First task of planning our school: Figuring out our topic.
I talked the question over with Leslie, and she requested that we start by focusing on space. Cat’s cousin Maya had just developed a fascination with space and was excited about learning more. Cat has been fascinated by space for a good while, so I had no opposition. But there was a problem. Cat is allowed nearly unlimited screen time, and she watches *a lot* of really high quality educational videos. (I love YouTube). One lesson I learned very well during my teaching experience is that young kids do not like it when you formally teach them information that they already know. No one particularly enjoys that experience, but kids are especially sensitive to it. I can’t just start explaining facts about the solar system or planets or whatever to the kids. Space hasn’t ever been a particularly compelling interest of mine – it’s quite likely that Cat and Maya know more about space than I do.
I usually resolve this dilemma by asking questions rather than providing information. We could make a list of everything we know about space, and then decide together what we wanted to explore further. But as I thought about it, I realized that I needed to bring hands-on, play-based activities into it somehow, and that’s tough to do when we’re talking about stellar objects that are absolutely beyond our current reach. In fact, I was told while studying education that ‘space’ was not an appropriate topic to study in early childhood, because it has no hands-on components.
That’s when I realized what my true aim in our ‘space’ unit would be. I’m not concerned about the kids learning facts about space and planets and stuff. They have screen time for that, and they are free to explore the various concepts at their leisure. What I want them to do is think about and experiment with the various physical concepts that are involved in space travel. I can’t launch them into orbit, but we can certainly play with the gravity that’s holding them on Earth. To this end, I decided to introduce a 4th member to the class. A puppet named Sam, with aspirations of going as far into space as possible. Most curriculums on space start with the sun, and move outward, planet by planet. Instead, we would start with Earth. That’s where humanity began, that’s where we would begin.
Sam the puppet is going to be a critical component. He’s going to be a convenient combination of completely ignorant but excessively curious. The perfect student. He will ask the kids questions about space, and from their answers I can both evaluate their understanding of concepts and fill in gaps when I find them. My plan is to take things slowly. We’ll talk about how Sam can’t just jump off the Earth, and why. And then spend a day playing with gravity. Then we’ll build Sam a rocketship and talk about thrust and momentum, and spend a day doing activities that allow them to play with those elements. On and on we’ll go, to the stars. We’ll continue with space for as long as it holds the kids’ interest.