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.