Rebecca Beacom Lloyd holds a B.A. in Political Science and earned Master's Degree in Teaching from Boston University. She has taught high school Spanish, Home Economics, World History and American History. In recent years, she has been at home raising children, but she thinks constantly about education and ways to improve schools. To this end, she enjoys using her children as subjects for testing various educational theories.
I have four children. Two of them are old enough to attend school. At the moment, I think our public school is perfectly adequate. The kids get out of the house for a few hours, they interact with other children and they learn a few things. Three out of four teachers have been wonderful and there have only been a few cases of bad relationships with peers. Also, the school is well-ranked, the parents are highly involved and the community is affluent. It is, as they say, a “good school district.” What more could I possibly want?
I want kids who come home and enthusiastically report about all the exciting things they learned that day. My kids don’t do that. My third grader proudly announced last week that he had completed his homework on the bus. Hooray!! My friend’s son attends Fessenden, a private boys’ school in Newton; she says he does enthusiastically report on his day. When he went to school with my son, he did not. I grilled her, at length, to determine what it was that made Fessenden so fantastic. It was the quality of the teaching and the calm, focused atmosphere of the classroom. Those are two things I cannot control in my local school. I don’t get to choose my children’s teachers and I do not manage the classrooms. Ergo, I am constantly wondering whether I should pull them out and start my own school. Not home school, but a very small school with excellent teachers, engaged students and a curriculum that is so interesting and relevant, that the kids can’t help but love learning. I may do that in a few years, but in the meantime, I am supplementing the kids’ classroom experiences at home.
In order to do this, I am in the process of discovering each child’s passions. Learning is rewarding if one is studying something he or she cares about. My kids are crazy about Legos. It is possible to teach math, science and almost any other school subject using Legos as learning aids.
Capturing the kids’ attention with Legos isn’t enough though. In his book, Making Learning Whole, David Perkins of Harvard University, writes about how students’ interest in learning starts to drop off after third grade because they “find little that is useful to their lives.” I can see what he means. My third grader doesn’t have much interest in learning the times tables since he knows how to use a calculator. Since reading Dr. Perkins book, I am often examining my son’s school work with him so we can figure out together how writing or basic geometry or music can be useful to him.
Finally, and this is Dr. Perkins again, I am trying to give the kids opportunities to put into practice the skills they learn at school. I routinely have them make small purchases at the store and determine whether they have been given the correct change. This spring, when we plant a garden, we should discuss photosynthesis (at their level), the rain cycle, farm subsidies and whatever else I can think of. We might run a Popsicle, I mean “ice pop” stand. It will be relevant to them because they love ice pops. I hope that they will be able to utilize their basic math skills in determining pricing, making change and purchasing ingredients. I would like them to work on their writing and art skills by making posters and their culinary skills by trying different ingredients in ice pops. I am hoping we can try an experiment using social networking to sell popsicles. And finally, we can have some discussions about who invented ice pops, how the ingredients in ice pops freeze and the effects of red dye 40 and high fructose corn syrup (common Popsicle ingredients) on the average child.
So goes my quest to supplement the kids’ education. Schools are not organized to meet every child’s educational needs. Research suggests that they could be, but educational reform is a topic for another day. Today, I can make sure my children are passionate about something, that they enjoy learning and are capable of applying what they learn. With twelve weeks of summer vacation fast approaching, it’s important to have a plan.
What dreams do you have for your children's education? For yours?
Have you read Eva Koleva Timothy's Lost in Learning?
Did you know that the website Brickify allows you to to turn any image into a Lego statue?
Speaking of popsicles, you may enjoy this website Nature Matching System, a public art project visualizes the colors you should be eating.