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Posts from January 2016

A New Direction: The Joy of Learning

JRBPlogo-medFor 10 years now, I've been blogging about children's and young adult books, with emphasis on growing bookworms (helping people encourage kids to love books). These things remain important to me, but, as I indicated in my 10 year anniversary post, I've recently become a bit burned out on blogging. OK, more than a bit. 

I've published more than 1100 children's and young adult book reviews. I'm happy to have written those reviews, and I hope that people continue to find them useful. However, I'm finding my motivation for writing more to be lacking. They feel like work. Unpaid work. An overwhelming volume of unpaid work with which I can never possibly catch up, and for which requests for more come in every day. So I'm going to discontinue my long-time pattern of publishing at least two book reviews per week. I'm going to give myself a break. I'll still be reading children's and young adult books, but I'm only going to write about the ones that cry out for me to write about them. My guess is that the number of these will increase after I've had a bit of a break. But who knows? 

I've also been focusing the blog for a long time on the idea of growing bookworms, of helping parents and teachers and librarians who are out there in the trenches to help kids learn to love books. I still think that this is critically important, and I have every expectation of continuing to share articles and research results that I come across that relate to this topic. BUT, I also feel like I've said what I need to say about this. I've written tips and more tips over the years - they aren't new. Most of the people who read my blog are already reading aloud to kids, giving them choice in their reading material, and doing what they can to make reading fun for kids. They don't need me to tell them what to do. 

LiteracyMilestoneAI do enjoy writing about my daughter's experiences on her path to literacy ("Literacy Milestones"). These are the easiest posts for me to write, and the ones that are the most well-received (in terms of comments and other feedback). And I love the idea that my daughter will have those posts to look back on in the future if she likes. I also enjoy sharing articles and posts that I find on Twitter and Facebook, and I intend to continue rounding those up and sharing them on my blog. A number of people have told me that these are the things they find most useful from my blog anyway. So those will continue (though the mix of articles that I include may change).

Still, I've felt like just those two types of posts don't make for much of a blog. I spent a fair bit of time over the holiday break thinking about what else I might add that would inspire me, and make me want to write, and hopefully be useful to someone. And I realized that since I've become a parent, and particularly since my daughter started Kindergarten, the thing that I'm concerned about -- passionate about -- is the way that our educational system too often kills kids' natural joy of learning.

To touch on just a few issues: I think that there is too much homework, and too much testing, starting in elementary school. I think that young kids need more time for creative play than they are getting. I worry about the rat race that many teens are on, in the quest for acceptance to a particular college. I worry about the fact that many kids are heading to college able to regurgitate facts but without creative problem-solving skills, and that over-parented kids lack the ability to make their own decisions. 

I've read a number of excellent books that address various aspects of these concerns. I've listed them on my blog as I've read them, but I haven't talked about them in any kind of detail. And I would like to talk about them. I think that I should talk about them. It is my hope that the same parents and teachers and librarians who have been reading my blog over the years may also be interested in these issues. I think that teaching kids to love books is a sub-set of teaching kids to love learning in general. And if I can play some small part in encouraging that, I will be making a difference. [Though how or if I can actually do that remains to be seen.]

I want my daughter to love books - absolutely. This is very important to me. But I also want her to love solving math problems, and building things, and exploring. Right now, as a five-year-old, she DOES love those things. The question is: how do I help her to maintain that love of learning? That spark of curiosity? That lighting up with excitement when she discovers something new? 

I hope you'll stay with me on my journey, as I try to find out. Thanks for reading!

© 2016 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

On the Importance of Creative Play

My daughter is just finishing up two weeks of school vacation. At the start of the break, her Kindergarten teacher emailed:

"As you nestle down at home and go through your child's Friday Bag you will find that I did not pass out the January Homework packet yet. That is my gift to you and your child. This is your child's first Winter Break. Please fill it with fond family memories. I encourage you all to pull out the board games, dust off the puzzles, bundle up and go for a hike, have a dance party in the kitchen while cooking, and etc. Enjoy this time together."

I appreciated this directive, and we tried to follow it, in our own way. My daughter did have a few playdates over the break (for which we were grateful), and we had a few gatherings with other families. But we spent a lot of time at home, too, which is something that we all wanted. Here are a few of the things that I remember her doing over the break (often with participation from an adult, but with her directing):

  • Solved the first few levels of Gravity Maze
  • RecoveryRoomBuilt a medical clinic for stuffed animals (this is ongoing as I write - the line of waiting animals stretches out into the hall. The recovery room is shown to the right.)
  • Wrote a chapter book, and illustrated another that a friend wrote
  • Assembled and painted a house from Modern Art-Chitecture Kit
  • Made various little self-directed craft projects
  • Spent time coloring
  • Spent time doing puzzles
  • Had many rounds of playing "school", with herself as the teacher at home, and her friend as the teacher at her house.
  • Performed edible chemistry experiments (she was ridiculously excited about this, and soon branched out from the listed experiments to her own)
  • Decorated Christmas cookies
  • Laid out floor plans for imagined houses (with peel and stick furniture)
  • FortBuilt a fort for select stuffed animals using Magna-Tiles
  • Constructed things of her own design with Legos
  • Dabbled with spray chalk in the back yard (not that effective in wet weather)
  • Played spy by going on missions with digital camera to photograph things around the house. Also took videos of herself singing made up songs.

Those are just the things that I can recall off the top of my head. I'm sure her babysitter could name many more (I did not have the full 2 weeks off). But you get the idea.

None of this is to say that I think that my own child is especially creative in her play. My point in sharing this list is that five year olds thrive on creative play. They want it and need it and will pester you until they can get it. They will want you to play with them, or to find them a friend, but they will play on their own if they have to.

Most of these activities are in some way or other educational. They build imagination, fine motor skills, problem-solving ability, and more. I feel grateful that my daughter had the time for all of this play, and I hope we can continue to build in plenty of these types of activities as school re-commences. [Though I must admit that I finding playing school with her VERY challenging - she is unbelievably strict, and it's not even a little bit fun.]

Here are the things that we did to facilitate this creative play / learning:

  • Provided unstructured time (in some cases by being too busy to play with her directly, as when we were preparing to have friends over one night)
  • Set limits on screen time (though I feel we could improve here)
  • Chose Christmas gifts with open-ended play in mind, and had friends who did so, too (Classic Lego set, vs. particular kits, Magna-Tiles, etc.) 

And here's my real bottom line: My daughter lights up when she's writing, or making things up, or acting things out, or building things. She does not (usually) light up when she is doing worksheets, or working with a school-recommended app that is basically a series of repetitive quizzes. My mission, I have been realizing of late, is to do what I can to facilitate and maximize her joy from learning, and mitigate influences that dampen that joy. This mission, I believe, is going to change the direction of the blog a fair bit. More on that to follow. Wishing you all a joyful and creative 2016!

© 2016 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This post contains affiliate links.