My son can play with Legos for hours. HOURS. He is 4 and a half. I’ve been hearing since before Conor was born that getting boys to sit still and learn for long periods of time is impossible…
Yet, there he is, studying angles, thinking up ideas, finding the right parts; creating a masterpiece and for hours at a time. I couldn’t believe it. It baffled me. Come down for breakfast, I’d call up, “When I’m done building this rocket ship”. 30 minutes would go by and he’d still be up in his room, thinking up and creating his next idea. This is the same kid who days before discovering Legos could polish off 3 bowls of cereal in a matter of minutes.
For years, I have heard about and read many articles about how boys have such a hard time in school because they are forced into a rigid environment and stifled. Watching Conor, almost obsess about working with his Legos has opened my eyes to a different form of learning and one that many charter and Montessori type schools embraced years ago, learning through play.
When I started thinking about how I learn best, it struck me as almost obvious that I learn so much better when I learn by doing then when I’m lectured to. I am very much a hands on learner and I discovered this quickly in my early years of college. I struggled a bit in high school and really had to work hard to get adequate grades for college and sports and never once did my parents or even myself, think it was because of the way I was being taught. Sitting in a classroom listening to someone list out facts, math rules or what makes up the periodic table was torture for me. I used to think my education before college was poorly done because of where I went to high school, yet I’ve since realized it’s a national epidemic as we insist on forcing kids to learn in a way that we all know isn’t conducive to the real world. For both boys and girls.
The classes where we were actively engaged in our learning has stayed with me – far longer than memorizing. (OK, if I was a chemist I’d have to learn what goes with what – I get that memorization is important and any spelling bee finalist would agree would whole heartedly agree). I remember my 7th grade History teacher and how he engaged us in learning and made it fun – cool, even. I think back to many of my English classes and whether it was writing a poem, a short story or acting out Shakespeare, how so much of this I have retained. In college, I minored in African-American studies and reading autobiographies and journals from another time was unbelievably fascinating. It wasn’t what society put on paper for me to believe, it was what Frederick Douglas himself, described of his life: what he actually endured and how he felt. In high school, I took a physics class (why, I have no idea), and one of the projects this very awesome teacher asked us to do was build a bridge using spaghetti and whose ever held the most weight – won. Glue gun, spaghetti, what could be more fun?! It was also a huge lesson in measurement skills and what it takes to create a load bearing bridge like the ones we drive over everyday.
Why is it that we continue to stick to lecturing and overloading our children with facts and teaching them skills that we as adults know do not work? When the Internet started becoming a bigger part of our world, did we all go take a class where someone told us what we needed to know? Or did we go piddle around online ourselves and discover our own way. I can remember my 1st job at an arena and I had to use excel. I didn’t even know what it was. Now, I am a wiz on it, yet I had to learn by doing and that above all else, was and still is FUN.
Seeing the joy on Conor’s face each time he builds something new with his Legos has been momentous for me as a Mom and really has me thinking about next steps in their education. I want learning to continue to be FUN. Who says that has to stop? I watch Conor and I see the gleam in his eye when he’s trying to figure out where or what his next piece should be to make his space ship come to life. Every time, by the end of the build, he’s got a story to go with it and it’s such a magical story. The excitement of discovery and the art of learning new things shouldn’t go away as we grow older, but rather become more interesting and fun. Remember making a volcano?; or making the light bulb light up? Hasn’t that stayed with you forever? There are kids in every classroom of different abilities, but I’ve got to believe there is a way to teach them ALL is such a way that not only are they learning what they need to survive in this world, but also continuing to have a gleam in their eyes while they do it.
Amen to teachers everywhere who continue to teach through play! Thank you!