Simply receiving information does not make a learner. It is when we interact with what we are hearing/reading/experiencing that we truly learn. To learn, according to the dictionary, means to gain knowledge, to acquire a skill, to commit to memory, to gain experience, to become informed. There is an inference that this information sticks with you – you aren’t just hearing it, it is more than that, what we truly learn becomes ours, we own it.
When looking at the dictionary, I was intrigued to see the origin of the word – Old English word ‘leornian’ to learn, read, ponder, to glean (emphasis mine). The word ponder jumped out at me; probably because it is not a word we would usually list when defining ‘learn’. And yet it is this pondering, interacting, deliberating, thinking over that makes information stick.
Some more synonyms for ponder are: consider, contemplate, muse, think about, wonder, brood over, meditate upon, weigh up.
The problem with pondering, or allowing our children to ponder is that things get out of our control. Our children will think of something unconnected with our lesson plans, they will be fascinated with the unexpected, they will ask questions to things we have no idea about; they will take you down a rabbit trail. Though it can be uncomfortable for us, the truth is, when this happens the heart of the child has been captured, they are delighting in learning and the information will stick!
Alternatively we may find that our kids are just not curious; they have no questions, and they are quite happy to listen to you talk and give you the work you ask for. Though this may be a comfortable model for the teacher (aka mother) it will not help us meet our ultimate goal of a lifelong learner. We need to teach our children to think, to ask questions, to make connections. When our children were young they have what we call a ‘natural curiosity’ but this seems to disappear middle primary age. I think this is because we start to see education as ‘important’ at this age and we start filling them with the information we want them to know, instead of allowing their curiosity to take them places they have never been before. After a few years of being told what to learn their curiosity disappears. Our job is to spark that curiosity once more. We may have to initiate a rabbit trail ourselves and take them with us, be curious ourselves and delight in finding something you never knew before. We need to wrap a web of curiosity around our children and let them see that they can delight in learning once again.
If we were to listen to the words we say to our children throughout the day do they encourage our children to ponder or are they more like: be quick, let’s move on, just read it and find the answers, we don’t have time today. The antithesis of ponder!
If we don’t allow enough time and patience in our day for pondering something has to change. I’m not talking about dawdling. To dawdle means to waste time, idle, loiter, move slowly, languidly. To me it has an attitude of laziness and disinterest or at best distraction. This is not pondering and we need to make sure we aren’t confusing the two. To ponder means to interact with, to consider, to weigh up – it is active though it may stretch over a long period of time. Just because it takes time, doesn’t mean they are going slow, wasting time and not interested. This idea of pondering creates a direct challenge to our ‘tick off the to-do list’ way of life.
It is much easier to plan our day according to a lesson plan and routine that defines what they learn, how long it will take, and what they will produce at the end of that lesson. And this works for some of our subjects – but there are other subjects, there needs to be other subjects where we allow time for pondering.
Things that help me to allow pondering in our day:
- Allow a larger block of time for the subjects where my kids are pondering. At the moment we have ½ hour blocks for math and language arts and longer time blocks for subjects like Bible, History, Science where we tend to talk and find rabbit trails. Though we have had pondering over math in times past –not struggling over math but delightfully thinking on mathematic concepts.
- If pondering is going on I don’t watch the clock. The clock, or time slots on our routine, help us move through our day, the clock helps us evaluate if we are using our time wisely. Once we are pondering the clock stops so to speak. We’ll catch up with whatever else was planned another day! We get our basics (like math, handwriting practice, piano practice done before we start the subjects we are going to dwell on otherwise we may never get to these drill type subjects)
- Go with the kids interests. Though you may have specific knowledge you want your child to learn there is more often than not a way to capture their interest via their passions. We need to know their passions and teach other subjects from that angle. For example my son loved military history so his history lessons have that slant, my daughter though loved people so she knows the personal stories of people in history. My other son is interested in science so when studying history he’ll pick up the development of technology for example.
- Narrations – once my children move on from the basic retell of what they have heard and start incorporating thoughts and questions in what they narrate to me I can hear the things that interest each child. Each child’s narration will be different because they receive the information through their own ‘glasses’. This gives me a glimpse into a rabbit trail, or a research question that will be unique for each child, creating a temptation for them to ponder. It is hearing these individual retells that makes me sit and listen to more than one narration.
- Library stack – to have a pile of books on the topics we are learning about often intrigues them and hooks them in – especially when I have a good selection of junior non fiction (picture books are wonderful, regardless of age).
- Use our language arts skills for learning. Reading, writing, speaking, listening, watching are skills we initially learn but then simply use in all subjects that we study, instead of being a subject in and of itself. We find Bible, History, Science are the easiest subjects to incorporate language arts lessons into. We do this by notebooking from scratch after we have learnt something. By not having a specific language arts lesson time, we free up our study schedule a little more for pondering.
- Recording what we have learnt is in itself another way to ponder as we think over what we have learnt and consider how we can communicate that to others.
- See our whole day as an opportunity for our kids to learn. Since I don’t plan learning opportunities in the afternoon per se, they have most afternoons to pursue the things that they delight in and they will ponder. I consider these activities they choose in their free time very much a part of their education.
For one child to ponder may mean to talk about every aspect, every angle of their topic. To another child to ponder may mean to experiment with hands on materials. To another child they may want to create something which means they daydream first as their creation comes alive. Or maybe they read every book on the topic. Once again we need to understand each of our children – they are all unique – they will all ponder differently, and yet they all need to ponder!