Monday, April 6, 2009

Another Subject Better Played Than Taught

We are unschoolers, or as Jena says, interest-led learners. This means that our kids learn about what they want to know, and they learn with all of their senses and through lots and lots of play.

Luke bounces back and forth among a few favorite subjects, right now primarily dinosaurs and dragons. He reads almost unceasingly, non-fiction for the dinos, and stories (such as Eragon or Dragon Slayer's Academy books) for the dragons, and he visits web sites to play dinosaur trivia games, watch Walking With Dinosaurs, and find out where dragon sightings have happened all over the globe. He sketches elaborate dragons while out in the woods, 'playing' at observing dragon behavior behind our house, and even uses his math skills to figure out how many weeks he'll need to save up for new favorite books about dragons and dinosaurs.

My point is, all the work that 8 year-olds need to do - reading, writing, thinking, mathematics - happens naturally in their play. And from everything I've read about interest-led learning, this continues as kids get older; the play may change a bit, becoming more abstract and about more sophisticated topics, but it's still play at heart. After all, if you really love your job, is it work or play?

Today, I read this article from yesterday's Boston Sunday Globe, about 'teaching' emotional intelligence. A growing number of educators and psychologists, worried that schoolchildren lack this type of intelligence, are calling for schools to adopt a curriculum that will overtly teach it, as the article's author writes, "just like trigonometry or French grammar."

Well, I just spluttered. And then ranted, when I read about the types of lessons planned: identifying different emotions on the faces of children in pictures, for example. Why, I wondered, don't they let the kids play a little more? Then the kids would see 'expressions' on the faces of their friends, and perhaps figure out ways to resolve conflicts - a stated goal of emotional intelligence proponents - based on their interactions during play, too.

Luke got involved in the discussion over breakfast this morning. I expressed my disdain for the idea that emotional intelligence should be taught this way - how do you grade somebody's knowledge of emotional intelligence? what would this standardized test look like? why, why do educators so like to break everything into little lessons, why do they think that's the best way to learn everything (or, for that matter, anything?) Would they use the Saturday Night Live skit about the sarcastic clapping family to teach sarcasm?...

While I ranted away, Luke wondered, why was I smiling? That question stopped me cold. I answered that it was because I was angry about the absurdity of this idea, and that combined with my anger was a feeling of (I don't know if this is a word even, but it made sense at the time) bemusedness.

I told him that my smile was a cynical one, too, because the idea of teaching all children emotional intelligence through a curriculum instead of firsthand, through interactions with others in which emotion is bound to play a part, is one that could only have been invented here - in the country that doesn't believe in down-time or recess for schoolchildren.

I thought it was so interesting that during our talk about emotional intelligence Luke wondered why the expression on my face didn't match the tone of voice coming from my mouth. And because he is attuned to emotions and a verbal kid, he's capable of forming this question and then understanding the answer. (Yes, he'd get an 'A' in Emotional Intelligence :-)

Luke's questioning, and then understanding, represented a teachable moment which any canned curriculum about emotional intelligence is bound to miss. They'll be too busy grading the children on how well they remembered the sequence of facial expressions to address questions that stray from the curriculum.

And that's a shame, because children really do need to hone their emotional intelligence; they need to cajole, question, tease, debate, laugh, and sometimes even fight.

In short, they need to play.


sgaissert said...

Amen! Let the kids play! : ) Sometimes when I think about the fact that people get paid to write lesson plans about "identifying different emotions on the faces of children in pictures," it just blows my mind.

The Stone Age Techie said...

It blows my mind, too :-)

Dana @ Our Sunny Side said...

It's hard to imagine what a curriculum for emotional intelligence would even look like. It seems so natural and a part of every storybook written 'how does Charlotte feel when Wilbur is taken to her Uncle's farm' (Charlotte's Web), 'how does Thomas feel when Percy comes to help him' (Thomas the Tank Engine). To me those questions are just begged to be answered as a part of reading or listening comprehension.

The school system has one thing correct...this is a problem.

Thanks for giving me something to chew on today! ;-)

Jena said...

Very nice. Education gone mechanical again. :) Identify the emoticon. Smile. A+

How about this one :P (Peter's favorite)

Or this one >:(

I'm going to start writing a curriculum. ;)

The Stone Age Techie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Stone Age Techie said...

You're right, Dana, Emotional Intelligence comes up all the time while reading books!

You should combine your idea with Jena's Emoticon Curriculum, you two could make a fortune :-)


Mister Dad said...

wow... you know it's a crazy Monday when you just get around to your stuff-- like catching up on buddies' blogs-- on Friday.

before unschooling, we did the public thang. my job then was lunchroom and playground guy. all the stuff kids learned in those two "classes" was amazing! little else seemed to stick. ergo: we play a ton!

my favorite moment last week was looking out the window at my 9 and 10 yr old sitting on the sidewalk just "hangin' out and chattin'."

some of the best authors of kids' stories-- guys like Lewis, Dahl, Scieszka, "Snickett" and the such-- understand this concept of how kids "get it." they observe and learn and LIVE so naturally. it inspires me...

The Stone Age Techie said...

Mister Dad, having spent this weekend with rels who question how children learn anything without being 'taught,' it was a breath of fresh air to read your comment...

I wish I could print out what you, and Jena, and Dana, and S, and Topsy... and so many others write, and have it in a handy little book when I need your collected wisdom!

I might actually just do that -

Cerie said...

Like som any other things, emotional intelligence is something that takes practice, something that home-schooled children have time for! They learn it when they have a conflict between themselves and either work it out or have a grown-ups help if needed. Something schooled kids could have, if there was higher ratio of caring adults to children--not happening!