I am the boss of you

Published by Lori Pickert on October 21, 2008 at 05:30 PM

Conversation with a Respected Educator

R.E.: Your project is lovely, but the children shouldn’t be studying oceans; you live in Illinois!

Me: What should they be studying?

R.E.: Well, you could have steered them to study the pond in the backyard.

Me: They are studying the pond. Because we don’t have access to the ocean.

R.E.: But they are studying ocean animals. They should be studying local freshwater fish.

Me: They are studying local fish. But they are really, really interested in ocean life.

R.E.: I just wish you had started with the familiar.

Me: But that’s not where they started. Maybe because it is familiar. They are intensely interested in the ocean —  which is very interesting, you must admit.

R.E.: Mmm.

Me: If you had a group of children studying the pond in the backyard, and then they wanted to learn about the ocean, and compare and contrast the differences, would you let them?

R.E.: Of course!

Me: In my experience, children always draw an immediate connection between the far-away and the near, between the exotic and the familiar.

R.E.: Mmm.

Me: So why not let them start where they want to start? From the spark of their intense interest?

R.E.: It’s better to start with the familiar and then work from there.

Me: Well, I’ve watched many a teacher shut down a rich line of inquiry because she was afraid it was ranging too far afield, too far from “the familiar.”

R.E.: Well, that shouldn’t happen.

Me: Mmm. If all paths lead to home, why not let children choose the path that most interests them?

R.E.: Mmm.

In my opinion, telling the children they couldn’t study oceans (until later?) but they could study the pond in the backyard (until later) is like telling them they can eat their slice of pizza but they have to eat it my way.

What’s wrong with letting them start at the crust when we know they’re working their way toward the point?





Comment by Brynn on October 21, 2008 at 08:54 PM

Hi there, Lori. Have to say I am digging your blog. I am taking a course on Alternative Education through AERO (http://www.edrev.org/) which is helping me refine my ideas about education. My eldest son is also getting dangerously close to "school age" in a community where there are very few options. Home is looking likely. I am absorbing. Lots.

Thank you for your inspiration.

Comment by mrs dani on October 21, 2008 at 09:15 PM

I love how "educated" people try to "correct" what we do wrong.

It does not matter that the kids learned something they took an interest in. All that matters it they were not supose to be interested in it yet. You did not follow the known course of educated material.

I love this post!

Comment by Lori Pickert on October 21, 2008 at 09:20 PM

hi mrs dani, and thank you!

this person was a wonderful educator and truly loved children and project-based learning .. i just think it's odd how we can get hung up on wanting them to do it *the way we want them to do it*. i think it's easy to lose sight of the real goal -- and obviously, if you have a group of extremely fired-up young children who are on fire to learn, you must be doing something *right*.

Comment by se7en on October 21, 2008 at 09:52 PM

I love this post - it says so much about how things ought to be done, when really you just have to go with your gut and do what works... lovely...

Comment by Lori Pickert on October 21, 2008 at 09:58 PM

thank you, se7en. mm. i notice that the people most vocal about telling you *how* to do things often either don't work directly with children or haven't since the nixon administration. ;^) there's something to be said with putting *theory* into *practice* and letting it all shake out.

Comment by Lynn on October 21, 2008 at 11:47 PM

Oops! I guess my now-10-year-old really blew it years ago when he was absolutely obsessed with African savanna animals, given that we lived smack dab in the middle of the US of A! All of that encyclopedic knowledge he hungrily acquired, for nothing! >;-D (I shall make certain that if my three-year-old shows signs of interest in animals, I'll steer him toward the neighborhood cats and dogs ONLY. And maybe the odd cardinal or grackle...

Comment by Lori Pickert on October 22, 2008 at 12:41 AM

lol lynn

one issue that was raised -- we couldn't do hands-on study (because the ocean was sooo far away).

but .. grandparents from florida mailed us packages of shells from the beach.

parents brought in scuba equipment for us to draw and make models of.

a family brought a preserved shark back from hawaii.

another family brought in a preserved puffer fish.

we actually had more hands-on study material than we could handle.

too bad for those of us in the big middle, huh, lynn? ;^) forget about mountains and oceans and bears and alligators and whales and flamingoes, icebergs and deserts, pumas and armadillos...

Comment by molly on October 22, 2008 at 01:44 AM

"working their way towards the point." i love you lori!

Comment by Lori Pickert on October 22, 2008 at 01:50 AM

pizza metaphor + pizza pun -- doesn't get any better than that! :^D)

Comment by estea on October 22, 2008 at 04:47 PM

R.E.: It’s better to start with the familiar and then work from there.

me: zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz


Comment by Lori Pickert on October 22, 2008 at 05:24 PM

srsly, though - some of the most oft-suggested topics for projects in preschool? balls. shoes. er... that's not just boring for the kids, it's boring for the adults.

i worked with preschool kids for seven years and they wanted to learn about EVERYTHING. they already knew about balls. and shoes.

Comment by lupingirl on October 22, 2008 at 06:57 PM

Strange how children have their own ideas about what they want to learn, huh?

I taught art for four years using a choice based method - it was amazing to me the discoveries that my students made and how much more they loved art making when they were in control of their decisions and ideas. The parents loved it and the students loved it.

I finally left the school because the administration wanted me to return to a project based program in which all the students did the same drawings and paintings and were bored to death with art. I just couldn't be the one to do that to my students.

Comment by Lori Pickert on October 22, 2008 at 07:56 PM

aw. i hate seeing "project based" affiliated with "zero choice"! but i know what kind of projects you mean.

when we go to local school art shows and they have 36 almost matching pieces of "art" -- sigh. kids who are free to follow their own path not only create amazing things but they can tell you why they made their choices and how they solved their problems. to shove kids into doing same-same work to make it easier to quantify and measure what they did .. boo.

Comment by mandy on October 24, 2008 at 05:23 PM

I was having a hard time trying to figure out if this was a real conversation! Now I know it is in fact real. I am not saying I know everything, but I really believe in child directed learning, whether it's art or science or whatever.
My daughter is 5 and she is totally obsessed with learning about outer space. She asks questions and looks things up all the time and I just can't imagine steering her back to earth! It's what she likes.

Comment by Lori Pickert on October 24, 2008 at 07:39 PM

wait - how do you know it's real?! (it is.)

we had a preschool class that studied space for a year — they *loved* it. (another no-no topic for children, since, *duh*, they can’t go to space! yet .. they were completely and utterly engaged for a year .. hmm.)

every “inaccessible” topic is comprised of a hundred very accessible topics. to explore one, they have to explore the others. yes, space is very far away, but we can all see the stars.

Comment by kristin on November 21, 2008 at 02:07 AM

oh my, oh my, oh my.

keep on.

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 21, 2008 at 02:50 PM

lol. thank you, kristin. ;^)

Comment by Lauren on September 21, 2009 at 09:27 AM

This conversation is a perfect example of why teachers must be more than practitioners, and instead be the authors of pedagogical paths and processes.

Then, we "would be able to contribute to overcoming, at least in the field of education, the arrogant idea of the continuing separation between theory and practice, culture and technique." (Rinaldi, in "In Dialogue with Reggio Emilia"


Comment by Janet Uken on January 24, 2010 at 08:13 PM

Alex still talks about the ocean unit. Finally saw the ocean for real this summer and loved it. That was a great unit very long lasting which is telling about the interest level of 3 and 4 year olds. Janet

Comment by Lori Pickert on January 25, 2010 at 03:13 PM

hi janet! :^)

jack also still talks about that project! the only thing i would say is that it was a project rather than a unit (“unit” implies the content was teacher planned and directed).

their interest stayed so high because they covered so much ground — boats, fish, sea creatures, building the life-size aquarium on the stage, making scuba props, fishing, making (large!) scale models of fish and sea life, studying the tsunami … they just kept making new connections and following the trail of knowledge.

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