Monday, August 08, 2011

Free U: The Identical Identifier

It's hard to shake the feeling that my son isn't learning what he's supposed to. Whatever that means. Every once in a while, I get nervous that he's reluctant to write letters or draw or that he knows all his letter sounds but won't put them together to sound out a word. It's hard, he tells me about reading and writing. I fear that he'll be behind his peers, that he won't read until he's much older, that he'll struggle to write and read, that he won't learn math easily or at all. And then I remember that life and learning are not a race and that learning should not be measured and inspected.

Learning just happens despite my efforts or lack thereof.

Lately, my 4 year old son randomly uses a word in conversation or mutters it under his breath. Then he asks what it means. Who says you have to know how to read to learn vocabulary words? I guarantee you that this kid is learning quite a bit of vocabulary words on the installment plan. (Vocabulary is such a school word, don't you think?)

The word of the week for him has been "identical."

One evening last week, my husband and I sat in the yard while the kids played. Danny wanted to know the meaning of identical. We told him. He brought out two trikes that are nearly identical, except for the color scheme.

"These bikes are identical," he claimed.

Jim asked him to find the similarities between the two bikes. He pointed out that the handlebars were both red. Danny then pointed out that the pedals were the same color: yellow. We talked about how some parts of the bike were identical and others were not.

Jim then spotted a yellow golf ball. We have probably half a dozen of these around the yard. My husband has turned the yard into a par 3. He told Danny to find a ball in the yard that was identical to the yellow golf ball.

And he was off for the physical education portion of that night's "lesson." He picked up a stick and began scouring the yard. Jim called it his identical identifier. (We're finding the key to keeping him engaged is to keep him physically moving. This is why we suspect a classroom would be a disaster for him. Who says you need to sit still to learn anything?)

Our dinner conversations have also turned to the identical properties of various items on and around the table. Cups are identical in color, but not size. Other cups are identical in size and shape, but not color. The dining room chairs are identical, but not the same color wood as the train table. I always hesitate to turn every conversation into something "educational." But the difference here, I think, is that he initiated the discussions. We did not craft lessons for the purpose of teaching him what identical means. He figured it out all on his own.

I know I say it often, but it bears repeating: This is spontaneous learning at its best. And I hesitate to even call it learning. He was just having fun in the backyard with his family, having a scavenger hunt for a yellow golf ball identical to the one his father gave him. He merely noticed with delight that he and his father had the same color cup and that he and his sister had the same size cup.

I envision all kinds of worksheets and mindless matching games being used to teach kids what identical means. In fact, I think that I can recall matching questions on standardized tests. This is not to say that these activities can't be fun. I did love a good game of Memory when I was a kid. Still do. It's just a lot less fun when you're being forced to play.

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