Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Some thoughts on intersensory integration

            One of the best things about working on my new book, Red Flags for Primary Teachers:  Vision and Neurodevelopmental Issues and What to Do About Them, is that I have taken the time to read lots of books by lots of amazing thinkers about the workings of the body, the brain, and the eyes.  I have stacks of books by my bed and I try to read and reread them all as often as I can.
            Jane Healy has written two of my favorites, Failure To Connect (1998) about how computers affect children, and  Endangered Minds:  Why Children Don’t Think (1990), about the plasticity of the brain (yes, in 1990).  Here are a few of her ideas with commentary from me.

            “These systems [listening, looking, touching, and moving] should become automatic so that around age seven children can integrate them smoothly.”
  To me this says that the old-fashioned kind of play is still the best for children seven and under.  When I was a little girl, of course, there were no computers or televisions and barely any phones.  Radios with tubes and manual typewriters were technology’s state of the art when I was seven.  When it was time for us to play, we went outside.  We walked, we ran, we climbed, we played hide-and-seek all over the neighborhood.  The boys played baseball where they could, the girls built houses for their dolls (it would never have occurred to us to switch those roles).  Once a week, most of us had a piano lesson or a ballet class or a dentist appointment, but mostly our time was spent with each other.  Moving and creating, wandering and exploring, talking, whether inside or outside, was what we did.  Without knowing it I had to use all my senses to walk over to Jill’s house, because there was traffic even on our street.  And when I went over to Susan’s, there was a big hill to get up and down, there were wildflowers in the vacant lot, and at Susan’s  … her mother loved to teach us to cook.
            When anyone was sick, of course, it was no fun, because there were no vaccines for anything except smallpox and each of us, in turn, was contagious and isolated.  Then all we did was read and whine.
            No computers, no Wii, no TV for us. Just whole-body, three-dimensional sensory experience and social interaction.

“… good play materials are fully under the child’s control (in accordance with natural scientific laws, such as gravity).  They not only empower the young learner/problem-solver, but subtly convey major principles of how the world works.  For example, cause and effect – as well as self-control – are easy to learn when you’re trying to hammer a nail into a board (if I miss, then I might hurt my finger), but hard to learn when … things jump around the screen without a visible source of propulsion. One can’t really understand or see what makes [the computer] work….”
 Personally, I am not truly convinced that there are not tiny people inside the computer, working at more than lightning speed to make connections like an infinite number of Ernestines with nearly invisible phone cords.  From using the computer we do not learn about how the world works and the laws of nature, and most of us do not even learn how the computer works!  Healy’s example of the hammered finger creates a cause-and-effect continuum that cannot be matched by anything I do to/with/on a computer.  A young child with a computer has to believe in “magic,” by which I mean an interaction  she not only can’t understand but does not need to try to.  This is a huge social learning as well as an operational one.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Greetings! September has arrived again!


            Here we are in August again, thinking about the start of school in a few weeks.  This year, however, it is a brand new world I will enter in September.  No, I am not retiring, but I am planning to.  In June 2012.  After teaching my last year in public school….  In KINDERGARTEN!

            Imagine my surprise when my principal decided, in June, that I would be teaching Kindergarten this fall.  I am still surprised, not to say shocked!  It does have its points, however:

  • I will get to Do Words with Ks for the second time in my life (not counting all the demos in classrooms all over the place, of course)
  • It will be fun to watch all the older kids’ faces when they see me in K
  • The whole thing will be experimental, because it will be just for one year and I will get to try Lots Of Things I’ve never done
  • And I will definitely be taller than everyone.  (This past year Caleb, age 6 1/2, came up to my eyebrows!  Bovine Growth Hormone has a lot to answer for.)

Stay tuned.