Learning Outside the (Idiot) Box
by Nancy Wooton
Did you know birds' bones not only are hollow (I learned that from PBS's
“Dinosaur”), but are interconnected with the respiratory system?
My daughter told me that today. “Wildlife Emergency,” on Animal
Planet, taught her. My son learned the rules for tennis from a video game, which
he then explained to me while watching Monica Seles lose to Venus Williams during
the Olympics. Now he's interested in learning to play tennis.
Discovery Channel has a program called “Assignment Discovery,” made
for classroom use, but broadcast every morning. Did you know horseshoe crabs
have blue blood, because it contains copper, not iron? We've learned about
the human body, ancient Rome, marine biology, weather, you name it, and have
accessed lesson plans and activities at their website.
National Geographic Explorer, Discovery Channel, NOVA, Popular Mechanics for
Kids, Bill Nye, Magic Schoolbus, countless other programs have opened whole
worlds to our family. I will never climb Mt. Everest, yet I've been to the
top. I'll never deep-sea dive, but I've seen Titanic lying on the ocean
floor. Of course, my kids read a ton, too, including books about Everest and
Titanic, but they know how to use the TV, Internet, computer programs, games,
books, movies, museums, and other people, to learn what they need to know.
There is a downside to TV inspiration: Thanks to Comedy Central, my son is now
obsessed with Battlebots, that strange combination of high-tech robotics and
professional wrestling. He and his dad attended this year's tournament,
met a number of favorite robot builders, and even got their autographs. But
he'll have to find someone else to help him build a robot, because his parents
have no clue how to work a welding torch.
Learning doesn't come in one package, and if the Idiot Box contains some,
by golly, I'll flip the “On” switch.
Nancy Wooton is a 42 year-old wife and mom of two unschooled children,
ages 14 and 11. She spends her free time writing for internet sites and magazines
devoted to homeschooling, training her dog, and learning the ancient art of
Eastern Orthodox Christian iconography, specifically, embroidering icons for
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