A key takeaway from The Curiosity Cycle is that education should be ingrained in the child’s life instead of being added on as an appendage. As we all know, two aspects of integrating education are timing and relevance. You want to introduce an idea at a time when the child cares about it, and you want to explain in in a way that is relevant to what the child already knows.
A great example of this occurred yesterday. My four-year-old son was trying to count to 1000. It was the first time he had gotten past 100, and he could mostly do it, with some prodding and help at key points, but he was stymied by the tedium of counting that high. He wanted to get to 1000, but it just seemed like too much work.
I told him that we could write a computer program to do the counting for him. He was intrigued, but he wasn’t quite sure what I meant. I told him that we would use Scratch. Scratch is a free graphical programming language (http://scratch.mit.edu/). We had played around with Scratch to move silly characters around, but we had not done anything useful with it.
When I told him that we would use Scratch it seemed relevant to him because he knew what that was. Getting it to count to 1000 was great timing because it was something that he wanted done right then. It was an opportunity to teach him the value of programming and computers beyond games.
We wrote the program shown here. We debugged it as we went. For example, at first it counted too fast for him to
enjoy it. We added a sound before each number, and he got to watch it count all the way to 1000. I then asked my older son (who was interested by this time) how he could change the program to make it start at 500, or to make it count to 1500.
Of course, when striving to make education relevant, there are also some spectacular failures. When my oldest son was about 4, I bet him that I could write his name 100 times in under a minute. I wrote a program to do it, and he started to cry when he saw his name flash on the screen. I had “cheated.” (Don’t worry, I didn’t have the heart to collect on the bet. I guess the outside world will have to teach him those lessons.)