So our schools are out for six weeks. Six. Weeks. And there is a lot going around on Facebook about the best way to do that. Schedules. So very, very much in the way of free lessons from the internet—and we’ve used those, and I’m grateful. A friend in California is going to print up and mail me some coloring pages from a museum offering free coloring pages. The entirety of the internet seems to be trying to figure out how to replace a vital part of the community, and it’s one of the best things happening right now. Amy Adams is telling stories on Instagram, and Mo Willems is offering drawing lessons online.
And as I said, we’re using those things. Why not? They’re there. We let my son choose the other day, and Simon and I went on a virtual tour of Yellowstone using some of the 3D models of things like Old Faithful, and then we went poking around learning about things like silicate minerals. This in addition to the quiet reading time I assign him and the worksheets his teacher sent home on Friday. However, one of the things I’m factoring into lesson plans around here is using television, both for Simon and his sister Irene.
I can hear people getting upset. Let me be clear that this is not plunking them down in front of the TV and calling it learning. Not even from Irene, who’s already absorbed most of the math she knows pretty well by osmosis from Team Umizoomi. When I can bear to pay attention to that show, I even help her there, encouraging her to answer the questions the show asks her about what comes next and what number something is and so forth. I did that for Simon, and he knew what a rectangular prism was before he started preschool. Which I can promise you I did not.
But no, I’ve got slightly more advanced ideas than that. For Irene, it’s obvious—we’ll watch things like Sesame Street alphabet videos and Simon and I will sing along with her. For Simon, a little more complicated. For three years now, he’s had his own film review account on Letterboxd, and we’ll be adding to that—and I’ll start encouraging him to just write, not rely on me to ask him questions but to seriously put down what he thinks without the need for that. Sure, it’s Baby’s First Film Criticism, but it’s also teaching him to do writing on a specific subject, and if it’s a movie he liked, surely he has more to say, right?
But I have a few more involved ideas as well. For one thing, there’s The Who Was? Show on Netflix. Use it as a starting place. Each episode is about two historical figures; so okay, we watch the episode and then go and learn more about the historical figures. I taught Simon about Venice a bit yesterday, and he was very excited every time the name “Marco Polo” came up, because he already knew that name. And while the show has given him a decent overview, there’s a lot to learn beyond that.
And while he and Irene can pick up bits and pieces of Spanish from Dora the Explorer and Sesame Street, and while Simon and I will continue his daily Duolingo, what I might do is take shows he already knows, particularly the already-Spanish Pocoyo, and play them for him in Spanish. I learned more using novelas, but I think that’s a bit much for a six-year-old. Some of those problems are a bit above a first-grade level, you know?
I’m sure parents are already thinking of ways of using their kids’ shows in similar ways. Use Hilda to teach about folklore—there’s some roots in Scandinavian stories there. Of course use Inside Out to talk about feelings and how to deal with them. Use “Lava” as a place to start teaching vulcanology. Or the career of Israel Kamakawiwoʻole, if that’s what you want to teach today. The combination of TV and the internet means I can teach the kids about practically anything, even if I’m learning with them at the same time.