So I’ve got a slew of email reacting to the One Thing series – everything from young kids to high schoolers. Because we’ve focused so much on high school (and will continue to next week), let’s take a break and look at a question from a mom with a 9 year old boy.
After bouncing around doing different things for my two children, while homeschooling for 5 years now, I am falling in to a more relaxed homeschooling pattern.
I am very much into the idea of “one thing.” But, finding one thing that my 9 year old son and I can both focus on seems to be impossible! I want to study things alongside him and enjoy what he enjoys. In addition, he is not interested in my interests.
Today I am going to a wildlife refuge to hear a talk about bats. He wants nothing to do with it. He wants to stay at home and study the evolutions of Pokemon. Blech! That is his only love right now. How can I make that “one thing?”
First of all, I am wondering how to incorporate HIS “one thing” with learning. I have been desperately trying to figure out how I can make Pokemon educational. Knowing the evolutions (what they turn into after each stage of life), or knowing how to spell them has stumped me as to how he can use this later in life. He is past learning to count so we can’t use that as an excuse. In addition, there are not hundreds of sources to study to learn about it. Wouldn’t it be easier if he studied something like, Albert Einstein or Rachel Carson? Or the trees or the weather? Or Shakespeare or even Scrabble to learn spelling?
Does it even matter if his “one thing” is related future uses in life? I am just worried that this phase ultimately will be a waste of time and further his educational career.
I’m so glad you asked this specific question as my son went through a Pokemon phase. Then his interests graduated to Yugi-oh cards and I came along for the ride. You ask some good questions. Let’s take them one at a time.
What if your son isn’t interested in what you’re interested in? I mentioned in another blog entry (Undefining Unschooling) that moms need to pursue what interests them regardless of whether or not their kids are interested in those same subjects. You can learn anything that is interesting to you, right in front of your kids, for its own sake (not because you hope your kids will want to learn it). At the same time, being the more mature of the pair, it is up to you to discover what it is that is interesting about your child’s interests. If you show genuine curiosity about the areas of interest your children have, you will gain several benefits right away:
- Your child will like you. We love people who like what we love, who show interest in our interests, who admire our expertises.
- Your child will trust you. He’ll believe you when you say, “I think you might enjoy X.” Why? Because he’ll know that you know what kinds of things he likes and that you support who he is (you’re not trying to draw him away from what he loves to do because you disapprove of it). He will be more likely to assume that you’ve got his best interests in mind if you find the interests he already has valuable.
- You will discover the value of any interest because through patient engagement, you’ll see the subject/area of interest up close and can discover the aspects of it that are intrinsically educational and valuable.
How are Pokemon cards educational? The danger here is trying to see value in the content of Pokemon rather than the process of playing with these cards. Content shifts, varies, has value or doesn’t depending on context. For instance, a mother may consider playing a musical instrument more valuable long term than playing cards with Japanese cartoons on them. Music is universally approved by mothers. But the content of playing is only valuable if the child likes the flute or piano and goes on to continue to play it for pleasure for the rest of his or her life. I played both flute and piano and never play either any more. Was it a waste of my time? What value did it have, if content is the measure? The content is no longer relevant to me. I don’t enjoy playing either instrument and haven’t in twenty years.
And yet I don’t regret having played when I did. I enjoyed it then. And I learned valuable skills: daily practice to improve, reading music, playing with a group, performing for an audience, appreciation of various musical styles, learning how to write music, and even the discovery that I don’t really want to be a musician.
The point is this. You may or may not enjoy Pokemon as a subject, as a content area. What you can do, however, is note it for its educational value apart from the pictures on the cards. Here are some learning processes that your son is internalizing without any special work from you that are extraordinary and useful to him for the rest of his life:
- Sorting and classifying: He is naturally putting cards into groups based on particular features related to each of the characters and their powers.
- Ranking: He is determining the hierarchy within the cards themselves, evaluating one power against another and which is more valuable when playing these cards against each other.
- Strategy: He creates a deck that he believes is stacked in such a way as to beat his opponent. (If he doesn’t have an opponent yet, you get to be that person!)
- Writing: Some kids (both of my boys who played these types of games) write lists constantly. And they were more than happy to do copywork when they were able to make lists based on card games.
- Teaching: Since you don’t know anything about Pokemon, your child is in the perfect position to be put in the driver’s seat. That means he teaches you how to play, how to create your deck, he explains why some powers are more valuable than others, what happens when you play one card instead of another etc. It will be a challenge to him (and to you). You’ll feel bored, frustrated, wishing you were done, wondering why this matters (all the feelings he might have when you are trying to interest him in something you care about). This is your chance to learn how to learn in spite of yourself, it’s your chance to validate his expertise and to help him learn how to express in language what it is that he knows.
- Calculating: All these card games relate to math (not just counting). Calculating damage when playing one card against another, understanding the ratio of cards with certain powers to other cards in the same deck (there are rules about how to stack a deck and they have to be observed), and so on. All of these skills are the same ones taught with tedious categories and examples in math text books (sorting, ranking, calculating, strategizing).
- Saturated Interest: We can never really know how a deep interest relates to other subjects until we deepen the interest and watch it naturally interconnect to other parts of our world. Two of my boys have been avid card gamers. The oldest (Noah) is now deeply involved in Role Playing Games which have provided him with extensive understanding of the history of philosophy, for instance. Liam’s love of Yugi-Oh cards has given him transfer skills to bird watching and ornithological study (sorting, attention to detailed differences between birds, classification and so on).
- Friends: A lot of times, the areas of interest we care most about lead us to people who are similar to us. Even if the interest doesn’t last longterm, the friendships founded during that season continue because the area of interest led us to people more like ourselves.
- Entertainment: Don’t forget that having fun is perfectly fine when learning! 🙂
The point is: every subject is rich with learning opportunity if the student becomes deeply interested and has time to develop that interest. At the point of deepest interest, the student relies on the tools of learning to become expert in the subject area. These tools are what are critical to his future (not content as much).
Will it be a waste of time if he doesn’t use it in the future? I have a theory that nothing we truly care about is ever wasted. The mistake is assuming we will make use of things we hated doing based on the theory that we would need that material later.
For instance, I grew up truly resenting math. I felt like a failure in that subject, never did discover how to grasp it in a way that served me or helped me with life and was told repeatedly by my dad (bless his heart, he didn’t know better) that mathematical aptitude was the only measure of true intelligence. Despite earning a 3.85 in high school, going to UCLA for college and repeated success in writing, I felt less smart than my peers because of my dislike for math.
To this day, I don’t use math. I resist counting, I skip numbers when I read them in articles, and I get all shaky and teary when I go to any financial meeting with my accountant.
Fortunately for me, I did devote myself to writing and acting (and singing and dressing up and playing Barbies and making my toy animals talk to each other) from an early age and developed proficiencies that continue to reap dividends in my life every day.
So bottom line: Pokemon turns his crank. Get on the adventure with him. Discover together what uses it may have in his life. You can help him create a deck, ask him questions, draw his favorite characters together, jot down details he doesn’t want to forget, write up a list of instructions for you so you can play with him, watch the TV show and learn who the characters are, and more. I just looked up Pokemon on Wikipedia and discovered all the tournaments and opportunities for competition associated with Pokemon!
Let me know how it turns out. (Remember: he’s only 9. This interest will pass and will lead to others. Enjoy it while it lasts.)