game boy

February 19, 2015

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Desire is a powerful engine. As a homeschooling parent I harness it shamelessly. If my boy delighted in turning learning into games, I was game. Through T’s eyes, the Periodic Table was a glorious alternative Pokédex, each element a character with distinctive powers and potential to unleash chaos on other elements. Other areas of science, too, were grand battlefields of characters with varying strengths; he drew Pokémon-esque cards for the Solar System, for minerals, for spiders. He planned a videogame based on Norse myths—Don’t fall into Ginnungagap or you’ll die! —and character cards for his favorite Greek heroes: Ajax’s special power: Really Strong. Achilles’ special power: Invalnerable. (Just one letter off from invulnerable. Just one small spot on the heel.)

 I didn’t think much about what these fascinations revealed about T’s underlying talents, or his future. He was seven, eight, nine. He liked Pokémon cards and videogames. He was no different from a million other boys.

Except he was different. He couldn’t kick a soccer ball in the backyard without making some new game of it. “Let’s say hands are allowed if the ball bounces. Let’s say that you can only touch the ball once before you kick it. Let’s say that if the ball hits the path three times, you have to start over.” To which his dad would say, exasperated, “Let’s just kick the darn soccer ball!”

This is an excerpt from my latest column for home/school/life, in the Winter 2015 edition. It’s an exploration of my youngest’s lifelong love of games, and how that love has played out in his homeschooling. I’ve always known that games have been an continued interest of T’s, but it wasn’t until I started writing this piece, and looking back through my homeschooling notes and T’s project files that I saw how far-reaching and enduring this passion has been. It sort of blew my mind, and I’ve been right beside him all along. The notion that my kid has shaped his education around games, and in large part videogames, is a knotty topic, and it’s what I explore in the piece.

Did you happen to read the column? If so, I’d love to hear your thoughts. One downside to magazine writing is that there’s not much immediate feedback–if there’s feedback at all. You’ve spoiled me so in this space: I hit publish here and you write back to me, and start up conversations! Come chat with me about this piece if you’ve read it, won’t you? Writing here alone at my desk, and then never talking about it is a lonely business.

(Here’s another piece of mine, for the bored without home/school/life subscriptions: a mini-essay from a couple of years back, on my oldest going back to college, posted on Medium. I love how the work looks so clean on Medium; I’m less sure about Medium as a forum for finding an audience. But I’m trying it out, and if you want to chat about the piece, or about Medium itself, or about what you’re cooking for dinner tonight, I am obviously sitting here at my computer, waiting for someone, anyone, to show up and pull out a chair.)

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Lisa February 22, 2015 at 1:00 pm

This is very familiar to me. At just 5 and a half, my youngest child is really into games. His familiarity with numbers (especially 1-6: dice!), adding on, taking away, understanding step by step instructions, and more is all owing to his love of games. When my older children were in school, prior to our homeschooling them, I noticed that the school seemed to work so laboriously on these skills. Why not cut to the chase and just play a game?

The other thing I wanted to say is that my child’s passionate interest, even for something that leaves me cold, is like magic for piquing my curiosity. I’m not at all interested in make-up, but I found things to enjoy about my middle child’s obsession with it (free massages and pedicures!); though I had only a passing interest in insects prior to last spring, I can now bore anyone to tears on the subject. Someone else’s enthusiasm in infectious. I have always loved playing games, but now that I have realised how much they mean to my son, they have become a big part of our family life and are actually competing for space with the cookbooks (unprecedented!).

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patricia February 25, 2015 at 11:41 am

Lisa, your insight about about enthusiasm being infectious is so true! My kid actually got his dad and me to go to a professional gaming tournament with him; we watched videogames being played by professionals in a sports arena for eight hours straight! That is some kind of love! Honestly, though, I enjoyed the day because my kid was sharing something he loved with me, and any subculture has its own fascinations if you let yourself get immersed in it. Letting our kids follow their interests opens up the world to us too. 🙂

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