Sandra Dodd, who I’ve mentioned before and to whose site I have a link on my blogroll, has a weekly live chat to discuss learning, unschooling and anything else of interest that may come up. I was reading a transcript of an older chat session, and one parent asked if she should be worried that her son wants to do nothing but sit in front of the computer all day, playing video games. Sandra immediately responded that the parent should not be worried, but should make sure the child has a comfortable chair to sit in and eats something periodically. I remember really loving that comment. It was such a calm, matter of fact response that resonated even on a written chat. No worries, it said, just be sure he is comfortable and fed.
In a state like New York, where there are fairly stringent regulations regarding paperwork and filing, it is sometimes difficult to completely divorce yourself from the idea that some sort of curriculum, some classes must be taken in order to prove the ‘learning’ of things to the powers that be. Imagine a parent writing on their quarterly paperwork, which is sent in to the DOE, “This quarter, John spent most of his days on line playing World of Warcraft. I made sure he had a comfortable chair and was fed.” End of report. If I was perhaps a little gutsier, I would be tempted to write something along those lines. (Although it would involve PopTropica and Cityville instead of World of Warcraft) Instead, I still look for ways to ‘sort’ our experiences into subjects because I know that’s what the DOE wants.
Today, for instance, we went to see the film “Gullivers Travels”. Literature? Hardly. We haven’t read Jonathan Swift’s book, and in any case the film is only VERY loosely based on that text. (Jack Black is hilarious, and leads the Lilliputians and their enemies in a rousing version of “War”. Swift may be spinning in his grave.) Upon returning home, Maya played on the Wii for awhile, Ben played with Lego, I made some phone calls and then I exercised on our mini-trampoline, turning the music up loud. Because really, is there any other way to listen to Alanis Morrissette? And I’m writing this post earlier than usual because at 8pm Biggest Loser comes on, and we’ll be watching Bob, Jillian and the two “unknown trainers” beat the crap out of some people while helping them get into shape.
Did we learn anything today? I would say of course we did. Can I separate it neatly into subjects you might recognize from your days in school? Probably not, although you’d be surprised at how good I am at gleaning “Health” from Biggest Loser, and “Weather and Geography” from Gulliver (the Bermuda Triangle plays a key role in the film) in order to appease the DOE. Is it all so much b.s.? Honestly, yes, a lot of it is. People have a hard time hearing that all you did today was watch movies and play games and follow a reality TV show. They want to know what you learned, and they’d like it even more if what you learned had to do with history or math or science or social studies. Even better if you have some amusing (or not) anecdote about how your kid didn’t want to do the lesson and how you finally ‘got’ them to.
Instead, I try my best to do what Sandra Dodd suggested. It’s not so important what activity the kids choose. If they are interested and absorbed, they are learning. By providing comfort and food, you are providing support and letting them know that you believe their choices are valid and worthy. As a result, they tend to make valid and worthy choices. And what is more important than that?