Darla Isackson wrote this article with Lynn Stoddard. This is part 4 in the series Educating for Human Greatness.
We all want to create a learning climate in our homes that makes learning fun and encourages children to exercise their natural curiosity– but don’t always know how. Consequently, I was excited to find specific “how to’s” in Lynn Stoddard’s book, Educating for Human Greatness.
Education Should Be Inquiry-Based
Brother Stoddard says, “A metaphor for the brain could be a vacuum cleaner, or an aggressive octopus. When information is sucked into the brain and processed by one’s free will, it has a much different effect on us than does unsolicited information. This is why it is so important and powerful to Invite Inquiry.
A home or school organized for the purpose of helping children become avid seekers after knowledge and wisdom is very different from those focused on dispensing a body of predetermined information. When the desire of the child to learn is not taken into consideration, results can be dismal. A long time ago Plato wrote that “knowledge acquired under compulsion obtains no hold on the mind.”
Brother Stoddard makes the important point that the spirit of inquiry stimulates curiosity, awakens a sense of wonder and appreciation for nature and for humankind. Those with the spirit of inquiry ask important, penetrating questions and are highly motivated to find answers. We can make our homes into “inquiry centers,” as Stoddard calls them.
There is no end to the ways you can make inquiry-based learning centers at home, such as:
• Develop any kind of a library/media center that fits your home situation. When public libraries are selling surplus materials, you can pick up excellent books and audio/visual products for pennies on the dollar. Church Distribution Center is an excellent source for low-cost religious materials.
• Create what Lynn Stoddard calls a “realia center.” You might want to go on nature hikes with your children in order to equip it with rocks, seashells, bird nests, beehives, pine cones, insect collections, etc. If financially feasible, add binoculars, a magnifying glass, a telescope, and a microscope to encourage in-depth investigation.
• At Brother Stoddard’s school they made what they called “inquiry boxes.” Typical of these boxes was one that contained some electric wire, batteries, bulbs, switches, a large nail, a small compass, and an inquiry guide for learning about electric currents. These boxes could be created for any area of curiosity a child might have to encourage experimentation.
• Invite your kids to help you make maps of inquiry sites that might be of interest to them within a two-, five-, and ten-mile radius of your home. Lists of field-trip possibilities can be helpful to give you ideas when you need them.
• If you have access to old National Geographics magazines, or science books or magazines, you can have your children help you tear them apart and divide them into individual inquiry notebooks on a great variety of topics. (Costco has low-price boxes of 500 page protectors which makes such projects glue-less, easy, and durable for future use.)
• Aquariums can be wonderful for children, stocked with any variety of sea creatures. (Even most apartments that don’t allow other pets will allow them.) In Lynn Stoddard’s school, they obtained some war surplus 5-gallon glass jugs that they used to study leeches and other interesting water creatures.
• An arts and crafts center with a rotating supply of materials can spark creativity and make it easy for parents to suggest possible projects and let children choose the medium that interests them most.
The Jim Thurgood Story
To expand creative possibilities for establishing an inquiry-based home, Brother Stoddard tells the story of Jim Thurgood, a man who had the vision of what real education is all about.
Jim Thurgood loves animals and is fascinated with the magical effect they have on children. He always kept gerbils, hamsters, rabbits, reptiles—a variety of small animals and birds—in cages in his classroom. He found that children’s problems—lack of love in the home, low confidence, or whatever—were always ameliorated when a child bonded with and cared for an animal. Jim showed children how to love and appreciate living things and the reciprocal benefits that come from this interaction.
At the time, Brother Stoddard was principal at the school where Jim taught.
Stoddard reports, “Jim came to me and proposed that we replace the artificial plant area in the main entrance of the school with an aviary inquiry center.
Jim and I obtained the necessary materials and constructed an aviary in a few hours one evening under cover of darkness. We hoped to get forgiveness when building officials saw what a benefit this would be for the school. In the next few days Jim supplied the aviary with a variety of finches, canaries, parakeets, a real hibiscus tree, and birdhouses for nesting.
“As you can imagine, the aviary became a big hit with children. There was always a crowd on both sides watching the birds. Teachers would soon learn how to take advantage of this interest and guide children into many interesting inves- tigations. Actually, teachers were almost forced into it when it became difficult to pull children away from the aviary to return to their classrooms.
“One day the Director of Buildings and Grounds, having heard of our innovation, came to see for himself what we had wrought. To our surprise, when he saw the fascinated observers lined up three deep watching the birds, he decided to replace our amateurish carpentry with an expertly designed and built aviary with two parts—one side for birds and the other side for small animals. In a few days it was completed with beautiful hardwood and heavy screening to take the place of our chicken wire and rough lumber.
“We now had a deluxe miniature zoo/aviary. It became the featured inquiry center of several we developed at the school. During the next couple of years, Mr. Thurgood supplied the zoo with an interesting variety of birds and animals. Among these was a hen that made a nest, laid fertile eggs with the help of a feisty rooster, sat on them for the requisite 21 days and 5 hours, and brought forth a dozen delightful chicks.
“Can you imagine the flood of questions that came from children involved in this experience? How does a hen make a baby chick with an egg? What does the rooster have to do with it? Just reading about it, doesn’t this story elicit questions in your mind? Especially, how did the teachers handle the delicate sex questions? Children who grow up on farms usually learn about sex in a natural, wholesome way, while those who didn’t, often develop unhealthy misconceptions. Jim’s zoo became a fascinating inquiry center where children developed healthy attitudes toward the reproduction of species. All of the parakeets and finches multiplied exceedingly under the loving care of Jim Thurgood and his student assistants . . .
“As time went on, our elementary school zoo hosted such things as baby goats, a strutting male turkey gobbler, and a large snake.
“As an inquiry center, the Hill Field Elementary School Zoo was unexcelled. It stimulated children to ask many questions and go to the library to look for answers. It was also a place where children would sit and draw pictures of the animals and birds
Applying This Philosophy to Religious Education
How could we apply Stoddard’s and Thurgood’s ideas to teaching our children the gospel? The possibilities are limitless. And once the children have more of this mindset, they will be our best resources for ideas. The main thing is to change the role of children from passive absorbers to curious seekers.
One of the best ways I’ve heard of parents doing this with older children is to let them bring up a real-life dilemmas common to their daily life experience then inviting them to find and share possible answers in their scriptures or from the gospel library on LDS.org.
Some families find ways to up the curiosity level of children in regard to the scriptures by inviting them to explore the cultures of scripture people, their dress, food, traditions, etc.
Some children like to fix meals that focus on foods mentioned in the scriptures or known to be available to people in those days. And there’s always the possibility for those who have a bit of dramatic flair of acting out a scripture scene. If they really want to get into it, encourage kids to create their own little skit or play based on scripture stories.
Asking THEM questions is key: “What do you already know about Alma?” “What else do you think would be interesting to know?” “What do you have in common with him?” “What is the hardest thing to understand in that scripture?” “What does that mean to you?” “How could we apply that scripture verse in our home?” “What are the biggest problems in your life you would like scripture or modern prophet answers to?”
The power to draw forth the latent potential and curiosity of each child through love, skillful questioning and listening raises gospel learning to a higher level.
I must admit that my idealistic self loves all these ideas, but my practical, realistic self remembers how few good ideas I was able to actually apply in the time crunch of real life with a houseful of kids. But any movement in this direction is well worth the effort.
For those of us who “missed the boat” with our own children, a whole new generation is eager and ready to benefit from this new understanding. How much more fun it would be to come to Grandma and Grandpa’s house if they had some of the inquiry-based learning centers that are suggested above. And how much more effective our efforts to influence them in regard to values and religion if we implement these suggestions! I find that very motivating.
As parents and grandparents we can encourage children to learn the gospel and anything else that interests them in ways that those little fishing poles in their brains will reach out and catch and retain. We don’t want to be in the business of plastering stuff on the outside of their heads that will soon be sloughed off. We can practice the fine art of drawing forth from each child latent potential—the questions, powers, gifts, knowledge and abilities that lie within each amazing child.
Learn more about Educating for Human Greatness at www.efhg.org.
If you would like to help spread the word concerning Educating for Human Greatness principles, contact Anthony Dallmann-Jones online at: [email protected]
Darla is a professional editor, writer, and speaker, mother of seven sons, grandmother of ten.
Visit Darla at her web site: darlaisackson.com