Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Best Week of the Year

My children look forward to Kids' College week almost as much as Christmas week. Kids' College is a local enrichment program offered for one week in the summer to students from second through fifth grade. This year, as always, the program was fantastic. This was EM's first year as a student. I wasn't sure if he would enjoy it as much as JT does. When I asked what he thought after the first day he told me it was 'alright'. By the second day, he was hooked.

The schedule included three classes in the mornings: Wiggles, Squiggles, Fun and Giggles; Medieval Magic and Foreign Forensics: CSI East Asia. Each day was jam-packed with exciting hands-on activities. EM, who is not the biggest fan of drawing, even enjoyed the creative drawing activities in the Wiggles, Squiggles, Fun and Giggles class. JT had an especially good time trying new foods in the CSI East Asia class.

Two things come to mind as I file away this year's experience. First of all, I really appreciate the way the instructors treat the students with respect. I understand that in a regular classroom, order must be maintained or mayhem would quickly result. However, too often I have seen adults 'in charge' take this to mean that the children are lesser human beings and that their individual needs come after the need for conformity. But one example from Kids' College shows that the adults here are ready to listen to the opinion of the students.

The program is held on the campus of a local university. The building that is used for Kids' College is also being used by university staff. The children need to be respectful of the employees while traveling through the building from one room to another. One way the instructors remind them to behave is by placing sets of Styrofoam eyeballs in strategic places throughout the building. This helps the kids remember that there are eyes on them at all times. One set of eyeballs ended up in the boys' bathroom. A few of the boys decided that this was not exactly 'appropriate' to have the eyes 'watching' them while they were in there. When they brought their concerns to the instructors, it was discussed and determined that it would be best to remove the eyes from the bathroom. This may seem like a minor issue, but it really shows the attitude of the teachers. The students' opinions were given value. They were treated as thinking beings that could provide input to the community.

Secondly, during the week the boys were at camp, I read a wonderful blog post at Scientific American titled, The Educational Value of Creative Disobedience. The author explores the question of whether our traditional methods of instruction, including memorization of facts and imitation of instructors, help or hinder a child's ability to learn. It was a fascinating article. The studies that are referenced throughout the post hammer home the idea that allowing a child to figure out for themselves the best way to do something helps them to get the most value out of their education. When I look at the experience Kids' College provides to the students, I see how well they are applying the principles these researchers are touting. The following excerpt from the post by Andrea Kuszewski explains how learning really happens:

You need to make mistakes in order to learn. If you never know why an answer is wrong, you will never be able to come across a novel situation and make a good decision about how to act. Making errors and struggling through problems is what increases cognitive ability . Spending time pondering a question, weighing choices, thinking about whether or not an answer fits, and why—this is what drives positive change. That’s what learning is. That’s what our education system should be focusing on. (source)

Kudos to the creators of Kids' College for allowing that sort of learning to happen. It may be messy, it may be a great deal of work...but the kids are gaining more than can be measured.

When I asked EM and JT if there was anything they would like to say about Kids' College, JT said, "It was awesome!" EM said, "I wish it could go on forever...until I grow up."

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