Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Free U: Mommy, the human dictionary

Danny asks a lot of questions these days. I don't always have the answers. Sometimes I tell him to go ask his father. Like the other day when he asked me where rocks come from and what a volcano is.

Oh dear. I haven't had enough sleep to deal with science questions. Daddy is the science guy.

Me? I'm the word girl.

"What's jewel?" he wants to know as we're reading a favorite book, "Fiona Loves the Night."

"It's a piece of rock that's shiny. My diamond is a jewel."

"What's transform?" he asks as he brings me his Transformer.
"It's when something changes from one form to another." Like the transformer, for instance.

"What's bothered?"
"It's when you don't like something someone has done." Like when your sister takes a toy from you.

"What's aggravating?" He actually asked this question way too many times.

It was rather aggravating.

After the 20th time he asked, I told him "Aggravating is when you ask the same question over and over and over again after I've already answered it. 'Kay?"

Danny hasn't asked again. This is how a kid builds a good vocabulary. He remembers what these words mean since he's doing the asking which means he's learning these words in a context that's meaningful to him.

One of the most banal and meaningless school experiences I can recall is the dreaded vocabulary homework and subsequent quizzing. Vocabulary quizzes made me sweat. Writing out vocabulary words and their definitions was torturous and deadly boring.

Honkshooooooooooooooooooooooooo.

And I was actually good at and liked my English classes. To this day, I can't recall a single vocabulary word that I learned in school. Definitions usually roll right off my tongue when my son asks the meaning of a word, however. How did I got here then? By reading books on topics that I enjoy and figuring out the definition through the context clues. In fairness, there was an effort to put vocabulary words in the context of whatever literature we were reading. But I retained little information since I was compelled by a curriculum that someone else designed to read books didn't interest me.


And therein lies the element that I feel is crucial to a good education and a meaningful life: Freedom to choose what you learn based on your interests.

2 comments:

Kelley said...

It's interesting you say you don't recall vocab words. As you know, I still hang out with my best elementary-graduation friends. When we were all in middle school, there was a particular series of vocab books we used each year. There are still words that we use in conversation and a few of us will simultaneously shout "vocab word!". Brice and I still do here at home...

Josee said...

I'm sure some of the words I know and use come from school vocabulary lessons. But in my mind, I see the paper I wrote the homework on, but not the words. I remember words when I see them in context of a book that I decided I wanted to read. The farther from school I get, though, the more I learn and remember what I learn from the context of my life. I probably would have learned these things without all the drilling and boring lessons. Actually, my philosophy of education is based on the fact that we are inherently curious and geared toward learning. We don't need to be forced to learn, which is what school is: forced learning.