HomeeducationHow Fun, Context and Engagement Feed the Brain
I was originally going to write about how our expectations shape how a child will grow to see themselves, but this morning, one of our cats gave me a different idea.
As soon as this sweet kitty was big enough to get his paw in the bigger cats’ bowl, he started to fish pieces of dry food out, stalk them, and bat them around the kitchen before eating them. As you can see in the video, he runs after them if one of his humans flicks or tosses it for him, too.
I can hear him doing it again in the kitchen as I type this, and it still makes me giggle.
While I’m sure I could probably draw parallels between the need for play in helping touch phobic kids broaden their diets, the need for general fun is what comes to mind, especially when it comes to education.
Although watching a kitty chase bits of kibble around the kitchen may not be very educational, it does relieve tension. If that same concept of engagement and fun could be integrated into more classes in schools, learning might not be as much of a chore as it is for so many kids now.
Another benefit is these various teaching methods could cater to many different learning styles, instead of just one as is the case in too many schools today.
Like many dyslexics, I found it impossible to learn by rote and memorization. That made subjects like math, history, and geography incredibly difficult for me. I barely scraped by in most of those classes.
After I left school and started finding practical applications, my understanding suddenly snapped into place.
Math comes in handy in the kitchen, sewing, knitting, crafts, personal finances and gardening, but the only way it was taught in school was through calculation and memorization. If I was given some real world situations in which to use it, instead of being told “it’s just done this way”, it would have made a lot more sense to me.
History classes boggle my mind, since that subject is all about stories, but the information is usually conveyed in trivia format. If the various events we were supposed to learn about were presented in context with what went on at the time in story form, I probably would have done better with that, too. 
Interestingly, the best history class I ever took was actually Latin. The teacher incorporated historical stories into our translations, and gave us a broader context of what life was like back then. He even brought food ancient Romans would have eaten in at one point.
Personally, I think geography should be taught in conjunction with history, since the formation of countries and namings of landmarks are intimately entwined with how various groups of humans lived.
Looking back, it’s little surprise that my three favorite subjects were literature, the sciences and drama/music. Each of these classes encouraged hands on learning and imagination. As a result, facts, concepts and skills stuck much more easily than what was taught in math or history classes.
Never lost my affection for lab class. This is from 2011 CONvergence, when they brought a high school bio teacher in
to lead a panel about pig heart dissection. My buddy and lab partner, Jen, took the picture.
I realize this is all based on my personal preferences, but I’ve spoken about this with enough people to know others share a similar point of view. As always, if any of these ideas were to take root, there are the problems of integrating them into schools, progress measurement, educational requirements and a whole slew of other things.
However, I have no doubt there are more teachers out there who take these concepts to heart, and incorporate as much of it as possible into their lesson plans. It would be very interesting to see how kids in their classes do in comparison to kids in more “traditional” classes.


How Fun, Context and Engagement Feed the Brain — 2 Comments

  1. Thank you! Outside of a little experience in tutoring writing, I'm not a teacher. I did tutor writing on the college level years ago, though. Working one on one was a lot of fun, especially with students who spoke English as a second language.

    I have been thinking about seeing what's involved in getting some sort of education degree, but I'm not quite to the point of making any commitments, yet.

    I guess it's pretty obvious by now that education reform's become a subject of great interest.

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