By Hugh Chapman
My Granddaughter will be four years old next month and I’ve begun to make a conscious effort to learn how to effectively deal with a child of that age. The resource I’ve been using is a book called “Yardsticks” by Chip Woods, in which the author states, “Four year olds learn best through their own play, by being read to, by acting out stories and fairy tales, and by manipulating clay, paint brushes, finger paints, building blocks and math materials.” While trying to picture how these things could work for four-years-olds, I realized they would work even better for adults.
At the risk of sounding ridicules, I’m going to admit that at the age of 59 I believe that on some subconscious level I must be planning to be the hero of a fairy tale someday. Consider this. I work out in the gym to become stronger, I bicycle to become more fit and I pour over important books to be more knowledgeable and resourceful. Yet if you were to ask me why I want to be stronger, fitter and smarter, I’d be hard pressed to give you a reasonable answer.
I seldom do the kind of physical labor, anymore, that would necessitate more strength, I have no need to run or ride a bicycle faster than I already do because I have a jeep that takes me wherever I want to go. And learning more stuff seems a little wasteful, too, since I’ll be entering the ranks of the retired in less than 6 months and will no longer need to bulk up on excess knowledge. All of which leads me to believe that because I still strive to master these apparently unnecessary accomplishments, it must be because my subconscious is leading me toward becoming a hero (should a need ever arise.)
Now, you may think that’s silly, but even as I write, I’m reminded that this past year while in Seaside, Florida over summer break, I actually did gallop in on a white steed to rescue a beautiful princes. Okay—the white horse was technically a red bicycle, and the beautiful princess was a 73 year old woman in a Buick with a flat tire. But as my friend Ricky from Blytheville used to say when we were six, “It doesn’t matter what you think because you’re not the boss of my pretend!”
By the way, the princess that I rescued that day was quite beautiful, with sparkling eyes and a grateful smile. And for a while I think I truly was a hero.
My little book also tells me that four year olds learn best from acting out stories. But don’t we all? It was from acting out stories that I learned, at fourteen, to entertain my friends with funny jokes and at sixteen, to construct plausible excuses to give to my parents when I didn’t get home on time.
And it was through acting that I learned to converse (at least somewhat intelligently) with girls. Then at nineteen I used the same skills to write my first short stories, and at 21 I used my rehearsal experience to practice asking my wife to marry me—the beginning of a fairy tale love story that has played out now for nearly forty years.
As a father, I helped my son pretend to be a big league ball player until he realized that academics was the better course for him and he adjusted his sights to become an attorney. Similarly, my daughter began taking dancing lessons at a very early age and she pretended to be a dancer right up to the moment that she no longer needed to pretend because she had evolved into a real dancer, graceful in motion and beautiful in poise.
Even more recently I’ve pretended to be the guest of honor at my granddaughter’s tea party where I wore a purple flowered hat whilst sitting on a tiny stool across the table from a huge sock monkey and a stuffed polar bear. And with my grandson in a three man dome tent I have pretended to be a storm trooper from a galaxy far away. (Well, I think I was a storm trooper. I’m not as well versed in Star Wars lore as some.)
All in all, I feel as if I’ve done a pretty good job of pretending and that I’ve continued to do as much on a fairly regular basis. It’s was no great task, for instance, to fool a six month old in a game of peep-eye, but my grandson is of exceptional intelligence and by nine months he had caught on and was fooling me. That’s when I knew it was time to find a new game.
My book also tells me that four year olds learn from playing with clay and blocks and through manipulating math materials. Yet in my adult life the parallels are uncanny; similar to what a four year old might do, I have used clay to mix mortar for the rock wall around my driveway. I’ve used brushes to repaint my garage and ‘building block’ engineering to construct a deck just beyond the living room window of my first house.
In my career I teach high school kids, but I think the lessons of a four year old can be applied to students of any age if the mind is willing to stretch a bit. Stories and games in classrooms can be a great thing if they can be effectively tied into a lesson. I’ve learned that the more vivid the illustration, the more the information is likely to stay with the student until test time. Or maybe even a lifetime?
In observing my wife, who is the best teacher I know, interact with my grandchildren, I’ve seen that children learn best from playtime and fairy tales, from building blocks and finger paint. But think how much better our world might be if we should all discover that our lifetime is our playtime.
Ok, so maybe this all still sounds silly, right? But that’s ok because as Rick used to say, “You’re not the boss of my pretend.”
Gosh, I wonder if this is why they never give me books to read~
Tags: School, Friends, Grandchildren, Middle School, High School, learning,