Friday, August 6, 2010

A Sunset Home Run: The Power of Analogies

Do you ever wonder how much of what your children learn will be forgotten in a year? what about (gulp) two years? I often question the effectiveness of my methods - when we go to the trouble of learning something, I like it when we actually remember it later.

Somehow, some of the things we learn do stick, and I'm always so curious to see which things stick, and why. I love to look for clues that point out the best ways for each member of our family to learn AND REMEMBER.

(and, if we're lucky, even USE - oh, happy day!)

Recently, we were driving home from a short beach trip, and we were treated to one of the most breathtaking sunsets I've ever seen. It wasn't particularly colorful, although there were some of the swirling oranges and reds we are used to seeing.  There was this one pale cloud, though, that was entirely rimmed with white light, and several times we even saw it form a little cap or "halo", a neon rainbow circle that crowned the cloud's highest peak.  And behind us, the full moon was brilliantly lit with reflected light.

Which led us to discussing how the moon and the clouds don't actually generate light of their own.  We'd covered this a couple of years ago, but I had no clue if the kids would remember much from the lesson.  Madeline piped right up though, and said, "Sure, it's just like a baseball game, remember?"  And then I remembered that when we talked about how the sun's light reflected off the moon back toward earth, Madeline had come up with that baseball analogy.

The sun is the pitcher.  He throws the ball (light) towards the batter (the moon, or other object), and the ball is hit back towards the fielders (us).

This visual had stuck with her all that time, and, from what Claire said when it came up, it had stuck with her sister, too.  I've found that analogies to familiar concepts really help me understand and remember new concepts and relationships.  Apparently they help the girls as well.

So, now I'm curious how we can come up with more analogies.  If a textbook doesn't point one out (which they often don't) then it means we have to do a little thinking about what we are learning, asking ourselves what this information reminds us of.  ("This is just like . . . ")  I'm guessing this is where a fertile imagination comes into play!  So, maybe searching for analogies helps in more than one way.

  • #1) it helps cement understanding and retention
  • #2) It helps exercise and develop the imagination.  

Analogies are also indispensable in writing.  They help communicate information to an audience in a clear and colorful way.  Just like a picture, sometimes one apt analogy can be worth a thousand words.  (see the analogy I used, there?!)  I suppose that makes three ways that working to think in terms of analogies can help:

  • #3) improves writing and communication
Looks like devoting a little extra brainwidth to focus on analogies is a solid investment.  What would that look like in your family?

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Planning and Pondering - What is Success?

As many of us (homeschoolers or not) get ready to plunge into a new school year, it's a great time to make the effort to ponder that Big Picture. What do we really consider success to look like? What are we really, ultimately, trying to do in raising our children to be (hopefully)successful adults?

Here are a couple of quotes I've run across that help me think about my real goals. I now have them posted front and center on my kitchen whiteboard (using black construction paper decorated with glittery gel pens). They are helping keep me on track in this season of planning our curricula, projects, and activities:

"All success consists of this: You are doing something for somebody - benefiting humanity - and the feeling of success comes from the consciousness of this." - Elbert Hubbard, 1923

"Try not to become a man of success but rather try to become a man of value." - Albert Einstein (1955)

Those are great thoughts to ponder. To me, the trick, (and the fun!), is figuring out what to do with them.

I find that our path twists and loops - a sort of 3-D cursive that looks different every day. Once our feet hit the ground each morning, we are off on another adventure. The way our madcap wanderings unfold makes planning a challenge, at best! Even with all the bumps and ruts, challenges, and choices, though, it is still enchanting to anticipate what could lie around the next bend. . .