“The Game” is like a puzzle piece. What game am I talking about? Learning, of course.
I’ve noticed that learning in a traditional school setting can seem disjointed and confusing for many kids-one of the reasons we decided to “homeschool” (I really hate this word as it doesn’t accurately describe our existence) was because of this realization. Kids can’t see how what they are reciting is relative to them or how to apply the knowledge with all its projects/activities/assessments in their real world.
Disclaimer: I am not suggesting public school is inferior as an entity-there might very well come a time when I send my own children. I am referring to schools which employ old instructional methods that have recently been challenged as effective such as direct instruction, historical fact-based teaching, and behaviorist-modeled environments.
Anywho, with that in mind, how can learning be made more effective? (hint: joy and inspiration). Can we tailor learning to the child and his/her world by making it a game or will that damage the message of its importance? Can making learning fun demean the weight? In short, is there a way to make learning enjoyable-a hobby or past-time an endeavor worthy of pursuit for sheer joy, yet appreciate the gravity of the situation when we fail and stagnate? I think there is and I believe having this attitude affects how we teach and learn.
My take: when people, young and old, view learning as fun and absolutely critical, they are able to learn more (higher volume) and learn better; that is, they develop skills necessary for higher order thinking. We begin, through motivation, to pay attention to all the little nuances around us that which aid in brain activity, making it easier to grasp something novel (Worthy, et al., 2011). You see, for all the talk surrounding “critical thinking”, one important aspect is ignored: it isn’t merely a skill to acquire, rather, it is a way of life that can be engraved upon the minds of children. We can become inspired life-long learners.
So, “the game” is to encourage my kids to become a learner characteristically and to see themselves as explorers, attending to the world in which they live, and yes, sometimes we play games to get there. We focus less on specifics and more on the big picture-concepts, prior experiences/memory, and confidence in our place in the world (Perkins, 2009).
Because learning new data is intricately tied to working memory and attention, we have enriching experiences that are whole and include explicit as well as implicit goals that help us to pick out details, remembering them so that next time we are presented with similar information, we pay attention and are driven by the motivation and fascination to fit the pieces together (Fougnie, 2008).
Our “classroom” is built on principles of democracy and choice so as to retain trust and excitement. Lessons often take days to weeks so as to fully incorporate various methods and activities to meet specific learning goals but also to “live” the concepts. We experiment and find ways in which to relate and understand how “ABC’s” or categorizing things, such as vegetables, is pertinent to our lives and how each nuance brings us closer to a truth, of sorts.
Hint: the kids realize the alphabet is everywhere and letters are codes for words that convey messages such as “Ice cream, here, 50 cents” or that separating and pairing things like fruits and vegetables means we can have a successful garden that provides our dinner. All the while, we are learning colors, numbers, shapes, seasons, economy, etc. to which I create explicit “lessons”; however, the point remains: the learning taking place is fun and relative.
Check out this activity as an example! It is the Upcoming “Backyard Bird Count” event. There are so many ways to incorporate math, science, and art all the while keeping little minds and hearts entranced with the natural beauty.
Just remember: the game is always about fun!
Fougnie, D. (2008). The relationship between attention and working memory. New Research on Short-Term Memory. 1-45.
Perkins, D. (2009). Making Learning Whole. Jossey-Bass: San Francisco.
Worthy, D., Brez, C., Markman, A., & Maddox, W.T. (2011). Motivational influences on cognitive performance in children: focus over fit. Junior Cognitive Development. 12(1), 103-119.