Better than anyone kids remind us that process is often the whole point. Too often we grownups become preoccupied with a need for tangible, measurable outcomes.
Since becoming a parent, I have loved ogling Waldorf-inspired crafts online. Before my boys were old enough to hold a crayon, I was drooling over felting projects and paper crafts, all the while imagining the beautiful creations that would adorn our homeschool room.
How excited I was to discover that my son, Josiah, had inherited his father’s artistic talents. During different stages of Jo Jo’s development, he has exhibited a passion for drawing that keeps him up late into the night and makes him wake in the morning still bleary-eyed looking for pens and paper.
When Josiah was four, he became fascinated with anything and everything having to do with Halloween. For a long time, cute Christmas and Valentine craft ideas conceived by me morphed into Jo Jo’s ghastly drawings and paintings of zombies–zombie Santa, zombie elves and zombie reindeer. At that stage of his development, precision mattered to Josiah. Zombie brains needed to ooze in just the right way. (Bear with me here, I know it’s sort of gross!) Frankenstein’s scars were drawn with amazing accuracy and care. Josiah began to identify himself as an artist and it was exciting.
Then along came Star Wars. Although he has never seen the movies, Josiah discovered the books at our library and a new passion emerged. For a while his attempts at drawing Light Sabers and R2D2 were product oriented. Getting Luke’s hair exactly right mattered tremendously. Lately though, his father and I have noticed his art seems “stalled.” Gone are the finely drawn details and attempts at new techniques and effects.
Watching Jo Jo’s art “regress,” my husband and I began to wonder if it was time for formal art lessons. As we scratched our heads trying to identify ways to best support our son, we began to notice something. His drawings had indeed become less detail oriented. However, within these simpler pictures we could see actual story lines becoming visible and pronounced! What we previously dismissed as sloppy, we soon realized was our son’s successful attempt to explore and present the colorful narratives inspiring him as of late. Elaborate duels were coming to life on paper. Luke was thwarting enemies and Darth Vader was wreaking havoc all over the place. His imagination was ignited and pens couldn’t keep up with the ideas he needed to express. I feel grateful to have noticed this before we got in the way by “helping.”
My oldest son, Elias, is a scientist. Chemistry was his first passion. (He has currently moved past that interest to pursue research in Dragonology and Wizardry). To support his interest, we invested in an amazing chemistry set. Together we enjoyed exploring the detailed manual that accompanies his kit. He faithfully reproduced each experiment and led thoughtful discussions about our observations. However, as soon as the experiments were over, I’d notice his young face brighten. Can I play chemistry now? Out would come the lemon juice, vinegar, baking soda, food coloring and anything else I could be talked into donating. He’d begin measuring and pouring. No kitchen surface was left unscathed.
Mastering complicated chemistry formulas and their applications came easily to Elias as did the subsequent lab assignments. But what moved him beyond his immediate intellectual curiosity was the idea of being a real scientist without his mother standing beside him reminding him to wear safety goggles. Before mixing his own play compounds, he always announced his intentions. After friends of ours opened a local craft brewery, he began making “beer” in his lab. He also created a compound to “rid the world of evilness.” On his own in his kitchen laboratory, Elias is empowered and the captain of his own ship. He identifies goals and then mixes and pours his special formulas as a means to attaining them. In doing so, Elias is cultivating autonomy, vision and fine motor skills; abilities arguably as important as mastery of the periodic table.
Walden loves to play board games. For his third birthday, he received a Dinosaur Train game that he carries everywhere as though it were a much softer, cuddlier toy. I happen to love board games, so his affection for this now rather worn piece of cardboard and its spinner delights me.
In our house we play a lot of Dinosaur Train. When the game was new, Walden was interested in the rules and we played accordingly. Soon he began modifying the game. These days, the Dinosaur Train game has transformed into a series of complicated rules intelligible only to Walden. Often playing games with my youngest can make me feel like Alice in Wonderland playing croquet with the Queen.
Watching Walden modify his board game is revealing. “40, 41, 42, 43, 50hundred” he shouts as he moves a pawn ahead a few spaces. He has overhead Josiah practicing math and clearly wants in on the fun. As he moves his Dino pawn across the board, my youngest tells a dramatic story about the erupting volcano at the center of the board. He is careful to make certain the pawn makes contact with each marked space; this kinetic act seems to keep his storytelling linear and smoother than it might be otherwise. As I watch, I know that only the surface of the things he is learning is apparent to me. I am reminded to put aside any teaching agenda I might have.
Real learning doesn’t look like the stuff found on Pinterest or in glossy curriculum. Real learning, I am finding, is messy. Real learning typically turns a room upside down with color and noise and too often, craft glue! It deviates, twists and turns and it’s often a rather wild ride. Children, when permitted the freedom, show adults it’s this very ride and the lessons along the way the way, not a perfectly crafted felt Santa, that is the point. It’s from the process not the product that kids learn.
How about you? How do your kids turn your lesson plans upside down and what gems do they glean as a result?
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