Thursday, May 5, 2016

Curiosity and the Boy-Builder - by Karen Andreola

Curiosity and the Boy-Builder 

Nigel harvesting lettuce from his garden in Maine.

One spring, while I was in a temperamental-cleaning-mood, I stood in the doorway of my son's bedroom. "If I push a snow shovel along the floor we could actually walk in here. Then I could vacuum," I said.

His bedroom floor was regularly strewn with Lego, Tinker-toys, paper airplanes, and other miscellaneous clutter-y-bits.

Nigel was either taking things apart or putting things together.

Indoors, when not reading or eating our son was a boy-builder.

Perhaps you can relate. Is there a boy-builder in your house, or a girl-builder?

Outdoors, in Maine, he dug the foundations for his vegetable garden.

In good weather he added to his "fort" in the woods with an ax (Mom hiding her true colors of squeamishness).
Nigel's fort in springtime was surrounded by ferns.

With a boy-builder's inclination to know how things are made, I guess this is why Nigel was happy I made David Macaulay's The New Way Things Work part of his six grade science curriculum.

 He narrated portions of it. He kept a notebook of written narration, too, shorter though they were than his oral narration.

And because Nigel was a doodler I recommended he carry this impulse further. "Doodle something worthwhile in your science notebook," I told him. I was wearing my teacher's hat. He knew this was more than jest.
In The New Way Things Work, Mr. Macaulay's cartoon woolly mammoth throws his bulk around - offering students a comical introduction to physics. The book is largely illustrated.

It begins with the simple principles behind levers, pulleys, wheels, springs, gears, and so on.

As chapters progress we learn about heat, electricity, magnetism, flight, color photography, telecommunications, how a computer mouse works, and more.

Nigel adds: "I was shown the insides of mechanical devises I'd been wondering about - a microphone, violin, camera, microwave oven, and a car engine."

Curiosity Isn't Cool
Hearing an interview with Mr. Macaulay got me thinking. When asked why the average adult doesn't care how things work, he said, "They're missing that invitation that comes from looking at stuff around them." I detected exasperation in his tone. The interviewer could have asked a better question. One I assumed would be obvious. That is, "Why do young children have the urge to take things apart and find out how they work?"

Charlotte Mason observed how curious young children are. Their curiosity is wonderfully wide awake. Tragically, long before he becomes a complacent adult, the average student is lulled to sleep. How? By boring schoolbooks. And a tedious never-ending-cycle of cram. Educators aren't surprised that, stuck in the middle of the typical textbook-workbook-grind, a child starts to drag his feet. It's the status quo. Low-interest is common. It's to be expected. "I found school boring so there's nothing unusual about my kid hating it," I overheard a parent say with a  nervous chuckle. I shuddered.

Furthermore, in many a government school classroom, peer-opinion rules. It creates an atmosphere. When peers decide curiosity isn't cool, the curious student becomes an odd-ball. Rather than be snubbed, made fun of - or worse - suffer torment by Facebook-gossip, an odd-ball learns to maintain a low-profile.

Visiting a large youth-group, our son and another young man (home taught), were the only ones to volunteer answers to the discussion questions. They hadn't a clue this wasn't cool. It wasn't the "in" thing - even in church to appear alert, interested, or engaged. Evidently, a similar atmosphere of peer-opinion has seeped into some church groups.

Delightfully Different
Many a Charlotte-Mason-minded home-teacher has a child who (delightfully) is an odd-ball. He's an older, curious student. How refreshingly peculiar. She wouldn't brag about it. But if the topic arose, in polite conversation, she would smile and confess that her family lives in a kind of "alternate reality" or "alternate universe" (to borrow from science-fiction). Her homeschool is a vibrant place of learning. Her children are talkative. Sometimes tiresomely so.

What takes place in this alternate universe? With anticipation - within a warm family relationship - her students
delve into living books,
take part in discussion,
develop a train-of-thought with narration,

 It is a principle of education that: suitably satisfied, curiosity stays awake. 

A home-taught student could be an odd-ball because he reads odd books, such as The New Way Things Work. Its 400 pages of scientific facts satisfy the curiosity of the boy-builder.

This year Mr. Macaulay made another update published as The Way Things Work Now. But I am without a copy of it in my hands as I write you.

The Scenic Route
Here in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, you can drive along highway 30 and honestly say you've driven through Amish Country. But what would you have really seen?

Slow down and take the meandering back roads, a few turns off the beaten path, and you will see much more.

Taking the scenic route was our approach to history - for both our son and daughters - who meandered off the beaten textbook path.

History is a string of wars. Wars have significance. But aside from war and its destruction, the scenic route gives a student picturesque tales of construction. David Macaulay's books of historical architecture offer us such a picturesque view.

Some of David Macaulay's books on the back kitchen steps.
The Films
The film versions are an off-shoot of Mr. Macaulay's architectural histories. I showed them (on video) during the upper elementary years - in case I needed to discuss any heathen dark spot depicted in them. Today the films are free on YouTube - where you may preview them. Please, as with anything on YouTube, cautiously take charge.
Mom building an Amish inspried doll quilt. Paper-piecing the rows.
Try Books on for Size
Charlotte Mason's says, "genius is that of taking pains". Mr. Macaulay's willingness to take pains in creating his books is symptomatic of a fascination for his subject. He is an odd-ball adult who never lost his curiosity. This seems pretty-cool to me.
Little guy on tip toe with money in his left hand from the sale of a melon.
I esteem his books as schoolbooks.We see no grade level stamped on the the covers. Good thing, too. This makes it easier for me to invite you to use them for a range of ages. Try them on for size. If they make a good fit - grade school or high school - feel no qualms about what age your children are.

Basting from the center out so the pins can be removed and hand-quilting begin.
Does Your Child Drag His Feet?
A student needn't be particularly fond of all his lessons. He can gain the power of self-discipline to complete a lesson that is hard or less interesting.

Stars quilted plainly, purple squares quilted fancy with black thread.
But, if Miss Mason had anything to say about it, there ought to also be something of interest in his diet of new knowledge. Is your child generally lacking in curiosity? This can be discouraging. I offer you my sympathy. May I make a recommendation? Don't be anxious to hurry down the highway. Go the scenic route. Homeschooling allows you freedom to explore. Keep looking until you find your student's something.

Do some of what you have to do,
With some of what you  like to do.
And you will do well.

Quilting, Etc.
The toddler quilt (in girly colors) and knitted vest (both not shown) are ready for upcoming birthdays. We've had a week of a clouds, rain, fog, and overcast days. When the parlor is bright again I hope to take out the camera to show you the the toddler quilt, next.
Pin-cushion filled with alfalfa seeds to hold her new basting pins.
A click on The New Way Things Work  will take you to the David Macaulay's page on Amazon where you can read about PyramidCathedral, City, and Castle, too. 
The Amish doll quilt in the shadows of the front hall and stairway.
Post Script: Our boy-builder is age 27. He now builds web-sites. 

Seeking to Minister and Stay in Touch,
Karen Andreola