Over the last decade of parenting, I’ve learned at least two truisms about children: they are always hungry, and they are always curious. Those realizations have led to two parallel family decisions for us. Namely, if they’re always going to want to eat (and they do), we should have snacks in the house that we’re OK with, when we don’t have time to prepare something; and if they’re always going to be asking questions, we should make sure they have resources in the house to answer those questions when we don’t have time to have a Socratic conversation on the subject. In the case of the former, we started leaving out bowls of vegetables and fruits, and in the case of the latter, we’ve made a conscious decision to fill our house with interesting ways to learn.
Not interesting ways to teach, mind you, and that’s where our flavor of stealth schooling might be a bit different from others’. I know parents who sneak carrot shreds into meatballs and cauliflower into mac and cheese – but we’ve always shied away from such covert ops with our kids, and when it comes to education, we’re no different. I’m not trying to sneak anything in on them; I’m trying to satisfy their own natural curiosity by letting them use their own energy of inquiry during moments when homeschool isn’t in session. We’re a little less subterfuge, a little more straightforward, not striking from the shadows with concepts and content, but making educational overtures in plain sight. In short, it’s not ninjitsu, but judo – thus the title of this post. (Judo, 柔道, literally translates as ‘the gentle way.’)
One of our favorite tools in this endeavor is the floor book. I don’t know what their technical term is – large format photoessays? – since I know them only from hours spent in my own childhood with books simply too large and unwieldy to peruse on the couch. They were best consumed sprawled out on the floor, turning big, bright page after page as I unconsciously shifted to keep a gridded rectangle of afternoon sunlight on my back. Black holes and deep-sea creatures, tank battles and African biomes, platyhelminthes and Hecatoncheires – I read about them all, mostly to keep myself company during my latchkey evenings waiting for my parents to come home. When our kids were born, we made sure to stock up on plenty of floor books for our home, too – and I’m delighted to report that the kids love them, too. Some of our favorites include From Lucy to Language, The Hammond Atlas of World History, Reef and Rainforest, The Past From Above, The Royal Tombs of Egypt, and Infrastructure. (That last one, by the way, is a huge help in answering the inevitable ‘what is that thing?’ questions on road trips.)
Magazines are another favorite of ours. We subscribe to a ton of them – Mental Floss, The Week, Focus, BBC History, World Archaeology, Pacific Standard, Gramophone – and just leave them around, everywhere. There’s a stack on the coffee table, a handful by the fireplace, a heap in every bathroom in a basket. For moments when they’re not feeling the full floor-book experience, magazines like these (and many others) provide snippets of interesting information, conversation-starting content, and jumping-off points for passion projects, wikis and research works. As a side benefit, a few – like The Week – also provide a solid, bite-sized awareness of current events and the world at large.
It might seem odd, in our era of high technology, that low-tech tools make up such a significant part of our ‘stealth schooling.’ That trend continues with boardgames, a third favorite of ours. I’m a huge fan of learning through games, and games have a great deal to teach – whether it’s world geography (Ticket to Ride) or balancing goals (King of Tokyo) or working together (Forbidden Island). Games engage our kids on all kinds of channels and intensities, and from what I’ve seen, lessons ‘stick’ quite a bit better when they’re delivered while having fun. They’ve even begun to take the initiative to design their own games about subjects they’re interested in; H is building a boardgame based on the evolution of fashion, while E’s going decidedly in the other direction with a game about infectious diseases.
Finally, technophiles can exhale; the iPad is certainly our fourth favorite for ubiquitous learning. App developers are doing some amazing work in the ‘gamification’ of learning content; some apps, like DragonBox, scarcely mention the fact that they’re going to teach you something – they just let you get started, and before you know it, you’re doing algebra. We’ve filled one iPad in our house with nothing but edtech – apps for everything from social studies (Stack the States, GeoBee) to science (Bobo & Light, G, Exploratorium) to math (DragonBox – as mentioned, the original stealth learning app!), art (Art Authority), and music (Karajan and Noteplex). Yes, there are games, too – the iOS version of Ticket to Ride, Hundreds, Wurdle, and more – but even those are guaranteed to get some sort of substantive content into a gaming session.
However you choose to ‘stealth school,’ we think it’s important to make learning opportunities available everywhere and all the time – because you just never know when a particular idea or fact is going to cross up with a ready, waiting synapse and produce something beautiful. Plus, we’ve got enough ninjas to fight off in our everyday lives, as home renovation bills and career challenges leap out of the shadows. We’re happy to keep learning ninja-free – the gentle way.
Here’s the permalink that will include a complete list of all the blog articles that are part of this blog hop on Stealth Schooling:
Here are direct links to some of the other articles:
Homeschool Tips: Simple Stealth School – How to Work and Homeschool
Stealth Schooling – Building Wingspan
My Experience with Stealth Schooling – Cedar Life Academy
http://littlestarslearning.blogspot.com/2013/05/stealth-schooling-bait-hook-reel-release.html – Little Stars Learning