Trusting the process — trusting the child

Published by Lori Pickert on November 10, 2011 at 02:41 PM

Thank you for your great comments on the posts about screen time.

This issue — adult discomfort with kids and electronic media — reminds me of some teachers I worked with who were trying, and failing, to get project-based learning to work in their classrooms.

These teachers lacked fundamental trust in letting children choose the starting point for their project work if it was outside their comfort zone — and it often was.

The children would be on fire to learn about something imaginary (e.g., fairies), something inaccessible (e.g., dinosaurs), or something nowhere near the school’s location (e.g., sharks). The children’s excitement and interest unfortunately meant less to some teachers than the topic’s obvious and narrowly defined educational merit. One trumped the other, and the children’s enthusiasm was ignored.

Those teachers couldn’t trust the children to fold in all the necessary elements. They couldn’t trust the learning process — they lacked faith that you can get from point A to point B, let alone the fact that point A actually links to everything.

Children doing authentic investigation connect the exotic to the familiar; they connect the far-away to the near. It’s making those connections that enriches their learning and makes it more complex, more personal, more sticky.

Over and over again, I would watch as a teacher, in knee-jerk reaction, would push aside her students’ intense interest and replace it with something she felt was more “appropriate”. Her choice would inevitably bore them silly; it would be trite, banal, overly common, impersonal, dull. Instead of working with their intense interest to make it educationally relevant, the teacher would unintentionally kill it. You can’t start a bonfire with wet wood.

Then she would either ask plaintively for help or leap to the conclusion that project-based learning doesn’t work. 

In the same way that teachers trying to adhere to rigid rules about how children should learn can actually prevent learning, adults prejudiced against electronic media can accidentally reduce the number of ways their child might access their own interests — and, by extension, learning itself.

No one minds if a child takes a hike in the woods then looks up salamanders on Wikipedia, but many would strongly prefer that their child does not begin their interest on the computer — or playing a video game. But the end result can be the same. The road runs both directions.

Adults often leap to a value judgment when it comes to children and their interests. If a child is immersed in a book, that’s great. If he’s immersed in a video game, that’s bad.

But it’s really our job to get out of our comfort zone and explore what is interesting our child. It’s our job, as his learning mentor, to help him dig into it more deeply and explore it from every direction.

We shouldn’t discount strong interests — period. No matter where they come from. Encourage it, and see where it goes. Make the experience as complex and layered as possible. Have a little trust that your child can start learning anywhere.


Comment by amy on November 10, 2011 at 07:57 PM

This is why it frustrates me that my kids' school talks about a project-based curriculum. The kids don't actually seem to have a say. They might get to have a very small say, but the teachers are choosing the theme. It's akin to saying "Do you want to wear the red shirt or blue shirt" versus "Go pick out your clothes for the day." Meaningless choices are insulting. It's not really a project-based curriculum, and I feel kind of hoodwinked, since that's one of the reasons I was okay with the school to begin with.

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 10, 2011 at 09:24 PM

amy, so sorry for what you're going through, but YES, it's so bogus. i've visited schools that were known for their project-based learning and it was all "do you want to be in this group or that group? do you want to do this activity or that activity?" not child-led *at all*. the kids were not invested in what they were doing *at all*. the difference between authentic project learning and that charade is, as twain would say, the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.

Comment by shelli on November 11, 2011 at 12:40 AM

I've really enjoyed this series on your blog. I would comment more, but my five minutes of free time is over. lol

Comment by Hugh on November 11, 2011 at 02:22 AM

I totally agree! Children should be given a break. It's funny that adults like us sometimes forget to appreciate the kids' imagination and way of thinking. Your post is worth sharing!

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 11, 2011 at 03:06 PM

thanks, shelli! :^)

thank you, hugh!

Comment by Cristina on November 14, 2011 at 02:23 PM

I read an interesting study recently about how kids who play video games are more creative than their peers who use the computer for other things, like emailing, texting, surfing the internet, etc. What is notable and pertains to your post is this quote:

“Once they [identify the aspects of video game activity that are responsible for the creative effects], video games can be designed to optimize the development of creativity while retaining their entertainment values such that a new generation of video games will blur the distinction between education and entertainment,”

So once again, educators feel the need to insert themselves into the child's project and somehow manipulate the results. I'm guessing, from unschooling my youngest, that this is because it is much easier to control what's happening than to spend the time figuring out what a child learned from the process.

The full article, if you haven't read it:

Peace and Laughter!

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 14, 2011 at 04:09 PM

with educators, there is always the pressure to quantify, quantify. everyone is stymied by how to explain what an individual child learned and accomplished through authentic project work. it can be done, but it can never be done to a level of detail that satisfies everyone — the department of ed., the parents...

this sticks out to me: "blur the distinction between education and entertainment". first, is this ever blurred? it seems to me that when adults trying to layer on "education", it sticks out like a sore thumb. second, most adults overlook all the deep (not surface, tacked-on, "educational") learning that occurs when kids play games. again, if they can't measure it, it might as well not exist.

from the article (and thank you for the link!): "regardless of gender, race or type of game played by the students, the study found a relation between video game playing and greater creativity." it makes sense to me that creative kids would be drawn to video games. creative kids love stories, they love worlds (RPGs), they love things they can explore and manipulate.

i'm starting to think the whole problem lies with parents and teachers who fail to make sure kids get the opportunity to create as well as consume. they point the finger of blame at tv when they could be helping kids write and produce their own tv shows. they point the finger of blame at video games when they could help kids learn to program and make their own games. it's mystifying. there is no demon media. there is only the balance between consumption and control.

Comment by calamity jane on November 15, 2011 at 01:21 PM

hi there. i followed the link from a friend for your first "Why I Don't Worry" post. awesome observations, and so relevant to me-- a curmudgeony Ludite who very reluctantly has given in to the dvds for me two kids, who are just 2 and 4. i have often, in my attempts to accept the new screen age, compared it to books. i bet the old timers were outraged when books came along and people had their noses in them instead of engaging with the world and their family. same same.
everything you say rings so true in my ear, and i hadn't heard anyone else saying it, so it feels revolutionary.
but here's my question. movie watching and computer games are addictive. as in, they can suck you in and keep you there beyond what even actually feels good sometimes. when my kids just watch an hour or two of movies in a day, and they seem happy, i'm okay with that, but some days it's like once they start they can't stop, and by the end of the day they have spent 4 or 5 hours slack-jawed and stupid looking in front of the screen. i am prone to channel-surfing binges whenever i am around cable tv, and i know the feeling of too much.
you're comparison to sugar vs. broccoli is perfect, because screen time bothers me the same way sugar bothers me. it provides something to us that we naturally crave on an animal level, but in a form concentrated way beyond natural. i feel that our species hasn't had time to adjust, to learn to self-regulate. i could be wrong, but i am pretty confident that someone raised on all sugar and junk food wouldn't be interested in broccoli, because that all that sugar would have messed up their body so that it could no longer act in it's own self-interest. likewise, i think when someone watches too much tv, the idea of getting up to do something else sounds less and less appealing.
then again, maybe that's just the way that i myself feel about tv, because i was raised by tv haters/secret lovers. so i got the exact message you are talking about drilled into me. and now i'm drilling it into my kids. motherhood: i'm doing it wrong.
this is all not to diminish your posts which are truly wonderful and profound! but this issue is one that haunts me and i feel like i need help sussing it all out from someone who sounds as on top of it as you. so, what's your take on the addictiveness? am i making it up?

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 15, 2011 at 03:34 PM

jane, i loved your comment so much i answered it in a post. :^)

Comment by K Koesler on November 16, 2011 at 05:02 PM

I was actually discouraged from reading by a teacher when I was 10. My 4th grade teacher (Who also instilled my math phobia) and school librarian felt I was reading too far above my grade level as well as too often and tried to restrict my book time. School testing at the time showed I had the reading level of a college freshman. Thank heaven my parents were voracious readers and kept me supplied at home.

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 16, 2011 at 09:48 PM

this is a perfect example of the push toward the middle - you're exceeding expectations! put the brakes on!

i know a parent who set limits on her son's reading because she felt he should be doing other things more - specifically, playing outside. when i was growing up, you heard that all the time - "get your nose out of that book and go outside."

times change, parents now *wish* they could get their kids to read, and the only thing that stays the same is adults trying to get kids to stop doing what they're doing and do something else!

Comment by Dawn Suzette on November 16, 2011 at 10:04 PM

Hi Lori... I posted a comment here last night but I don't think I verified!!! :(

It has been easy for me to support Fionna in her interests because we have very similar interests. Fun!
I have had to stretch myself with Dylan. His interest in war stressed me at first and I actually discouraged it and tried to get him interested in other things... I know... bad mom!! It did not work anyway... "Mom, knights are just old soldiers. They killed people too!" Oh, my wise little man. Funny how some "war" seems easier to justify. Why do I feel better about him dressing up as a knight than a WWII soldier?
Anyway... Once I let go and supported him in every way I could I saw him grow and learn my leaps and bounds. He has learned about geography, politics, symbolism, patoritism, alliances, tolerance, prejudice, fashion... military uniforms are amazing... weapons (can't do war without weapons), manufacturing and so much more.
Is this the topic I would have chosen for my five-year-old? No. Can he process all he is learning? No. Is he learning? YES. Every time we visit - and revisit a topic he is adding on those layers of knowledge that will eventually lead to understanding.

Could this be done in school? Yes. As a former high school teacher I know if supported properly kids will learn. I did it in my classes. I was lucky enough to teach subjects that were not on standardized tests and were of great interests to teens... sex, drugs... and all the good stuff they really want to know about but don't have many adults to ask about. I was that adult and trust me, they learned! They had the freedom to research anything and ask about anything. It was a great experience for them.

Thanks for all the great posts...

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 17, 2011 at 12:40 AM

"Once I let go and supported him in every way I could I saw him grow and learn my leaps and bounds." love :^)

thank you so much for sharing your project learning. the revisiting is key — going back again and again, each time with the ability to understand more, each time layering on more complexity.

it absolutely can be done in school .. so why are we still arguing about "progressive" and "alternative" education?! the curriculum of my private school was project-based. it is completely doable.

thank YOU for sharing what you guys are doing!

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