Real life learning or authentic learning. When it happens naturally, it makes me want to home school my boys so much (but that is a whole other topic!). To me the key part of authentic learning, is the follow through. In a classroom you are often in the middle of 'something' when a great question comes up. Lots of times you can pause and call everyone together and discuss the question. Pick it apart as a class. Debate it. Leave the kids energised by this 'surprise' learning.
Sometimes though, you are right in the middle of a task that you can't really stop. You say to everyone, 'Remind me after lunch', but that doesn't always happen. It is the same at home with kids. The timing isn't always perfect to stop and answer questions. Maybe one kid is screaming or dinner is burning or you've been trying get everyone in bed for an hour. So I try, try, try to remember to answer the next chance I get. Follow through. It feels so good when you do.
This week my little one's nap ran late, so I got to pick up my older one from school all on my own. It's always a bit more peaceful and I enjoy the talks we have as we walk home. As we wandered, he noticed that yellow flowers were popping up everywhere. Yellow is his favourite colour, so he loved this and ran over to pick one for me. When we passed a man squirting the yellow 'flowers', he asked why. I explained that most people considered dandelions to be weeds and wanted to get rid of them. This started a long discussion of how weeds can take over and how dandelions in particular spread their seeds. I reminded him of one of my favourite pictures from Richard Scary.
I was a bit anxious to get home since his brother was napping and hadn't been well. I didn't want him to wake up with only grandpa there and be upset. But our talk was so nice and we started spotting dandelion leaves all along the path. He realised that pretty soon there would be yellow flowers absolutely everywhere. Soon we were down on our knees, looking at leaves with buds in the middle and he asked what happened to the green leaves. I explained how they protect the bud and we looked at a fully opened flower and compared. We found one half way popping out and talked about all three of them. He tried counting all the buds he could see, but there were just too many.
Then I had a memory of a book we had at home about a city of guinea pigs who ate up all their dandelion leaves. The hero is Christopher Nibble, who finds one last dandelion and replants it, waits patiently and then blows all the seeds across a field. We hopped up and headed home to dig the book off the shelf. My little one was fine of course and I was so glad we hadn't rushed home. Our impromptu science lesson was beautiful. It was meaningful and I know he'll remember it. I'll remember it. I took the time and followed through.
The best part of it all? After having no answer for his question about where it gets its name, I got to hear him explain that a dandelion looks like a lion's mane. How good is that?
Kids and the creative world go hand in hand, right? I haven't met one yet that doesn't love imaginary play. As a teacher though, I often watched kids struggle to create ideas when it came to writing stories. I could do all the 'teacher-y' things, like scaffold the learning, differentiate the tasks, talk in partners, use picture prompts, have sentence starters, do storyboard planning...yet they still struggled. It made me wonder what I was doing wrong sometimes. Luckily, that is what made me sit and reflect and get better at my job.
The second school I taught at loved Talk 4 Writing, a program that was developed by Pie Corbett (who has lots of great books on teaching, if you don't know him yet. He is pretty well known in the UK, but I'm not sure about North America). I was already in the habit of using a lot of talk during literacy lessons, but it was usually focused on another story or a prompt that led to a task. Here is Pie himself giving an example:
Talk 4 Writing helped the kids orally practise what they wanted to write but I found it helped more with story re-telling, not creating stories ideas. I felt some kind of guilt attached to this struggle the kids had. It always reminded me of something I heard when I was in teacher's college. I have no idea whose original idea this is or what piece of research it might be attached to, so I'm just going to summarise what I remember the course leader saying.
"If you draw a dot on the board in front of a group of 4 year olds and ask them what it is, they'll give you a million answers. The sun! An ant! A rock! A circle! If you draw that same dot on a board in front of a group of 10 year olds, they'll usually say one thing. A period." - OISE instructor (eep! bad referencing, I know!)
That idea makes me so sad! Our education system (well, the UK one at least, as that is where I am most experienced) is draining the creativity out of kids. I tried my best to not let that happen in my own classrooms, but the older the kids got, the more curriculum you had to squeeze in and I think everyone fell victim to it a little bit.
So what did I do about it? I tried to throw in little creativity building activities whenever I could. Just short and simple ones. I'm not going to list them all here...but I will highlight my favourite. I stumbled upon these little gems at Tiger (a British shop that is a little bit like an Ikea dollar store).
There are probably lots of other things out there that use a similar idea. I have used picture story prompts for various different subjects and activities in the past. However, none have worked quite as well as these. ALSO - my kids love these at home too! I think my son was about three years old when I found these. He loved to roll them one at a time and I would make up a silly story that twisted and changed based on what he rolled next. It didn't take long before he was adding to the story himself and soon taking it over!
You don't really need dice (they just make it a bit more fun). You could just close your eyes and point to something in a book and start a story from there. Your little one could close their eyes next and point or just choose something random for you.
We walk a lot in our family, which also provides great story prompts. Stories about people (who doesn't already do that in their head anyway?) walking by. Stories about what might be inside a big truck. Stories about 2 ducks that waddle past. Story prompts are floating around everywhere.
Does your family create stories together? How do you do it?
Hope you create a hilarious/scary/science-y/superhero-y/every day story soon!
There have been an increasing number of studies during the past decade, focusing on the importance of parents’ verbal engagement with their children. Some studies discuss the differences between higher income and lower income housing (the famous ’30-million-word gap’ study by Hart and Risley). Other studies discredit this one and focus more on cultural differences in raising children. I am not here however to debate those or write a professionally sited paper.
I am interested though, in ways people can engage with their children and what makes sense to me is that the more words your children hear, the more they will come to recognise. Again, I have read papers that say having normal conversations with babies and toddlers is the best way for them to learn new words. I have read others that say reading books to them is actually better. Surely it is all good, no? A baby/toddler hears lots of words, from lots of places and starts to recognise them. Eventually they will start to use them. Finally when it comes to reading, they will recognise them in print. You are more likely to read/recognise and remember a word that you already know and understand.
Hello! My name is Deb. I’m a mother and a teacher. After teaching for 10 years, I decided it was time for a little break to be home with my young boys. I keep my hand in the ‘teacher’ role by running some local phonics groups and helping parents to better understand the early reading journey. I hope this blog can be a place for me to share even more of my ideas related to learning to read and write.
Since this is my first blog post, I really want to make one thing clear from the start. I strongly believe that the main focus in young children’s lives should be PLAY! I am a teacher though, which means I always find ways of seeing the learning potential that is naturally hiding in all of that play. Sometimes I even slip a bit of learning into the play myself. I never force it though. I don’t think that works. I don’t think that is necessary.
I do like to present my kids (aged almost 2 and 4.5), with loads of different activities though. Some of them they love and stick with for hours or return to again and again. Some of them they have no interest in! And that is fine. However, presenting them with different opportunities to investigate, explore and learn through play, is what is important to me.
I am also hoping to use this blog to share some of my experiences teaching older kids and figure out ways to adapt some of my best lessons over the past 10 years, for use in the home. It feels like a shame to just let the brilliant learning experiences I’ve had in class sit in the past or float around only in kids’ memories (although that is a great place for them to be kept!).
I hope you find something useful here!
Hello! I'm Deb,
a book-toting mother of two and an elementary (primary) school teacher. I love making stories engaging and interactive for kids.
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