Grabbing their attention

The best learning happens when kids are thoroughly enjoying themselves. Sometimes it is a quiet enjoyment, full of focus and intensity. Other times, it is loud and boisterous and full of laughter. Both ways are good. Both ways are important. I posted a few weeks ago about the impressive amount of concentration K and B showed while sewing (read it here) and how significant it was to their learning process.

Sewing was definitely a Type 1 sort of enjoyment. The were quiet and absorbed for hours on end, day after day, as they tried their hand at a variety of hand sewing techniques. I was remarkably uninvolved in the process – it was all about experimenting and discovering, and not at all a parent-led activity. In fact, my role in the whole thing was that of an observer, peeking over their shoulders to see what they were doing. Only rarely did they come to me for advice or assistance, preferring instead to figure it out for themselves. There was a whole lot of learning going on, but very little teaching.

The week of sewing didn’t come from a void. They’ve been explicitly taught the various bits and pieces of sewing from the time they were very young. What the week of sewing did was allow them to take all the pieces they had learned before and play with them. Experiment. Try. And fail. Failure is, after all, an essential component of figuring things out.

What remains a mystery to me is why now? What was it that grabbed their attention now, and not one of the dozens of times previously that we’ve tried sewing together? What was it that kept their attention for more than a week straight? I have no idea. I suspect that I never will.

By times, the source of their fascination is very obvious, and their enjoyment loud and crazy and full of exuberance. Often times, those moments of noisy participation are triggered by someone else – a friend, a teacher, or a tv show. I have come to believe that, in those crazy, silly moments that capture our attention, it is the enjoyment itself that is the mechanism of fascination. That these activities may not hold enough fascination on their own but, with a talented guide who can inject a little silliness, the moment suddenly takes on much more significance than it ordinarily would.

Take this teacher, for instance. All he needs to say is “Have a great break. Class dismissed.” And yet, he doesn’t. Or rather, he doesn’t just say that. Instead, he carefully crafted a moment of pure silliness that had his students roaring with laughter, and probably smiling so hard their cheeks ached. He made “Class dismissed” into something absolutely memorable.

Watch it. Laugh. You will, trust me. You won’t be able to help yourself. I couldn’t. 🙂

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