Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Mind the Gaps?

We got a nice new stack of books today from the awesome Brooklyn Public Library, and while we were looking at one this evening -- I Spy Shapes in Art by Lucy Micklethwait -- I had a humiliating realization: My kids, who turned three this past weekend, don't know their shapes.

Let me not overdramatize: Both children know what a circle is, and can identify triangles and rectangles. But Nini was disturbingly vague on the question of squares, and neither she nor Desmond could identify a diamond or an oval.

I was quite mortified, and realized that we haven't really looked at shape books since they were too young to actually grasp what they were being shown. (You know, the stage where "digesting" a book means literally gumming it.) We used to play with some felt-board shape creatures I made more than a year ago, but they've languished in the closet for months. And somehow shapes haven't made it into our everyday conversation when we're out and about in the world.

I do think this amounts to some pretty lame home preschooling on my part, but upon reflection, I'm not as distressed by this learning gap as I was initially. I intend to draw their attention to shapes in the coming days, re-read the Shapes in Art book with them, maybe find some other shape books to read together (suggestions, anyone, for something not too babyish?). I have great confidence they will learn the ones they don't know quickly.

I also think that, once you get past grasping the basic concept of shapes, learning additional ones is essentially just learning information (at least until you reach the point of bringing mathematics in). They'll have a lifetime to accumulate facts, and the Internet to search when they want to know more, or have forgotten what they once knew.

At this age, I think it's most crucial to support their innate love of learning, to encourage a questioning spirit and nurture the skill of asking good questions, to give them time and space to explore and experiment. Some stressed-out, flashcard-wielding parents might be horrified by my laxity, but learning information strikes me as one of the least important things for young children to do.


Anonymous said...

I have used a big box of plastic shapes/tangram pieces with my little guy since he was two. We got a big book of patterns based on the same shapes, and I just used the "official" names of the shapes as we used them. A good book with increasingly difficult patterns provides hours and hours and hours of entertainment.

He's four now, and it still shocks people when he accurately speaks of trapezoids and hexagons.


KMDuff said...

Pattern blocks or Tangrams can be a great free play item where shapes show up naturally and can be discussed.

But I agree - learning the names of the shapes is not really essential at this point. Teaching them to love learning is more important.