Email: Pokemon

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.

Casey Lee
Bravewriter Mom

Hi Casey.

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:

  1. Your child will like you. We love people who like what we love, who show interest in our interests, who admire our expertises.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.)

4 Responses to “Email: Pokemon”

  1. Tina says:

    I found this post incredibly pertinent to our lives right now as my boys (13 and 11) are about to participate in a Pokemon tournament this weekend with their dad and I’m about to embark on co-monitoring a Pokemon club at our local homeschool co-op. My boys have been heavily into Pokemon since they were 5 and 3 (believe it or not!) and have learned so much from this hobby. They improved their reading skills because they wanted to read the guides that describe all of their favorite characters. We have found a lot of interesting “traditionally academic” tie-ins to the character names such as investigating the real-life animal that inspired Pikachu, or that the “magnetic storm” attack actually has real world application having to do with solar flares and the earth’s magnetic field!
    I guarantee that if you tune into your son’s Pokemon obsession, you’ll be surprised at what both of you can learn!
    And a Pokemon tournament can be truly inspirational because the kids are there because they WANT to be, instead of their parents convincing them it’s good for them (as we’ve experienced playing in chess tournaments etc …) Also, it’s amazing that the largest age group at the tournaments is the senior age division (ages 16-17 and up), a lot of the dads join in! So it really is a hobby that can be enjoyed into adulthood.

  2. Julie Bogart says:

    How cool is that?! It never ceases to amaze me how enriching it is to have families share their real lived experiences with readers. Thank you so much! I’m sure Casey will appreciate it!

  3. Lora says:

    I feel ready to get another Pokemon deck for Christmas after reading these entrys!!! We played Pokemon for years and my kids are great game strategists because of it. Did you know that the game “Magic The Gathering” came before Pokemon? My husband and I started playing it together because it was a quick game that we could do while toddlers were bouncing on our laps. Then when we moved into Pokemon with our kids, we realized that it was a scaled down version of Magic. I actually enjoy it more than Magic (the characters are a lot cuter!) James Garfield was the inventor of Magic and you might want to check out more games by “Wizards of The Coast” such as Robo Rally which is a wonderully eclectic family game.
    I find it ironic too that just this morning, the kids were reading a Book of World Records 2005 and read about the world’s largest flower -Rafflesia – and guess what, it is on Bulbasaur’s 3rd and 2nd evolve (my son tells me)!
    So, there is more than meets the eye with this Pokemon craze….
    You might want to check out some of the “Draw Pokemon” books – we also did that for a while and practiced painting them with watercolors.
    One more thing…. You could write Pokemon stories or draw a bunch of them on a big sheet of posterboard and write dialogues between them (this was one of my writing ideas that never came to fruition I am feeling inspired again!)
    Check out new words in the Thesauras for “confused, defending, opponent, poisened, burned, asleep, paralyzed)…..(Wow, my ideas might actually take root today in our house!)

  4. Cindy Kelly says:

    Right on Julie!

    My boys (now 17 and 14) went through Pokemon, beanie babies, and tons of other games/interests and all the points you made are true- they learned sorting, classifying, etc

    In later years as they began to enjoy video games I had to push away my prejudices – and as I sat along side, learned to play a few games, I found there is more to that world than meets the eye.

    One of our favorite family nights was when we all went to the video games life concert here in Houston- wonderful music!

    I see the skills they have learned from these intersts translate to other areas- logic, reserach, discussion, critique- and it springboards them in to other subjects- such as current events an politics (they were all over HIllary for wanting to regulate games… is it the responsibility of the government or parents? And my boys won’t touch M rated games.. so they are for better non-violent games– but what is the best method to get us there?)

    Yes, being invovled in their interersts is key-and i found if I give them respect they will respect me, my choices and try new things I suggest (here comes the history, etc)

    Thanks for the post

    Cindy in Houston