Saturday, February 6, 2010

Accidentally About Homeschooling

Back at the beginning of January, Stephanie (Laughing Stars aka the Stark Raving Bibliophile) gave an interesting review of the book "Don't Bother Me Mom--I'm Learning!" by Marc Prensky. This book offers a rare positive perspective of children's video gaming habits and how they can learn from games. Not games expressly marketed as educational games, but the "fun" games that are popular with kids.

Just the other night, there was a news report about sexual predators approaching kids through an XBox Live game. Whenever there is a report about kids and gaming on the news, it is usually negative. Most parents worry when their kids play games online. I know I do. But then again, I worry in any situation where I need to send them off on their own and hope nothing happens. All you can do is make them aware of the dangers in the world, real or virtual, and give them the tools and skills they need to face whatever comes up. I also pray a lot!

This book is refreshing in its attitude about gaming. Games aren't bad. As in all things, it needs to be done in moderation and it is the parents' job to set limits and be aware of their child's involvement. But used correctly, a child's interest in games can lead into all areas of his life and the author's opinion is that the child receives an entire curriculum worth of learning based on his games. This sounded so familiar. Like I've heard it in my homeschooling circles. Can you say child led, interest based learning? I thought you could!

In fact, toward the end of the book, Prensky is ready to turn the field of education on it's ear with his "new way" of learning. Listen to this quote:

What if we created a school with no teachers at all, as we know them today, but rather with the same number of empathetic "learning counselors"--people who have no "required" academic training in subject matter, but have great skills at understanding and helping kids? ~page 200

Oh! Oh! I know this one. Now don't tell me...

I don't know how the professional educational community received this book, but I am reasonably certain they considered it as radical as homeschooling!

While I did find this book thought provoking and full of interesting ideas for integrating gaming into a learning curriculum, I did have some technical issues with it. Most notable is that the beginning of the book needed better editing and proofreading. If you are going to present reasons for major changes in education, at the very least, your writing must be professional and with as few grammatical errors as possible. I'm very forgiving of errors in blogs or online discussions I read, but I feel if you are going to go the trouble of putting your thoughts to paper and publishing them, you should make sure your opinions are presented in a clear and concise manner. Some sections spent too much time telling me what the next section would be about. I also don't need to be reminded of the companion website twice in every chapter. While it is true that the gaming industry is rapidly changing, I would rather that the book stand on its own, current for when it was written. Especially when a search of the website found it sadly in need of updating. Frankly, in some sections it was sadly in need of links. This book was only published four years ago. What happened to the website? (Note: I am currently trying to register and log in to see if any of the information is available only to registered users. I will update if this is the case.)

As I said before, the content of the book itself is very interesting and has a homeschooling/unschooling feel about it. Most useful are the parts about what children learn from their games, what children can learn on their own, talking with your children about their games, and the final chapter on what to do right now. I believe it is definitely worth the read.


On a lighter note, I picked up a picture book at the library called "What to Do About Alice?" by Barbara Kerley. This book is about Teddy Roosevelt's daughter, Alice. It is subtitled, "How Alice Roosevelt broke The Rules, Charmed The World, and drove her Father Teddy CRAZY!" This is a charming book I borrowed to read to Sierra. I did not know it would end up being yet another story of a homeschooler! Maybe this is what comes of homeschooling for over ten years, you start seeing examples of it everywhere. I saw my own little girl in this high spirited, adventurous President's daughter. At one point, Teddy thinks it is time to send Alice to boarding school to learn to be a proper young lady....

Alice was appalled. The idea completely "SHRIVELED" her. Every afternoon, all summer long, she made a point of going to her room to weep.

In the end, she came up with the solution for her father to let her loose in his library every day. Every morning she told her father what she learned the day before! I am definitely going to buy a copy of this book for our own collection. And I'm also going to hope Sierra doesn't decide she needs a pet snake. (Alice's was named Emily Spinach, after a thin aunt and the color it resembled. She greeted visitors to the White House with it!)

As far as the historical accuracy of this book is concerned, I would have to do more research. I noticed some reviewers blasted it for making her life seem happier than it was. They must not have understood that it was a children's picture book. For young children, especially young homeschooled girls, I believe this is a wonderful story worth reading!

And there you have it, two more books accidentally about homeschooling!


Stephanie aka The Stark Raving Bibliophile said...

Great review of Don't Bother Me Mom! Like you, I felt the author worked really hard to pitch his website in the pages of the book and was disappointed to find there isn't much there. There was a lot of wisdom and encouragement there, though -- it sounds like you connected with some of the same things I did.

Funny -- I didn't notice the grammatical errors, and I'm usually ridiculously anal about that kind of thing. :-D

I loved reading your thoughts on gaming and parenting, and I will keep an eye out for What To Do About Alice. Didn't her father once say something to the effect of "I can govern this country or I can govern Alice, but I can't do both" ?? :-)

jugglingpaynes said...

LOL, yes. That quote is in the picture book!
The errors in Prensky's book were mainly spelling, the kind a spell check program would miss.

Inner Elder said...

I like your honest balanced review of this book. And yes I think Sierra would find Alice Roosevelt very interesting - she can grow into more mature bios. BTW, I was checking out the website of one of my favorite mystery writers, Anne Perry. And guess what? She was homeschooled! Love, mom

The Stone Age Techie said...

Thanks for posting about these, I've been needing some interesting, thoughtful and/or amusing reading in my life - makes these winter nights go by a bit faster :-)

Lori said...

i haven't read this, but have you read "everything bad is good for you"? another book positing that gaming isn't bad.

when i wrote about how kids can read a lot *and* play video games recently, i got a *lot* of negative mail -- saying i was "pro-media" (ha!) and it's irresponsible to suggest people introduce video games because "most kids can't handle it". mmm...

there seems to be a "new immigrant" response to every new big change in communication; people thought the novel was the worst thing ever for kids when it appeared on the scene.

i want to champion adults exercising some critical thinking, investigating these things for themselves and arriving at their own opinions. even if they read an article that has them 90% convinced that video games are actually awesome for kids, they should stop taking the experts' word for everything and spend a few hours collecting data to make an informed decision based on their individual child.

i have spoken! haha

jugglingpaynes said...

Lori: I remember that post you wrote! I didn't know you had so much negative feedback about it.

I heard of your book, but I haven't read it yet. I think anything new is scary to most adults. Since we didn't grow up surrounded by the massive bombardment of information, it can be overwhelming to us. But our kids just see it as a part of their environment. I've also worried over the video games, but it's true that I was looking at it as an outsider. Even after I tried out games like Zoo Tycoon I was still snobbish toward the shoot 'em up games that my husband and son favored. If others feel their kids "can't handle it," perhaps they are misinterpreting the child's need to "gorge" on the game. That is, if they usually aren't allowed to play, they overdose on it when they can, because they don't know when they will be able to play again. Basic "feast or famine" mentality.

But what do I know? I grew up with TV. It rots your brain, you know. ;o)

Jessica said...

What To Do About Alice sounds like my kind of book! I will have to check that one out. And I agree that not all games rot the brain and don't help kids. I have seen some good things come of video games if done correctly and with limits set.

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