Let kids pursue their interests, even if they seem trivial. Especially if they seem trivial. This could be a subtitle for practically every post I write, so there’s nothing revelatory here. Still, it’s a handy rule, worth shaping a lifestyle around—even if it means that a kid wants to study Avengers comics for months on end. (Remember Mr. T’s graph of Avengers characters and the fun it led to? Well, T has only fallen deeper down that Marvel hole…)
Help kids funnel their interests into projects that intrigue them, even if they’re quirky. Especially if they’re quirky. T was all revved up with his Avengers fascination, after watching the new season of The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. He tried to dream up a new project, based on the characters on the show. We were talking about ways of displaying information about the characters, and somehow the Periodic Table of the Elements came up. T has been has been fascinated with the Periodic Table since discovering Theodore Gray’s The Elements years ago. Honestly, I think there’s some connection between T’s interest in comic characters, Pokemon and then Magic cards, video games and the Periodic Table. All are based on sorting and comparing people, creatures or elements by their strengths and powers. It all seems rooted in some way of classifying the world that I do not fully understand. Anyway, T leapt around the house at the idea of making a Periodic Table of Marvel, and so he set to it. (Let’s not yet tell T that he is not the first to come up with such an idea. After he began his project, I discovered that others have made similar tables. Witness this and this. Clearly this sorting-the-world-by-power approach to life is not unique, and seems particularly thriving in the geek–and I mean that in the fondest way–world. After T completes his table, I’ll show him the others.)
Teach kids how to research. Much as I encourage T to look beyond Wikipedia, Wikipedia often has the goods. It did not take T long to discover this alphabetical lists of Marvel characters. Can you believe there are so many? T’s goal is to find a character for each symbol on the Periodic Table. Gallactus is gallium (Ga), Namor is sodium (Na), Ant Man is americium (Am). Iron Man, is of course, Iron, Thor is Thorium and Cobalt Man is Cobalt.
You might also try to teach kids how not to get sucked in by their research. A tricky notion if you are an eleven-year-old researching comic book characters. Whenever T tried to find a character to go with a certain element, he got lost in reading entire histories of all the characters who could represent that element. I reminded him a few times to get back to his list–but all that research had its own value, as you’ll see below.
Seek out fantastic resources. T fell hard for this Marvel characters guide when I bought it for him this summer, before a camping trip. It’s been studied so hard that pages are falling out.
We wondered about other books on Marvel characters and history. I showed T how to search for these with our library’s online catalogue. We quickly discovered Marvel Comics: The Untold Story just a few days before its release, and put ourselves in the library queue. This is an adult nonfiction book; I’ll be skimming it to make sure it’s right for T. Still, you don’t want to underestimate your kid’s reading level when it comes to topics of interest. I was amazed when T worked through Super Mario: How Nintendo Conquered America, another adult nonfiction book, this summer.
Guess what showed up on T’s eleventh birthday from his big brother?
We also discovered the Marvel Encyclopedia–a much more comprehensive character guide–online, but couldn’t find it, even through inter-library loan. Uncle Pat to the rescue. T hooted when he opened the box on his birthday. The hefty book was gift from my brother, who didn’t know that T was researching Marvel as part of his homeschooling, or that we were trying to get our hands on this particular book; he just knew his nephew was a Marvel fan. Takes one to know one. My brother spent virtually every allowance of his childhood on Spider Man comics. When his wife suggested a DC book for T’s birthday, my brother lashed out. Marvel fans do not abide DC.
Don’t underestimate the learning that might happen. I wasn’t sure about the depth of T’s Periodic Table as a project. He’s basically searching for characters that fit the letters on the Periodic Table; there isn’t much analysis involved. Still, the act of researching those characters has led to all sorts of reading, cross-referencing and considering how the characters have evolved over time. One day T explained to me how Captain America was written to raise morale during WWII. Another day he told about the origins of the Black Panther, the first African-American superhero, created in 1966. So yes, he’s simply researching comic book heroes–but he’s delving into history at the same time.
Incorporate costumes whenever possible. It helps if Halloween happens to be approaching, and you want to be Wolverine or Thor. (Superheroes, always superheroes!) Or perhaps you have a history fair or the like coming up: you can, say, model your duct tape hoplite costume there.
Basically, if you have a costume, you can become the character or person you are reading about, rather than just reading about that character.
This Halloween Mr. T wanted to be Hawkeye (and no, to those of you of my generation or older, I am not talking about the character from M*A*S*H.) Hawkeye has always been one of T’s favorite Avengers–although T is full of disdain for the Hawkeye in the recent Avengers movie. What a disappointment! What a bore! Plus, the movie Hawkeye looks cool; the original Hawkeye is a study in superhero dorkdom in his purple suit with loincloth thingy. T wanted to look like that Hawkeye, in all his purple glory, and he instructed me with carefully researched comic art as I sewed him his suit. (We gave a grumbling nod to the movie Hawkeye by stealing his sunglasses instead of the traditional oversized eye mask, which T would have ripped off within 42 seconds of putting it on.)
Gives new meaning to the notion of digging into your research.
Have fun with your kids. Yep, that’s my alter ego: Super Mama!
Faster than a speeding toddler, stronger than a sixteen-year-old trying to take the car keys, able to cook three pounds of kale in a single pan! It’s a robot, it’s a saint, it’s Super Mama!
(My apologies to Marvel fans for the DC allusion here. But I sewed up that red cape for T’s Thor costume last year, and I couldn’t see the point in starting from scratch this Halloween. Repurposing is one of Super Mama’s greatest superpowers.)
I doubt that Super Mama will make her way on to the Periodic Table though, not even in the Samarium (Sm) square. Oh well. Can’t say I didn’t try.
Do these rules play out in your family? How so?
These are great rules!
Especially incorporate costumes whenever possible, right?
My elder two kids learned the order of the alphabet from The Marvel Encyclopedia. Go superheroes!
Perhaps I should keep a list of all that T has learned and is learning from superheroes. And some teachers and parents don’t like comics for kids!
This is great.
We live by these rules for sure. I had to do some letting go when my (then five year old) son wanted to study WWII and had an increasing fascination with the Germans in WWII. He has learned more than I could have imagined. I still (a year and a half later) shelter him from some of the images of the war but let him know in no uncertain terms that war is not to be sensatioanlized. He has covered not only history but geography, politics, mechanization… learning when different aircraft and tanks, etc… where introduced, civilian life during war and more. He makes his own maps and games. He creates his own resources (books) when he gets frustrated because the library does not have enough books about WWII for his age. It has been amazing to see him develop this interest.
And I LOVE your Super Mama costume. Go Super Mama!
Yes, Dawn, that’s another category of learning that many people dismiss, right along with “silly” stuff like comics: subject matter not “appropriate” to the age of the child. I admire that you were willing to go with it with your five-year-old. After you’ve been homeschooling a while, it’s easier to see the wisdom in that approach, but it can be harder with a kid as young as five. Especially with a topic as loaded as WWII. Good for you!
Love that your boy creates his own books when he can’t find existing ones! Has he ever found other young kids who share his interest? One boy in our homeschooling group developed the same fascination, particularly related to WWII aircraft, when he was quite young. It would be neat if these kids could find each other online and share their projects.
This is a great post that illustrates how a seemingly “unapproved” subject can reap lots of learning, both directly and indirectly. I always try to tell people that the things my children came up with to do would go way beyond my thinking/creating power to assign. And certainly they stuck with it longer, and thus, the information will stick, too! Loved seeing your creative guy in action!
It’s fascinating to pay attention to their interests and see what they learn from them, isn’t it Cindy? I never tire of it. And I agree: I could never dream up the fantastic things my kids decide to do!
I love this! And just wanted to introduce myself. I’m not yet officially home schooling, in that my eldest won’t be school age for another 10 months, so the extended family isn’t giving up hope (!!) but what you describe here is exactly what I am so excited about! (I, too, was a primary school teacher.) Anyway, will be back soon to wander through your archives…
Hi Sue! Congratulations on the decision to homeschool!
It can be discouraging when extended family isn’t on board with your decision. For many homeschoolers I’ve known, family members come around after a few years, when they see how the kids are thriving. Also, the fact that you were a teacher can carry weight–people assume that you know what you’re doing. (On the other hand, a teaching background can sometimes be a hindrance to a homeschooling parent. The transition from teacher to homeschooling parent can be tricky, especially if you don’t want to replicate school at home, and you want to do things differently. I had to do a lot of letting go of school-thinking, and I had to let my kids teach me how to support them. They were good at that!)
Thanks so much for introducing yourself. I’m honored that you plan to come back to visit the archives!
Hmmm, that skirt does still fit.
Well, Gramps, your evil twin gave away the truth on my Facebook page: the skirt wasn’t zipped all the way, but you couldn’t tell because the cape covered it up!
you are a super hero! Love your costume.
We are all Super Mamas, Renee, but it is fun to have a costume to prove the point! I think I may wear the shirt on a regular basis…
Let me guess– old cheerleading skirt? You certainly are a great homeschooling cheerleader now! Great costume, and another great post.
Yes, Carrie, I’m always a little embarrassed to admit that I was a cheerleader. Maybe you’re right though: I have a Pollyanna side that will always be a cheerleader. I’m much happier rah-rahing for homeschooling parents rather than football and basketball players!
This post is fantastic. I love how you explained the connections being made. My kids are 7,5,2 and I just love learning with them everyday.
Thanks for coming by, Mahogany Way. Loving learning with your kids every day is bound to lead to good things!
Those are wonderful rules!
The superhero-table-of-elements is such a FANTASTIC idea. I love it!
Apparently the superhero table of the elements is not a terribly original idea, but it’s a fun one!
Thanks for reading here, and following me on Twitter, Misa!
I’ve read two of your articles about homeschooling (with Marvel) and I love them!
I went to a regular school, but my mom worked with my older brother and myself at home (which helped me skip grades, since I got into my brother’s homework). We did not use Marvel for these tasks, though. Diving into the Marvel Universe was something I mostly did on my own (although bro helped with the collection) even before I learned to read.
I am an Aspie, so I could definitely go very far into my interests. And I agree with you that it helped me learn and develop things beyond the interests themselves.
If I ever get (or adopt) a kid and if he shares my Asperger’s or, at least, my interest in comics, video games and books, I can see myself borrowing your ideas.
Congratulations on what clearly is a job well done and a wonderful family.
Thank you for saying hello, Cesar!
My brother collected Spiderman comics for years. I think my family thought of it as a frivolous hobby; only now as a parent to do I recognize how much a child can learn from digging deeply into an interest. Even if that interest seems frivolous.
My youngest is now working on an exhibit on the history of Marvel for a homeschool history fair. Once again, I’m amazed at how much he is learning about history in general as he pursues this. (Not to mention what he’s learning about research, synthesizing information, displaying info in an engaging way…)
Did you happen to see the Marvel graphs made by data artist Jer Thorp (inspired by one of my kid’s projects!)? They are fascinating–especially, I imagine, if you are a Marvel fan: http://blog.blprnt.com/blog/blprnt/avengers-assembled-and-visualized-part-1
My parents always thought it was frivolous, as well. Fortunately, they let me keep collecting them.
I guess there is a risk of any hobby to become a time-sink without any benefits (besides the entertaining factor), but that would mostly happen if no clear focus is defined. T’s own creativity and your guidance make this situation a great way to learn.
I just saw the graphs by Jer. If T is exposed to all of this at this young age, imagine what he will be able to create in a few more years!