Monday, May 16, 2016

The Importance of Having Fun With Learning

This is the time of the year when there are college graduations, while the regular school year for kids is also wrapping up. I used to really love this time of year, when the weather grew warmer, and summer vacation neared. Like most kids, summer was a time to get away from school, and just simply enjoy ourselves. Perhaps attend summer camp, and most likely, engage in other fun activities. We dreaded when the time came to go back to school in September.

Now, with a son of my own in fourth grade, it saddens me that kids (and that includes him, as well as myself when I was in school many years ago now) feel unhappy about going back to school. After all, school is the peak time for socializing with others, and it also is about learning. And for far too many kids, including my son now and me decades ago, there is an automatic, and most unfortunate, association with education as exclusively falling into the domain of being a burden.

I think it is urgent to understand that learning is fun. It can and should be exciting. Looking back now, I can remember actually feeling excited about learning things. The major difference between my high school years and Rutgers was simply this: by the time that I was attending Rutgers, I had discovered how to incorporate my excitement in learning with my academic performance.

In 1998, I transferred from Bergen Community College to Rutgers. I had been attending Bergen for years on a part-time basis, and felt really pleased to transfer. I had screwed up at times during Bergen, although finished strong, which probably had something to do with maturity. Rutgers offered me the chance to wipe the slate clean and start over, and that was both inviting and refreshing. I was determined to make good on it. Ultimately, I did, eventually graduating with High Honors.

It was inspiring to feel that whole worlds of deeper understanding were opening up for me at Rutgers University in particular, when there was the combined excitement of doing very well academically, while also feeling like my mind was blown at times with all that I was learning, and the deeper understanding that came with it.

Now, it is my son who is learning, and of course, as any dutiful parent is apt to do, I try to encourage this at every turn. Recently, he had a school project, which was called the Wax Museum Project. The kids in his grade had to select someone who had made an impact on New Jersey in history.

So, we set to work on finding a good person that no one else would pick. Ultimately, we chose "Mad" Anthony Wayne.

Now, part of what was needed was to dress as this person, which proved a bit challenging. After all, Wayne fought in the Revolutionary War for American Independence, and that required finding a look that is radically different than we have available these days.

It took me longer than it should for the lightbulb to come on, and think of Washington's Headquarters in Morristown. This was one perfect example of my own enthusiasm for learning as a kid, and being unable (r perhaps even unwilling) to employ this learning into my academic work. My parents took us to Morristown, and seeing something so prominent in history, and so close to where we lived, made this great era feel alive.  So, it seemed to do the same a couple of weekends ago with my son, when we went there, as well. It helped us get many visuals that were also a part of the project, as well as the tri hat that was the style back then.

He enjoyed it, and even compared it to Tombstone, which seems to be his standard of excellence in his judgment.

We used what we got there for the school project, and even though he denied it, I did get the distinct impression that he actually learned something that might just last.

Oh, and he got an A+ on the wax museum project, as well. With the hat, and with his mother taking an old, navy blue jacket of hers and sewing some gold frills on the shoulders, as well as a white scarf that she puffed up to look like a colonial-era shirt, he looked quite good. The visuals were strong, as we spent a good amount of time making a solid poster. Plus, I had also picked up a replica of an old map of New Jersey dating back to colonial days. The speech was informative, yet remained within the 45-second time limit for the presentation. It was informative and intriguing and, luckily, we recited it enough that he knew it by heart, as required, by the day of the presentation, which was last Friday.

What an awesome day that was!

I will give further updates on how he is doing.

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