I’ve been a bad blogger. A very bad blogger. I haven’t posted anything since… wait… What!?! Seriously??? October 22nd?!? Oh dear. But you see, my fingers have been oh so very busy in the evenings… too busy for blogging, it turns out! But as my fingers have been busy doing the things that make life so fun, I refuse to apologize. Life is for living, after all, and living has been happening in spades these past two weeks.
First, some news: my copy of Hoopla made it into my eager little hands and I just had to spend a day or three devouring it. It is absolutely beautiful, and contains some truly amazing projects. I am astonished that little old me is keeping company with the truly fabulous stitching talent to be found in the book. My three embroidery pieces were photographed in Vancouver’s beautiful Stanley Park and I couldn’t be more pleased with how the photos turned out, but I’ll post more about that tomorrow, and show you some pics of my little contribution to the book. For now, you’ll have to settle for a little sneak peek:
There’s been a lot of living and doing and learning going on around here, and the last week of October was full of all sorts of spooky fun, science, and a lot of math, too. Wait, what? Math?
Yes, you read that right. We’ve acquired a new set of math textbooks called Life of Fred. Fred is hilariously funny. He teaches math in the most wonderfully absurd and yet somehow completely practical way. In fact, Fred is so absolutely hilariously funny that B worked her way through 8 chapters of Apples (the first elementary-level book) in a single evening. And then she did some more the next night. And the next. She’s now on to book two, Butterflies, and is flying through it at rapid speed. At this rate, she’ll be ready for algebra next week and calculus by Christmas, and K racing right along with her. Yesterday morning around 6:30 a.m., they were having a convoluted discussion about sets and set theory and whether or not they could make a set out of their breakfast cereal. (They could. Just in case you’re curious. I think I’m going to need to brush up on my own math skills just to keep up with them!)
Just to shake things up a little, we did another science kit from The Young Scientists Club, and this one involved building our own metric spring scale out of a shoe box, two paperclips, and elastic string. It was awesome fun, and they weighed all sorts of things. Once they bored of it, I pulled out a real spring scale (I cheated – it comes in the next kit but since I’d read ahead to prepare, I knew it was there) and they got busy and weighed everything all over again with the official spring scale to check how accurate their home made one was.
This entire experiment just served to reinforce for me the need to have kids learn things from scratch, one baby step at a time. How they need to get their hands right into the learning. And how the learning has to be broken down into pieces that are just the right size to make them really, really think.
Had I simply handed them a commercial spring scale, explained how it worked, and asked them to weigh things, the activity would have lasted 10 minutes tops and been punctuated with lots of “I’m bored!” and “Do I have to?” and “When’s lunch?” Instead, it was an entire morning of trying things out, adjusting, fixing, frowning, pondering, testing, and trying again. It involved some frustration, to be sure. Some confusion. Some experimentation. It also involved a pinched finger, and a frustrated pair of hands trying to get a little bowl to hang level from a stretchy string.
But those little hands learned, bit by bit, and slowly it came together. This success was followed by checks and double checks, and then cheering and laughing and “Dad! Come see what we built all by ourselves!” It was accessible science at its best. Just like the ping-pong robot, there was genuine authenticity in the learning process.
It occurred to me afterwards that the thing I liked most about the Young Scientist Club and Life of Fred (and to a slightly lesser extent, Jump Math) is the ease with which they integrate authentic learning into their process. Each step is taken, one tiny bit at a time, and in a way that is completely accessible to kids of all ages. If I hand you a spring scale and ask you to explain it, it is complicated. If I instead explain the principles behind a spring, talk about how heavy things stretch the spring farther than light things, then let you build a contraption that does exactly what I’ve been talking about… you are invested in your own learning. You aren’t learning by being programmed like a computer. You are learning by absorbing and thinking and questioning and examining and feeling and touching and trying and making mistakes and finding solutions.
When we tape a ruler beside our homemade spring scale and start comparing objects, and then make our own “ruler” using known weights and a blank card, you understand in a truly visceral way why there are little lines with numbers beside them on the side of a spring scale. What’s more, you truly understand what those numbers represent. You’ve held a single gram weight in your hand. You’ve held a fistful of ten grams. And you’ve carefully weighed them in both your own hands and using your scale.
What’s more, if you don’t understand it right away, because it is made of a shoebox and paperclips and a bit of stretchy string, you aren’t afraid to question what is really happening. To test it. To try things out. To experiment. To strive for understanding, not because I told you that you must understand this, but because you genuinely want to know. And because you can look at this thing, this ungainly beast that is a surprisingly accurate measuring tool, and say “That’s mine. I built that!”
And when The Man We Call Dad raises his eyebrows and tilts his head sideways in an attempt to figure out what, exactly, you are so very proud of, you aren’t afraid to say out loud: “Want to know how it works?” and just that quickly your fingers are full of gram weights and other little objects as you set about teaching everything you just learned to someone new.
Busy fingers are often a sign of busy minds. We like busy fingers around here.