Perhaps you are sold on the fact that free play is important for small children, but once they reach a certain age, shouldn’t kids be getting down to the business of actual learning? Here’s an example of how the concept of play, or self-directed learning, might…um…play out in the lives of our older children.
Until about 6 months ago, my son had never watched any of the Star Wars films. I can’t remember what it was that triggered the binge, but each night for about 2 weeks straight, the kids and my husband (who had also never seen any of the films) watched them all back to back.
It didn’t take long for my son to get swept up in the magic of the saga, and the following is an example of what is really at the heart of self-directed learning. Mind you, it didn’t have to be Star Wars. It could have been dinosaurs, or horses, or Minecraft, or Harry Potter. But for Bryce, starting with the magic of film, this is where he was led, not necessarily in this order:
- He created light sabers and laser shooters from various materials in our recycle bin (and lots of hot glue).
- He drew pictures of characters from the film.
- Frequent Jedi training sessions with his younger Jedi sisters.
- Stick spinning (I actually got to show off my baton skills for a very rare “cool mom” moment).
- Playing around with animation and graphics of ships hovering, fire coming out of his hands, etc.
- An Obi-Won Kenobi video montage of his life set to Wiz Khalifa’s “See You Again”.
- Various graphics of the Millennium Falcon on Procreate.
- CGI- I don’t really understand what it is, but Bryce talks about it a lot.
- Light Saber “gif”.
- Bryce spent hours researching the set design of the original 3 episodes.
- He compared the original special effects to the effects used on the show, The Mandalorian, including learning about the LED walls called “volumes” they used instead of green screens.
- He began experimenting with his own “special effects” and video editing tricks, like this one:
- He researched how the film score was created, as well as learning about the life of John Williams and his other work.
- He learned to play the Imperial March on the keyboard.
- He learned another variation of the Imperial March in a different key and we informally story boarded the seasons of Anakin Skywalker’s life to the different movements of that theme.
- He learned about the structure of the hero’s journey (Joseph Campbell) following Luke Skywalker’s journey. https://thewritepractice.com/heros-journey-example-star-wars/
- He has read various “in between” and back-stories of various characters.
- He has listened to alternate endings (what if such-and-such had happened instead) and is beginning to craft his own. Bryce’s grandmother recommended rewriting Han’s death, having his son die instead. She’s not bitter, or anything.
- Bryce has begun to devour books in the fantasy and sci-fi genre.
As Star Wars follows the hero’s journey, we talked about the symbolism of various characters and about the fact that “God’s story”, the story of a king who abandons his throne, becoming a nobody, to save the world from their destruction, seems to be imprinted into every human’s mind for the same story to be told over and over again and have it received so enthusiastically every time.
So hats off to George Lucas and company for creating something that grew my son’s sense of wonder, got his brain thinking, encouraged him to focus on projects for hours at a time, to problem solve, to get his hands working and his body moving.
A nagging question remains, however: Does this type of learning even “count”?
“Students will be able to demonstrate Jedi light saber techniques” is not exactly listed as a standard on the National Curriculum, so does that invalidate Bryce’s learning? Is it possible to legitimize a child’s natural curiosity and allow him to pursue his own line of study?
This concept is not as far-fetched as it may seem, in that we regularly see the interests and desires of individuals, dictating the actions and decisions of various sectors of our society.
Universities: A few hundred years ago, students went to Oxford University to study the seven liberal arts of grammar, rhetoric, logic, arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music. Did you know that today (not at Oxford) you can declare a university major in “puppet arts”, “floral management”, “fermentation sciences”, “bagpiping”, and “auctioneering” just to name a few? There are courses on Harry Potter and, yes, Star Wars. There are even a growing number of universities that let you create your own major.
When enough students express interest in learning a specific skill or content, these courses are created because, as much as universities might say that “academic excellence” is at the heart of their institutions, I imagine that majors such as “fermentation sciences” may be a bit more lucrative these days than “rhetoric” or “logic”. So is beer brewing now seen as a valid pursuit because it’s offered as a university major? Did it count for nothing when people learned the science on their own without the “help” of expensive institutions?
The Olympics: Skateboarding and sport climbing, among others, are new Olympic sports for 2021. Is this a long-awaited sign of their legitimacy? Were they not “real” sports before they made it to the Olympics? Lots and lots of young people pursued these skills and, over the years, started competitions and those competitions got bigger and more “serious”, until they reached their ultimate “validation” at the Olympics (to the chagrin of the anti-establishment boarder). I mean, who knows? Maybe Spike Ball will one day take the place of table tennis.
Business: I’m not an economist, but I do understand the basic idea of supply and demand. Products and services are created and sold based on consumer demand. When a good is no longer in demand (often due to becoming irrelevant), products are discontinued because they are no longer profiting the company. There are really good companies who have created some major flops and they’d be ridiculous had they continued producing simply because they thought it was brilliant idea.
Our institutions of learning (i.e. primary and secondary schools) may be the only places (besides prisons, perhaps) where the opinions and interests of the masses are ignored or invalidated by a select few who “know better”. Today, knowledge is a commodity that’s available at the touch of a button and it’s being successfully marketed online as courses, and YouTube videos, and TED Talks, and blogs. Kids around the world can’t get enough of it. Knowledge in the form of a rigid curriculum, however, is a commodity that’s rapidly tanking in the hearts and minds of our children.
My challenge is that we think otherwise. That we would legitimize the natural course of learning our children are engaged in knowing that what seems like just a fad or a phase today, could ultimately lead them to their future careers and, more importantly, to their happiness and fulfillment. Like so many of our conversations about education, this one comes back to the question, “What is education for?” Let’s not lose sight of it.
Self-directed learning is real, it’s deep, it’s broad, it’s relevant to our children’s lives. It teaches focus, concentration, and grit. So the next time you want to tell your child to get their head out of that galaxy far, far, away, maybe buy him a light saber instead.
A big thank you to my son who gave me permission to write this post and share some of his work. I’m so proud of who God is making you to be, buddy!
Interested in learning more about self-directed learning? Keep exploring!