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Big Learning News 3-2-04

Big Learning News
Karen Cole's Guide to Real-World Learning with Kids
Issue 2:8 March 2, 2004

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Table of Contents

Trends in Educational Toys
Book Review: I Wanna Take Me a Picture
Web Site: Guitar Chords


Trends in Educational Toys

Earlier this week, the Washington Post reported that parents are becoming less concerned about the "educational value" of the toys they buy. This was good news to me. I've been having trouble finding toys for my baby niece that don't beep letters and numbers at her. Honestly - she's a BABY! She doesn't need to learn letters and numbers now.

The Post article goes on to say that today's parents look more at a toy's entertainment value - how long it will hold children's interest. One mother gives these examples of entertaining toys: "Little Tikes cars, play kitchens and dolls, and classic fun playthings like balls."

We Big-Learning parents know that these toys are educational - much more so than a techno-box that drills children on letters and numbers. They foster intellectual, social, and creative development, instead of forcing children into a narrow academic definition of learning. That's why they're fun, and that's why they hold children's attention. They help kids do what they're trying to do anyway - increase their capacity to understand and interact in the real world.

The Post article focuses on young children's toys, but we can think about toys for older children the same way. As children grow, they can handle increasingly complex interactions with the real world. Toys that foster intellectual, social, and creative growth may have components we would recognize as academic, but they don't stop there. A good electricity science lab helps kids understand how everyday objects work and empowers them to wire up their own. With craft sets, kids might make presents for friends and relatives, springboard into a study of art or art history, or apply the techniques to a new project toy designers never imagined.

It's not that kids want toys to be less educational. They just want us to broaden our definition of education.

Here's the link to the Post article:


Book Review
I Wanna Take Me a Picture: Teaching Photography and Writing to Ch ildren by Wendy Ewald and Alexandra Lightfoot (Beacon Press, 2001)

In I Wanna Take Me a Picture , photographer and educator Wendy Ewald explains her techniques for teaching photography to children. As she tells her story, she teaches photography to the reader, both as an art form and as an educational strategy. Primarily aimed at teachers, it is an excellent primer for anyone interested in photography, or for anyone whose children are interested in photography.

Ewald has taught photography to children in some of the most troubled places in the world, constructing darkrooms in makeshift places and handing out cameras to children who had never seen one before. She created the Literacy through Photography program in Durham, North Carolina, which helps children develop literacy skills by taking pictures and writing about them.

Her take on photography is a deeply personal one that doesn't shy away from difficult experiences children may bring to her classrooms. Many of the children whose photos and writing fill the book live in impoverished circumstances. They photograph and write about their lives with a matter-of-factness and honesty that makes them all the more poignant.

Ewald covers a lot of ground in this book: Elements of photography (framing, point of view, timing, and the use of symbols and details), technical aspects of choosing cameras and film, supplies for setting up a simple darkroom, and projects classroom teachers can do in their classrooms. She lays out some of the assignments she has given her students, explaining the purpose and procedure. Most of these would make excellent projects for any budding photographer.

This is a beautiful and wise book about art and learning. If you would like to find out more about Wendy Ewald's work or the Literacy through Photography project, here are some links.

Literacy through Photography Project: http://cds.aas.duke.edu/ltp
PBS Interview with Wendy Ewald: http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/entertainment/jan-june02/ewald/

Web Site
Guitar and Piano Chords

If anyone in your house is learning to play chords on the guitar or piano, they'll love this site. It shows how to play almost any chord you might come across in sheet music. The really cool thing is, the site will play the chord for you, one string or key at a time, so you can hear how it is supposed to sound.


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