Monday, November 15, 2010

Learning gets real in darlin'ville

darlin' designed math game 

In my former life I used to do various and sundry adult tasks, one of which was adult training or "andragogy". Far away in a land and time before the darlin's, I learned about how adults learn. How's that for a circle? It was interesting to dissect the learning process. It was nice to draw parallels between adults who learn out of necessity and those who learn for the pure joy and accomplishment of acquiring new bodies of information. I reflected at the time on the differences between how adults learn under the microscope of academia and the reality of how I remembered learning and performing in school as a child. This is akin to something called metacognition. It's basically the awareness of how one learns-the structure, the techniques, the preferred routes taken to retain the new material. I believe, although some may disagree, that adults and children learn in much the same framework. Both require a motivation, a preparedness to learn the subject at the given level, an environment conducive to learning, and all the safety and security requirements of the social realm. Let me share a training secret: if you can train an adult, you can teach a child. Adults don't fool around. Most adults don't put themselves out for a gold star on a board. If they seek out information, they want it. Most of the time, it's for their own gratification or for advancement. If children must be taught, it is usually something that has not already occurred to them in their exploration and is therefore "someone else's idea" and even though it may also be for "advancement", most children will resist being led in this way. I took a lot of psychology in my undergrad field but I was not prepared for how much psychology would come in handy with the darlin's. I didn't realize how much impact psychology has on learning until the darlin's came along and taught me a thing or two outside the theoretical walls of academia. What I have found in my own experience is that authenticity matters. If I can frame a learning situation where they must perform a skill in order to get something real accomplished, I can "control" learning objectives while giving my children a meaningful learning experience. I have found these ideas come to me in the routine running of my day and I try to exploit them as much as possible. We do math when we count out snacks, divide fruits, and measure to cook supper. We write letters to Santa, thank you notes to friends, and type on the computer to "find" sites of interest. We make things to give to others with our hands. We scavenge the neighborhood for nature's treasures and look at them under the microscope before hunting down their names in the encyclopedia. We read the names on food labels, road signs, newspaper articles, store names... We are a house of books so that they can learn contextually. The research with which I am familiar indicates that learner driven authentic learning experiences are retained. If they want to know about something, they must help me find the answer. If they want to know the "secrets" of a book without pictures, they must help me puzzle together the sounds that makes the words. If they want to buy something, they have to save and count their money and budget to get it. I hope in addition to teaching them how to read, write, and calculate, that I am also teaching them to look around as they go through their day and appreciate ordinary things. When I finished this Master's degree and left the US Army Corps of Engineers to be a stay at home mom, my colleagues asked me if I was going home to "experiment" on my children. It is possible that I have always been so interested in the ways of people that I sought out to homeschool my darlin's. Then again, it is possible that the darlin's were so interesting to me that I simply couldn't share the joy of seeing them learn something new, at their own motivation, over and over again with someone else. However you approach education for yourself or your children, we can all take comfort that God has primed the mind for learning and that he has given us a wonder-filled world in which to make meaningful connections that we can use throughout life.

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