Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Toys, The Building Blocks of Learning

I was cleaning my oldest boy's room the other day. My wife saw me heading to the garbage can with a bag of broken toys. She wanted me to keep all of his toys because he will literally play with anything. 

While it is true that I will often find him playing with broken toys, that doesn't mean we have to keep every broken toy in the bin because he will play with it if he ever gets to the bottom of the toy box again. 

It did get me thinking though. Here's my theory on toys, gleaned from reading pop psychology articles over email.

  • Plain boring toys, blocks, Legos etc, increase imagination because the child must build something with the toy, use the toy as a symbol or what ever that requires a bit of imagination.

  • Trademarked toys, Lightning McQueen, or basically any Disney product, reinforce the story and hopefully the message it told. It builds some imaginative play but mostly helps retelling of stories and reinforcement of ideas.

  • Video games and TV are mostly passive watching, though often more recent kids shows do what they can to get kids involved in the show. Great for memorization and regurgitation of facts.

Broken toys will generally fit into the plain boring toy group.

All three groups are important to have. Imagination is first because I want my children to be able to think outside the box. Trademarked toys are second because a good lesson on morals, character, or life in general is a good thing to learn. Video games are last because even when kids do get involved they are simply providing the action or response wanted, not really thinking for themselves.

It is important to note that all three groups are included. All three groups are necessary. Take the simple example of the multiplication table.

I used to teach 4th grade. Curriculum wise my students should have learned the times table, but not all of them did. Now I could have retaught my students the basics of multiplication and expected them to figure out simple multiplication facts every time they didn't know one, but I didn't. I usually reviewed the concept, but then I had every student tape the times tables onto the top of their desk.

I know every student understood the basic idea of multiplication I didn't want the fact that they didn't have the entire one digit multiplication table memorized to interfere with their ability to learn two by two or two by three digit multiplication.

There are certain things we know and use everyday simply because we have been using them for so long and so often we memorize them. In most instances the why or how is not important. In life and education I see those low level facts as the building blocks for the other two sets of toys.

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