooler seems funny to me, although I know I participate in something like this. I'm not so much voting FOR Kerry as I am AGAINST Bush. I'm an Anti-Bush-Voter. Whatever. The idea for me is that with or without school, learning happens in life as the interest strikes you. It happens when you're reading, visiting a museum, watching a movie, playing a videogame. It even happens when you're drinking root beer and eating pizza with friends. This is the kind of stuff that makes learning fun. Well, one of the things anyway. And it needn't happen in a school!
Lorenzo has been doing this thing where he picks up on pieces of conversations we have and repeats part of it. Yesterday Lorenzo overheard me saying, "I have my doubts" and then stated, "No, I have your doubts". Later he came up to me and grabbed at my belly, telling me, "I caught your doubts," as you would do when you grab at a child's face and say "I got your nose!" So we ran around, taking each other's doubts. If only it were that easy to get rid of one's doubts!
I recently read a passage on education referring to John Holt's ideas about parenting. I thought it might be a good idea to capture this quote, in which Holt says:
"If I had to make a general rule for living and working with children, it might be this: be wary of saying or doing anything to a child that you would not do to another adult, whose good opinion and affection you valued."
This is the golden rule of reciprocity applied to parenting. I wanted to quote the above because it continues the theme from the compassion entry I wrote last week. Once you hold to this belief, it becomes extremely difficult to justify any kind of coerciveness over behaviors that simply do not harm the child or another person.
Wayne Dunn's article on "progressive education" in the school systems discusses the origin and obsession of school educators with socialization as the primary goal of grade school education. Dunn writes, "the socialization mongers are busily sacrificing kids' minds for the sake of society." I cannot agree more with this. After spending a good deal of time reading through the arguments over home schooling in an Internet Infidels forum -- and finding great pleasure in the articulate postings of Lisa Pea (Elisabeth Higgins) -- I find myself more and more turned off with people citing socialization as the key benefit to conventional public schooling.
Dunn provides some background information on progressive education to help readers understand why and how educators have become obsessed with using this idea as the central focus of grade school education.
The shortage of factual content in public schools is no accident. It's a consequence of a doctrine of education teachers themselves learn in the universities, called "socialization."
The socialization approach, known by the innocuous title "Progressive education," has dominated the educational establishment ever since philosopher John Dewey ushered it in early last century. According to Dewey, the purpose of school is to encourage "the child's own social activities."
"The mere absorbing of facts and truths," Dewey maintained, "is so exclusively individual an affair that it...tends toward selfishness. There is no obvious social motive for...mere learning, there is no clear social gain in success thereat."
Imagine if Galileo had spurned the "mere" truths of astronomy in order to bow to his era's social standard, Church dogma.
I'm glad to finally know where this "socialization" idea as it refers to education comes from because it gets thrown around liberaly by people who argue that home schoolers will fail to benefit from the great socialization lessons learned in school. It's difficult to avoid the "What about socialization" question when you talk to someone about homeschooling. But, being people who favor ideas that are viewed as fringe, such as home schooling and even attachment parenting, we're used to these types of questions. The people who ask them, on the other hand, have read very little about what they question and, it appears, have thought just as little about the issues as well. Martha Ransom provides an interesting response to people who ask the question, "What about socialization?"
Oh, I think the word you are looking for is socializing. Socialization is actually defined as the process by which the norms and standards of our society are passed from one generation to the next. I've never really thought that a complete strangers six-year old child would be a good source of information on the correct standards of behavior in our family and in society as a whole.
Harsh! Not what I would choose to say. In general, I think, people refer to socialization as the process of learning to engage in social activities. Socializing is quite precise, but people refer to socialization as if it were meant to convey some different meaning. In the final analysis, I take the meaning of socialization to be teaching children for 12 or so years to conform rather than to be individuals.
Groups of people who riff on the socialization and education aspect of Dewey summon the "S word" in arguments about home schooling, calling it the key benefit of school and one of the main reasons why home schooling is a bad idea. Socialization is the most important aspect of education? Wow. I agree with those people who thought that learning would be the most important aspect of education. To prounounce the importance of only one aspect of childhood development, very often misses the fact that the imparting of knowledge to students is as important if not more important than learning to be socially adept. Why is it so difficult to try to take a holistic view of education and not deem one approach to learning as right and another wrong?
In the Internet Infidels thread, a few people have actually claimed to prefer to be socially adept and stupid than to be smart and socially inept. Wow! I find that sad. I personally don't see why one can't become both, especially as someone who lives in a busy and culturally diverse city that offers social opportunities every time we walk out our apartment door. But besides the fact that I refuse to generalize here about what works best for whom, I know that what some kids learn from school socializing is how to be treated like a social outcast, how to deal with cliques (avoiding them or trying to join them), and how to supress individuality to become more accepted. Some kids learn how to overpower others and use power to be cruel. Some kids experience this. Other kids escape unscathed and are able to survive the social life of school.
The thing that I find particularly irksome is that when people talk to you about school and you mention your interest in home schooling, without knowing your child and his needs, they are very often quick to try and pursuade you away from it because of this socialization issue. It's truly amazing, the amount of unsolicited advice you begin to get when you become a parent. Such generalizations with an ignorance to individual needs don't interest me, but a well-rounded education on my part of what our options are does. With every piece of literature or email discussion that I read that informs my growing capability to parent, I become more and more equipped to debate in public the ideas we are forming and the decisions we are trying to make to support our child without conforming to conventional practice.
(Thanks, Daryl Cobranchi for the link.)
Homeschooling parent, Sarah, reminds of a very important point when it comes to parenting:
You can't play games with readiness. That's been my one of my Most Important Parenting Lessons (and one which I, apparently, need to learn over and over again). Kids are, or are not, ready.
Readiness simply comes of its own accord. You can lay the foundation, but no game, no trick, no bribe can make an unready child ready. Those things are approaches or motivators; they don't flip the switch inside their brain, or body, or heart. They'll be ready when they're ready. And because we're impatient, or we believe we know better, or that we're more powerful/ influential than we are, we struggle to learn this lesson. But go ahead and learn it. You're ready.
This is another one of those key ideas in parenting that I always need reminding of and is also related to compassion and respect. Thankfully, Robin does a good job of reminding me. If you let your child lead, s/he will always be more comfortable with whatever it is that s/he is beginning to learn to do or undo. If *you* lead, there is always the possibility of unseen consequences or repurcussions. The above is also quite true with regard to readiness in adults.
I recently read a short interview with author and kirtan chanter Bhagavan Das, in which Das was quoted as saying, "The only religion is compassion". I like this quote because it cuts to the essence of what many religions are truly about in spirit, although, sadly, this is often lost in practice. Reacting to this interview, I started imagining what it would be like if the idea of compassion as the guiding principle could be applied to different belief systems. Religion seems like a good belief system to test, but more interesting to me would be to see how one could put to test the conventional Western parenting I experienced and still see children experiencing today. How does compassion figure into the belief system that guides our relationships with children? How does conventional Western parenting test against this principle?
One of the most important relationships I have where compassion plays a large part is with my son. In the playground recently I was watching my son approach another child that was crying, trying to console him. I said to my wife, "if compassion were the only religion, then maybe the best teachers would be children". At the moment I was thinking about how easy it can be for kids to openly express compassion. But, perhaps the main reason our son can be compassionate is because he's been treated respectfully and we've taken all of his emotional expressions seriously. I believe one of the biggest things I can do as a parent is to acknowledge the seriousness of every childhood drama and help our little one to talk through his feelings. By being compassionate towards him, we are helping him learn compassion by example and by experience. If all you have experienced is compassionate treatment, empathy and respect, then it is likely that you will treat others in this way. The same might be true on the opposite side of the coin. Treating children cruelly or being indifferent to their emotional needs may certainly lead to cruel behavior or an insensitivity to others' needs.
As people that were raised during a time when most conventional parenting seemed to consist of coerciveness (crying it out, etc.) and corporal punishment (spanking, time outs, etc.) in the guise of "doing what's best" and "not spoiling", my wife and I worked hard to talk about what we believe before our son was born and continue to refine these beliefs as we care for him. Our beliefs have been influenced by many writers, parents and communities whose ideas break cleanly with the practices used in the conventional Western parenting we grew up with. It's been important to us that we break the cycle of unfeeling, uncompassionate parenting that is still the convention today. Among the beliefs guiding the style of parenting we and many enlightened parents today espouse, compassion is one of the most important principles, with non-coercion and respect being some of the supporting practices.
So how can we put compassion to the test with regard to parenting philosophies? What if the book of conventional Western parenting wisdom were revised to only contain the word "Compassion". How would this type of parenting be affected? Well, perhaps you'd then have to throw out all coerciveness, all punishment, all manipulation of truth. Perhaps you'd have to begin treating children as respectfully as you treat other adults or as you would like to be treated yourself. And you may have to scrap that book of conventional Western parenting all together and start over, because compassion doesn't seem to be what guides a lot of its practices.
What I began to realize while caring for my son in this way was that much of the parenting style that I experienced and still witness has to do with making the lives of parents easier or with adhering to convention, rather than with taking seriously the feelings and needs of children. Realizing this, it is easy to say to one's self, "I'm going to be different and take what my child says seriously". But, in practice, it can be difficult. Maybe it will help to examine daily practice in compassionate reflection of your child's expressed needs while parenting and comparing these with your beliefs and common sense. This is something I need to do individually and with my wife to understand how we are doing.
We're used to being told all of the things we can and cannot do, but how often are these things driven by parents' or society's conventions rather than on acceptance of the expressed needs of the child? This is where compassion comes into play. There are so many times that I've had to go back and revise what I've said could or could not be done because, when I stop to question, "Why?" or "Why not?", the answer is almost always about me trying to fit us into society's mold rather than considering the acceptability of a situation and simply saying, "OK, why not? There's no reason you can't". After all, if a child really wants to, why can't he eat ice cream before dinner, or go outside without a coat on? Eventually their bodies will get hungry for better nourishment and will tell them when they're too cold. There are of course behaviors that we may have to coercively stop from time to time for the safety of our children, including stopping your when they're in imminent danger, e.g. when a child is runs into a street. Marshall Rosenberg talks a bit about the protective use of force in a chapter of his book "NonViolent Communication". Some of these issues should be obvious and is perhaps one of the few exceptions you might make with regard to coercion. But it's also important to be aware that situations that you may think are dangerous can be learning experiences that you can help your child with. For example, my wife's gotten good at helping our son climb onto her shoulders so that he stands on them like a little circus performer. This makes me nervous to no end, but when done safely, he gets to express his need to be physical, to have fun and maybe to get a different perspective.
I will admit that following through with a belief system based on compassion can be difficult in practice. It is difficult to break the cycle of even mildly coercive parenting styles. At times it is hard, and we often get judgement and unsolicited advice in the observation of our parenting style. But even in the face of this judgement, we continue to work at making our child's expression of his needs the important focus before considering anything anyone tells us. Even ideas that seem to be accepted truths can be broken down under scrutiny. So we scrutinize. When someone challenges us, because we've spent to much time looking closely at, researching and breaking down old ideas, we're more able to come back with a kindly worded, yet confident and educated retort. At other times, especially when confroted by unsolicited advice from strangers, we simply ignore the people, for their snap judgements and ignorance.
I think as long as compassion and the expressed needs of the child are always considered, you can't go wrong, and in the end parenting is a process -- an evolving learning experience that is particular to you and your child. But there is no reason to accept convention. We need to test conventions against common sense and to consider what the foundations for our beliefs are. The goal is providing a safe and supportive environment for your children that will help them to discover and express their needs, to become a naturally healthy child. Compassion provides one of the strongest components of your parenting foundation.
"Plick" is a cute computer mouse-related word that Lorenzo has been using. It's a combination of "pick" and "click", as in, "I'm going to plick this one". It's similar to "da-mee", another combination word he sometimes uses when he starts to say daddy, but is talking to mommy. He repeats it once he realizes the mistake, because he knows it makes us laugh.
An amusing thing happened when we had Lorenzo's 3rd birthday party this past weekend at Cafe Boo Bah in Boerum Hill (a great place for birthdays, by the way). Lorenzo walked up to the counter to ask for another piece of birthday cake. "Cake, please," he said as he "placed his order". The idea of him placing an order is funny in itself to me. I told him the woman had to cut a piece for him and he asked her, "It's loading...?".
This "It's loading?" question gets asked whenever something he asks for is "not ready yet". This is because of our son's exposure to all of the excellent Macromedia Flash games on the great kids' web sites. "It's loading..." is now how he refers to things that are being prepared or are not yet "Ready" yet. If you've seen any animation done with Macromedia Flash, you probably know that this is what you usually read onscreen as the animation intro gets loaded into the browser. So whenever Elmo is loading on pbskids.org, he asks if it's loading, we count the numbers going by on the screen, and then when Elmo appears, he exclaims, "It's ready!".
Kids these days. :)